“How are you folks today? What can I get for you?” he asked.
Sophie ordered Diet Coke.
“Glenlivet on the rocks with a glass of water on the side,” her husband Richard said.
“Excellent,” said the bartender, showing his approval of the single malt scotch. “Where are you folks from?”
“We live about an hour from here. We were in the hotel for an event at the convention center and thought we would explore a little,” Sophie said. “Are you a native Floridian?” she asked.
“Oh, no. I’m from Jersey. I’ve been down here for a few years.”
“How do you like it here? I’ll bet you never want to go back to the cold weather,” Richard said after a sip of Glenlivet. “There’s a blizzard going on up there right now.”
“Actually, I miss it. The weather is nice but Florida is no place to raise children. I mean, the education system is terrible. If I had kids here I’d have to send them to private schools.”
“Some counties in the area put an emphasis on education. It depends on where you live. Whereabouts in Jersey are you from?” Richard asked.
“South Jersey. That’s why I don’t have a Jersey accent. There aren’t a lot of Italians in the southern part of the state so we don’t have accents.”
“Italians are all up north? Really? I’m not sure I understand. You mean you can tell if someone is Italian based on whether or not they have a New Jersey accent?” Sophie asked, amused. She hadn’t disclosed the fact that she, too, was from New Jersey, and she, too, had no Jersey accent.
“Definitely,” the bartender responded with authority. “The Italians all live in North Jersey and they have those heavy accents. You know, like in the Sopranos.”
“Actually, I’m from North Jersey,” Sophie said, “and I don’t have an accent. I never had one. Of course, I’m not Italian, but I grew up in an Italian neighborhood.”
“I guess you didn’t socialize with them much. Besides, it’s just the way they talk. They can’t help it.”
At this remark, Sophie could not believe that this young man could be so ignorant but she played along a little further to see just how far this would go. Richard sat quietly, listening to the exchange, enjoying his drink. He felt a little sorry for the young bartender, knowing that Sophie was laying a trap.
“When I was growing up, I had friends with all kinds of backgrounds,” she said. “I had a girlfriend who was Polish, one that was German, one that was English and of course, some Italians. The only difference it made to me was that I knew what kind of food I’d be eating if I went to dinner at a friend’s house. Usually the food was very ethnic. That was cool. Other than that, I never really thought about who had accents and who didn’t.”
“Well, you probably just didn’t notice,” said the bartender. “Where I grew up it was different.
I’m an Irish Catholic, born and raised in a little town in South Jersey. Went to Sacred Heart Elementary, St. Mary’s Junior High and Holy Sacrament High School.”
“So you went to all private schools growing up?” Sophie asked, placing the cheese in the little metal box.
“Yup,” he answered, apparently missing the irony of this after criticizing the school system in Florida.
“The Irish don’t talk like that. You know the stereotypes. The Irish are known as drinkers and fighters. The Italians are known for their mob connections and their accents,” he said. “Not that I’m a fighter or anything.”
“So what are Russian Jews like?” Sophie asked, thinking back to her grandparents.
“Russian Jews? I don’t know. I never met any in New Jersey. I think they live mostly in in New York. Maybe Queens, or something.” Although the bartender had boasted about his private school education, apparently he had a very narrow view of the world.
“So you plan to go back up north?” Sophie asked.
“By the time I’m 30 I’ll be back in South Jersey for sure. By then I’ll be ready to settle down and raise a family.”
“Be careful when you say that. Things change. You’re young. There’s no way of predicting what will happen tomorrow,” she said.
“You mean I might meet a girl here and fall in love? No, that’ll never happen. Girls down here are all fluff. I would never marry a southern girl,” he said. “I mean, I know a lot of girls come here from up north so I guess it’s possible I could meet one while I’m here but she’d have to want to go back to Jersey to get married or I wouldn’t date her.”
The woman finished her soda. The man finished his scotch.
“Can I get you another round?” the bartender asked.
“No, thanks. We’ve got to get going. Just a tab,” Richard said. He smiled at his wife while the bartender’s back was turned. He paid the bill, adding a little extra to cover the entertaining conversation.
The couple got up and walked toward the lobby. Richard took out the valet ticket as they approached the automatic doors.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Sophie said, laughing. “Hard to believe that he got through an interview with a 5-star hotel like this one. He must have interviewed with an Irish Catholic from South Jersey.”