Last week I was in California for the second time in a month. This caused a raised eyebrow from the immigration officials, and I also got to join the “special screening” line at security (I think it was a mix of having only hand luggage, and not having any part of my journey involve the country that issued my passport). But the most interesting part was trying to book a hotel in Palo Alto.

I was booking at the last minute, so all my first choices had either no, or restricted, availability. I eventually got booked into the Comfort Inn Stanford/Silicon Valley, but it was a painful experience. Their website availability guide didn’t work at all on Firefox on a Mac, so I had to switch to the PC just to check if it was even worth trying to call them.

When I did call them (Yay for Skype allowing me to call US Toll-free numbers from abroad), things descended into farce. I don’t think my accent is that strong – at least compared to many people I know – but they just couldn’t understand at all some of the things I was saying. I don’t recall ever having to explain before that ‘eight’ is ‘the number between seven and nine’. I was also pretty sure they got my name wrong (it sounded like they were calling me ‘Tomy’, like the Japanese toy people), but I guessed it was more trouble than it was worth to correct this. They also really couldn’t handle international phone numbers – not only are they too long to enter into their form, but the concept of starting with a plus sign seemed to really confuse them. They eventually gave up on trying to take my address after at least three times around the “Where?” / “Estonia” loop, with a higher degree of incredulity to the question each time.

I never did work out whether this was because they didn’t understand my accent, or they just had never heard of Estonia…

A Common Language?

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