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From an old website, Alien in Montreal

The bar was surprisingly busy, at 5pm, when I wandered in off the street, tired and thirsty. Every barstool was taken. I looked around the pub in despair – there was no-one at any other table in the bar, I would be alone, and isolated, if I sat at anywhere except at the bar. I took another look and discovered that there was actually one stool left, sitting in a thin space, that discouraged use.

I squeezed in, and sat down.

The barmaid came over and smiled at me sweetly, and asked what I'd like.

'A pint of Pale Ale please.'

'Sorry?'

'A pint of Pale Ale please.'

She stood there, smiling, and staring at me. No-one in this bar is speaking French, I assume that she can't understand my English accent.

I speak very slowly – 'A pint of the Pale Ale please.' I even point, to add visual clues.

She continues to smile and looks nervous, then suddenly realises what I've been saying, and exclaims, 'Oh! The Pale Ale?' And pours me a pint.

This is the first time that an 'Anglo' has had as much trouble understanding my English, as a 'Franco' understanding my French. Somehow it makes me feel less bad about my French failures.

A few minutes later the barmaid returns and says, 'You work at Hurleys too then, eh?'

The people around me look down into their pints (suddenly very interesting places). One of them coughs.

'No,' I say, looking about, 'but I suppose I'm the only one who doesn't. Who works at Hurleys then?'

She casts her arms about, and walks away.

There is silence. Some people leave, from natural causes.

The barmaid returns, she is chatty and pleasant. 'What's that yer smokin?' she asks, pointing at my tobacco.

I look at the packet, it's showing the side with a picture of a diseased brain on it. I turn it over and point to the word 'Drum', saying it at the same time.

'Can I smell it?' she says, as if it were fine coffee, or something.

'Sure.'

She takes a big whiff and contemplates the smell.

'It smells like blah blah.'

'Sorry?'

'Smells like blah blah.'

'Like what?'

'Blah blah.'

I smile, blankly at her.

'Farm.' she says.

'Farm?' I say.

'Yes, you know, like a farm. It smells like a farm.'

'Really?' I say, wondering how I could have missed it all these years.

'Yeah, I was smoking some tobacco like that last week, but it didn't smell as good, and it tasted like straw or something.'

To cut a long story short, I roll her a sample, and she smokes it, taking big breaths. She gets smoke in her eye and has to cover it with her hand, watering, for a minute or two. She doesn't look like she's enjoying it.

'It's okay?' I ask.

'Oh yeah, it's good.' she says, kindly.

I finally talk to the guy next to me, who had a parallel existence in Quebec to me, but ten years ago. He's now the manager of Hurleys. He buys me a drink, without me noticing it, somehow. I only discover this when I go to pay my tab later.

The barmaid buys us both a shot of Jameson's whisky. High spirits all round. I'm starting to like this bar.

Anyway, time passes.

People leave, people come. Then the barmaid takes out the box. The same evil box of my misfortune from the London Pub night disaster.

'Want to play?' She asks.

I have to stop myself making the sign of the cross, and simply say, 'Oh, no thanks. But maybe I could watch, and you could explain the rules to me?'

So, I learn that there are different rules, played by different people. After I tell them about my London Pub experience they conclude that at the very best, I'd been given dodgy advice, and at the worst, cheated.

I manage to avoid playing, pay my bill, and leave.