“Pardonnez-moi,” Chuck said, frantically rubbing at the crotch of the man next to him with a ball of what was clearly too many napkins. “Pardonnez-moi, pardonnez-moi!”
“It’s okay,” said the man in a thick, French accent, as he pushed Chuck’s hands away. It was almost as if he didn’t feel comfortable having a stranger try to clean his groin after spilling water all over it.
“I am so sorry,” Chuck said, mimicking the man’s accent. He pulled his hands away and instead brought them onto the bar counter to mop up the spilled water.
“It’s fine, really,” said the man, rising to his feet and using his hand to brush the water off his trousers. It clearly wasn’t as effective as simply allowing Chuck to use the napkins, but it didn’t appear as though the man was about to change his mind. Chuck pushed the now-soaked pile of napkins aside.
“Where are you from?” Chuck said. He realized it wasn’t exactly the best time to switch into small talk, considering he’d just finished spilling water on the man, and thus probably had very little interest in actually conversing with Chuck. Still, he’d been alone in the airport bar for over three hours now and was frankly getting pretty bored.
“What?” said the man.
“You are from France?”
“Oui,” said the man, glancing around the bar as if looking for something.
“Yes,” Chuck said, “we both sure are. Where in France?”
“Paris,” said the man. He grabbed the soaked napkin pile for a second, then dropped it back down. “Are there any other napkins?”
“I used them all,” Chuck said. He’d grabbed the entire container and removed well over fifty napkins in his hurry to rescue the man’s crotch from the flood of water he’d inadvertently unleashed. Truthfully, though, he’d been waiting all evening for an event like this, for a reason to talk to someone. There was nothing he enjoyed more than pretending to be someone else while at the airport, donning fake accents and whatever else fit that day’s character. He was pretty good at it, too. Today, he was pretending to be a Frenchman struggling with severe and crippling alcoholism, sitting at the bar and taking dozens of shots of what appeared to be vodka. In reality, he was simply shooting back glasses of unbelievably expensive Evian water, which he’d purchased from the duty-free store just outside the bar.
“Oh,” said the Frenchman.
“Paris, huh?” Chuck said in his best French accent. “I love that place.” He’d been hoping the person he’d inevitably meet would have limited familiarity with France, as he himself knew next to nothing about it. Regardless, he quite liked his alcoholic French character and did not feel comfortable falling back to his old, played-out, meth addicted Swede.
“It’s okay,” said the man, still wiping at his crotch.
“I was just telling my wife,” Chuck said, “how I can’t wait to go back for more pasta.” He was pretty confident France was known for its expertise in pasta.
“Yeah?” said the man, clearly disinterested.
“Ze best,” Chuck said. “Ze best pasta in the world.”
“By the way, my name’s Chuck.” He held out his hand.
“Pierre,” said the man, glancing down at Chuck’s hand and then lightly grabbing it. His palm was wet.
“Where are you flying to?” Chuck said. His hand was still wrapped around Pierre’s, neither of them initiating the shake. It was clear that there was some sort of tradition in French culture to hold hands with strangers, rather than to formally shake hands. As an American, however, he found it a little uncomfortable, especially considering he’d began his conversation with Pierre by rubbing napkins on his crotch.
“Seattle,” said Pierre, pulling his hand back without shaking and returning his attention to his soaked crotch. “For work. How about you?”
“Back to France,” Chuck said.
Chuck froze. Where was he flying to? He could say Paris, but then Pierre might catch on to the fact that he knew almost nothing about the area. That was the only place in France he actually knew of. England? Was that in France? No, definitely not. He glanced around him for help, an empty bottle of Evian falling into vision.
“Le Evian,” Chuck said, stressing the word “le.” It was the only real French he knew.
“A small fishing village in the south of France.”
“I have not,” Pierre paused. “How you say, visit there?”
“Visit there,” Chuck repeated. “That’s how it’s said.” It was a strange question to ask.
“Oui,” Pierre said. “Donc, vous parlez français?”
Chuck glanced down at his watch as he pretended not to hear Pierre.
“It’s so loud in here,” he said, shouting louder than everyone else in the bar. It was a poor excuse, considering the bar was actually rather quiet, but he had no idea what Pierre had said. He grabbed one of the shot glasses of water he’d lined up earlier and tilted it back, squinting his eyes as if it were burning his throat.
“I guess,” said Pierre.
“How about that Eiffel tower?” Chuck said. He was positive that there was an Eiffel tower in France. Then again, there was also one in Las Vegas. “The one in France,” he added.
“It’s nice,” Pierre said. “Tourist trap, though.”
“Yes,” Chuck nodded. “It sure is.” He had no idea what he’d said, his accent garbling the last two words. Something about a terrorist tap, he assumed.
“Well,” Pierre said, bending down and picking up his luggage. “It was nice—”
“I’m an alcoholic,” Chuck interrupted, grabbing another shot glass and tiling it back. He only had two left. “Yeah, a real alcoholic. This is my fifteenth shot.”
“Oh,” Pierre said.
“It’s destroying my family.” He’d been working on that line for a while, it fit the character pretty well.
“Okay,” Pierre said. He began to turn, luggage in hand.
“Remember that wife I mentioned?” Chuck said, forgetting his accent. “I mean, remember that wife I mentioned?” he repeated, this time with an accent. “I wasn’t actually speaking to her about the famed French pasta. I haven’t spoken to her in years.”
“Oui,” Pierre said, glancing away.
“No, not we anymore. She left me. We were on a trip to the Eiffel tower, as we did every year. I decided to have a few drinks while there. After my thirtieth shot, I ended up passing out at the top of the Eiffel tower. When I woke up, she was no longer there.”
“Trent? No, I’m Chuck. And yeah, thirty shots.” He hoped he hadn’t accidentally gone too low in the shot count. He’d never actually drunken alcohol, but figured thirty would be a safe number.
“I see,” Pierre said. “I am sorry to hear. I must be going, though.” He turned and began walking away.
“Adios,” Chuck said, grabbing another shot of water and tossing it back. He watched as Pierre walk out of the bar, his head shaking slowly side to side as he did so, and disappeared into the crowd of people beyond. Chuck turned back toward the bar and smiled. He made a damn good French alcoholic, convincing enough to trick even a real French citizen. Moreover, he’d found a great new way to meet people. He picked up the last shot glass and turned his attention to the elderly gentleman to his right, then subtly spilled its contents all over the man’s crotch.
“Pardonnez-moi,” he said, grabbing the bundle of soaked napkins and tossing them onto the man’s lap with a wet slap. “Pardonnez-moi, pardonnez-moi!”
Writing Prompt: You are sitting at a bar in an airport, and for your amusement decide to pretend to be some other nationality. You bump into a stranger, who says they are from there, as well. It will be three hours before your flight, and you decide to keep up appearances.