An English Encounter
I’d been working up in the Zizkov district of Prague and was now heading down one of those narrow cobbled alleys towards the centre of town to reward myself with a beer in one of the outside bars along the Vltava, when I stopped in my tracks.
"Oi! You. Yeah I’m talking to you! Yeah you, blondy! Look at me when I’m talking to you!"
I looked up. The voice was coming from an over-filled England football shirt. He was with two mates. Shaved heads, flushed cheeks, you know the type: not huge but solid. You can out run them, sure, but why should you? I tried to stand tall. I tried to push my chest out and make my shoulders look broad. I tried to fix my eyes in that world-weary look you see in gangster movies. It wasn’t convincing.
They weren’t convinced. The England shirt walked closer. He smelled stale; a mix of dried sweat, smoke, alcohol, but something else too, something stronger, something sour. He came closer, jutting his face right up towards mine. In the orangeade glow of the Prague street lamps, I saw where the smell was coming from.
Opposite the "Three Lions," he had a second badge of honor, spreading darkly from the neck downwards. I forced my eyes away from the vomit stain and looked at him in the eyes.
"Look mate, I’m tired," I pleaded. "I’m on my way home. Just leave me alone, O.K.?"
"Oh! You’re English! Oh mate! I didn’t know. Lads! Lads! He’s one of us!" The shirt was trying to hug me. I was leaning back trying to avoid that stain, but your back is only so flexible. Wishing I had done more yoga, I submitted and let him embrace me, trying not to breathe him in.
"Come for a drink with us, man. Come on, just one. I’m buying. There’s a whole bunch of us down from Sunderland, like. On a staggie. It’s mad, like"
None of this was anything unusual, I learned later. Just this week, Sarah Lyall in the International Herald Tribune had cited a recent British Foreign Office report of thousands of arrests and hospitalizations of British holiday makers abroad, "many," it said, "due to behavior caused by excessive drinking."
I wasn’t tempted by his Stag Night. I turned around, away from the Vtlava, away from my new companions. The England shirt wasn’t threatening anymore, neither were his stooges. He’s one of "us" – 40 Euros there and back, just for the cheap booze and a ‘laff’.
"Come on, have a drink! Oh come ooon!" You could hear from his voice that he’d started to cry. I turned around. Large tears were running down in his cheeks.
"Oh come on mate, have a drink with us. I’m not a nasty man! I’m not a nasty man!
I kept on walking. In the distance, on the Spálená, there was singing. Liverpool, apparently, were going to win the league.