A very good friend of mine, a man named Tom Rockmore, is an unusual man. He’s essentially a polyglot. He speaks most of the languages of Europe. He can lecture in, let’s say, English, French, German, Italian and Russian, and he now has a professorship in Beijing, China, and he is making his way through Mandarin. He also can make out — make his way in Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch, Polish and so on, okay? There are very few languages — it’s a bit unreal, yeah.
I mentioned that because he is — perhaps his strongest language now — he’s from New York. I think his strongest language now is French. Although he and I travelled across France, we rented a car and we stopped to get meals to make our own lunches through some grocery or other, and some French woman said to him, because he addressed her in French. She said, “Where are you from?” and he said, “Je suis de Nice, I’m from Nice.” And she said, “No” perfectly in English, “Okay, what do you mean?” She said — and she said, I remember it exactly, she said, “You don’t have the accent of the Nicoise.”
Can you imagine some ordinary person saying this? Which annoyed him and amused me, because it annoyed him. He pulled out his carte d’identité to show her, and she waved her hand to say effectively, “Look you are not French in the sense we understand it here, meaning you come from an area which is marked by your particular accent. You don’t have it.” And she saw, but didn’t understand how he could be so fluent in French without being French. She saw that instantly.1 I’m absolutely blown over over by that. Fantastic. People think that they’re not transparent.