A Christmas dinner I want to forget (but it's seared on my mind forever)

It was a throwaway sentence in a casual conversation, but for Corkman BRIAN DAUGHTON, it turned a festive meal into a real turkey... Here we publish his article from Holly Bough
A Christmas dinner I want to forget (but it's seared on my mind forever)

All was merry and bright at the Christmas Dinner table, until Brian Daughton put his foot in in it... Picture: Stock

FROM the outset, the whole scenario was odd. We were six strangers who had gathered in a London house to celebrate Noche Buena (‘The Good Night’) — a meal traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve in Spain. Of all the lexicon that could be used to describe that evening, ‘good’, alas, would not be among them.

Apart from my wife, I had never met anyone there. Our hosts were colleagues of hers who had invited us to a meal in a small flat in Peckham, along with another couple, who were speaking Japanese. I later learned the female guest was Finnish and had lived in London for 20 years. This last point would assume an unexpected significance as the evening unfolded.

Introductions over, we sat down around a small dining room table and exchanged pleasantries. We were doing our utmost to establish a rapport. Despite the awkward, enforced air of bonhomie, there was a genuine desire to make a success of it.

Then — with extraordinary speed — the evening imploded. While we were still nibbling the hors d’oeuvres and sipping our aperitifs, our Christmas dinner lurched into a tailspin. All because of me.

None of us saw it coming. Even now, when I play back the sequence of events, I am perplexed. Where did that come from?

Its beginnings were innocuous enough: we were discussing language, as many of us were language teachers. The Finnish guest said one of the challenges in learning Japanese was that men and women use a different vocabulary. I knew this and told them about my friend Adam: he learned Japanese from his wife — and in Japan people often laughed at him; saying he sounded like a girl. There were some murmurings to the effect this was certainly not the case with English.

The Finnish woman interjected. “No — not true! You’re forgetting — what about handsome and pretty?”

I remember thinking, nah, not the same — not really a lexical divide on gender. Nonetheless, I nodded: “Suppose you’re right,” I said, “it’s a bit odd to describe a man as pretty.”

The female guest mulled this over, then announced in self-assured tones: “I would!”

There was a pause as we all considered this, more nodding of heads. I then gave what I assumed was a reasonable reply. Little did I know I was about to detonate a bomb of atomic intensity. “Yes,” I said,” perhaps, but you’re not a native speaker.”

As soon as it left my lips, I regretted it. It had a blunt edge, even sounded dismissive — none of it intended. I thought I was pointing out an obvious truth; applying sound research principles to common language use. I now know I was wrong.

At this point the sequence of events took on a nightmarish quality. Time expands — the seconds stretch out. It is now just me and this guest, who isn’t going to dismiss my remark as some gauche faux pas.

No, my remark about her not being a native speaker had touched a nerve so raw, it had provoked a reaction that can only be described as psychotic. I had triggered a diplomatic row of seismic proportions.

The female guest has now morphed into a seething, snarling monster. The transformation is extraordinary. To hell with Christmas and any notions of ‘peace and goodwill to all men’. Her face is quivering — scrunched up in fury. She is spitting blood over the lechon (suckling pig - a traditional dish served on Noche Buena).

One moment we were indulging in a bit of sociolinguistics — the next, the whole evening, our Christmas dinner, was in meltdown. Consumed with anger, she blurted out in rasping horror: “F*** you!”

It seemed to emanate from somewhere deep inside her. I scanned the faces around the table; bewildered — unsure, I was hearing right. The hosts were in the kitchen, attending to the food, oblivious to the drama unfolding in the adjoining room.

The strains of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas emanated from the stereo. I glanced at my wife, hoping for sympathy; but she declared: “But, but, she’s a native speaker — she’s lived here for years.”

I am on my own.

Across from me, my new foe is frothing at the mouth and seems to be struggling for air. She musters enough breath. There it is again — “F*** Youuu!” Yip, this is happening. Heard her right the first time.

The situation is beyond redemption. Our Noche Buena is far from ‘buena’. There will be no ‘peace in our time’. It’s too late to hit the reset button. Our Christmas dinner is well and truly stuffed. And I have killed it.

Bing chimes in with another Christmas classic. I now kind of wish he would just shut up. His dulcet tones are certainly not bringing any Christmas cheer. I sit there in shock, smoking gun still in my hand. The female guest has recovered her breath and is about to launch another salvo. A long night beckons and of this I am certain. It will neither be ‘silent’ nor ‘holy’.

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