When it comes to transplanted roots, the Ukrainians know a thing or two

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The Independent Online
"All right, can you tell where I'm from by my accent?" said the fiancee down the table.

My wife and I were staying in July at this Vermont hotel at Craftsbury Common, which was so small that all the people having dinner sat at the same table and were forced to talk to each other. Our company this evening included a Ukrainian/ Canadian dentist, a French-Canadian orthodontist, and an engaged couple from the US. The Ukrainian had been claiming that you could tell where people came from by their accent. He had already successfully identified my wife and me as British, which was not a hard trick to do. The Americans had counter-attacked by saying that you could always identify a Canadian by the way he said a certain word - I have forgotten which it is now, but I think it was "across" - and so the Canadians at table were forced to say this word, and sure enough the Americans hooted with laughter.

"There is a famous TV newsreader in the United States who is Canadian," said an American, "and every time he uses that word, the whole of America sits up in their chair and shouts `Canadian!'. "

The Canadians then pointed out that almost everything the Americans took pride in as American, from Jim Carrey to Pamela Anderson, really came from Canada; and then the fiancee down the table said:" All right, can you tell where I'm from by my accent?"

"New York," said the Ukrainian/Canadian.

"From my accent?" she said, looking pleased.

"No," he said, "I knew you were from New York because you were so loud."

Howls of merriment from all present, except for the engaged couple. She looked discomfited and he sprang to her defence.

"Hey, look," he said," You gotta be loud if you live in New York. How else you gonna get by? If you're in a grocery store and the guy says "Next?" - then you move! You don't speak up, you don't get served. I've known people get to the front of the line and then start tasting the different cheeses to see which one they like, for God's sake! How's anyone going to get served if we all do that?"

Looking back, I see that the whole conversation wasn't really about accents, it was about roots, and how important they were. Another American pair we met at that hotel had come all the way from France, where they owned a chateau/hotel. They were well rooted in France, but the reason they had come to this plush part of Vermont was to bring their teenage son to a well-known summer tennis camp called Windyridge.

"We want him to grow up an American boy, not French," she told us. The boy looked miserable. He was clearly quite happy growing up half-French back home, and here his mother was, trying to implant her own roots in him.

Yes, it's a funny old business, roots. We need them so much that we even fake them, if what they say about Alex Haley is true. But it's commoner to take them with you, as did Harry Miller. He was the father of a builder we stopped to talk to in the same Vermont village.

"My father left England to come here," said the son of Harry Miller, "and he's never been back, but I can tell you exactly where he came from. It was a small town in Northumberland called Rothbury, in the valley of the river Coquet, and one day I aim to go there." I had never heard of Rothbury or the Coquet, which sounded far too French a name to be Northumbrian, but sure enough there it is on the map, and if anyone reading this in Rothbury remembers Harry Miller, I can give you a forwarding address.

But the most touching example of transplanted roots I saw on that trip was hundreds of miles away, in the open countryside near Toronto, where a huge wooden church stands in open farmland. This church expatriate Ukrainians - including perhaps the dentist, or even Greg Rusedski's parents - have built for themselves, in the old onion-dome East European style but in new, shining wood. And outside was a notice which was so other-worldly that I copied it down word for word. Here it is:

"UKRAINIAN CHURCH. This church is founded in honour and memory of the holy glorious prophet Elias. In the reign of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, in the episcopacy of his Grace Isidore, Bishop of Toronto. In the year of the world 7502 and from the nativity in the Flesh of God the word 1994, July 18. OS."

No, I'm not sure what it all means either, but I do know that if Ukrainians really think the year 7502 is the right date, then Ukraine is going to be a good place to go to get away from the millennium.

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