I rolled in to work the other morning and took over the paramedic car from my mate Roy.
"Top o' the marnin' to ya!" he greeted me, and did a little Irish jig.
This was strange because of two things. The first being it was six in the AM, and no-one should be doing a jig at that time of the morning. I'm sure there's a bylaw that forbids it.
The second is that Roy is from Birmingham, and his Irish heritage is about as closely linked to him as his Kenyan ancestry. Judging by his pallor (and I do like to judge), that is quite a way in the past.
So obviously I replied in the same vein with an appropriately mangled "Top o' the marnin' to y'good self as well there, so it is!", proceeding to see-saw my elbows in and out which I understand to be the way all people speak in Ireland.
I couldn't help myself. It just had to be done. Upon hearing the Irish lilt, my vocal chords suddenly became flawlessly Hibernian, as though I harked from the sprawling suburbs of Galway itself.
This, I thought, was odd. Why couldn't I simply nod and accept that he'd accented at me, maybe smile appreciatively if it was a particulalry good one, and then carry on talking in my (arguably) normal accent.
The following few days, as we crossed our finish and start times, I decided to try an experiment to see if the phenomeon was reciprocal.
That evening, as I finished the day shift, the moon was already high and bright, and Roy began his second night shift, I promptly hollered "Why aye mon, it'll be a braw bricht moonlit nicht tonicht!"
Without a moments hesitation, he answered "Aye, you're nay wrang. Icy an' all. Ah nearly hit a coo comin' here the noo!"
So, it wasn't just me then?
Roy caught on quick and, the following morning, I was met with "Guten Tag, Englisher! Achtung, schnell, gott in himmell!"
"Guten morgan Herr Royzenburger." I replied, unable to help myself, "You haff ze car keys?"
"Nein!" he shouted back at me. "Ve haff vays of making you valk!"
How we laughed.
That evening, I greeted him with an accent from the Deep South of The United Americas (Northern Branch), politely enquiring if there was good eatin' on squirrels, and he responded with a Californian drawl, assuring me that, in fact, gingham foot-longs with crawdads were better.
This was still a success because in England we feel there are only three US accents. These are Hillbilly, Surfer Dude, and Mexican.*
So, it appears that, should someone greet you in an accent other than your own, there is some sort of psychological imperative to respond in kind.
Try it if you don't believe me.
I guarantee it'll either be true or false. Or possibly somewhere in between. That's how confident I am in my hypothesis.
Maybe it harks back to tribal days when one might meet a well-armed stranger and, to reduce the risk of being speared by a xenohophobic Cro-magnon type, emulating his speech patterns would lull him into feeling secure in your presence, so you could then stab him in the back and steal his fabulous sabre-tooth head-dress which is all the rage down the cave system this season.
Or maybe, and this is my current favourite psychological theory, it's just silliness.
Of course, night shifts take their toll on anyone, and the first thing that tends to go is a sense of jollity. On our last swap over, continuing the theme I think we had both come to expect and enjoy, I hailed a not-so-sprightly looking Roy with a hearty " 'Ow do, is thee all reet?", and was rewarded with an appropriate faux-Yorkshire lilt straight back.
"Fook off, I'm reet not int' moooood."
Still, it's not the content that counts, but the delivery. My theory stands.
Thinking back, I may have come across a potential downside, as when the new Stores chap came to our ambulance station in a large white NHS van to deliver a single vomit bowl.
He came over to the corner of the garage where I was busy test-licking defibrillator paddles to say hello.
" Allo, mon amis," he said, outrageously "Ah em ze new supplah personne, 'ere to provide for your armbularns needs!"
Obviously, I retorted in a lengthy, french-accented soliloquy taking, for humourous effect, aspects of Monty Python's Ker-nigg-hut insulting frecnhmen, the policeman out of 'Allo 'Allo and an onion-necklaced, beret-wearing, Gauloises-smoking baguette-eating stereotype, thus crafting them into a beautiful, synergistic combination of humour and good-natured racism.
Eventually, exhausted and bouyed by the banter between myself and my new, nameless friend, I stopped, got my breath back and introduced myself. "I'm the Jules." I said, and proffered a hand, expecting us to retun to our normal, everyday Anglosaxon now we'd got the fun over and done with.
"Herve." he replied in a monotone, but strangely keeping on with the foreign accent.
In fact, come to think of it, he's still using it, which in my opinion has gone way past funny and is starting to get a bit tiresome now.
*In comparison, Americans think that Brits have two accents; Upper Class Toff and Cockney.