A traveller's oral history

It's the changes to our own speech, influenced by contact with different cultures and other languages, that proves to be the best souvenir.

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My time in the UAE has impressed upon me certain phrases that I never thought would stick. Yes, everyone knows that "backside" means "behind" in taxi-driver lingo, and that this rapidly edges its way into day-to-day conversation. But there are other nuanced ways of speaking that have got a grip on me. And I just can't stop using them.

For instance, I've taken to occasionally, unconsciously rolling and exaggerating my r's, much to the amusement of people back home. "It's to help people underrrstand my accent," I cry, lost and exotic to them.

I've also started telling people that I'm from "Ing-Land". Because the stumbling tones of my northern English render "Englund" largely incomprehensible to most taxi drivers, who stare confusedly into the rear-view mirror.

Then there's the gesticulating - these relentless, unstoppable hand gestures that I've adopted. They weren't there when I rocked up on these shores three years ago. I can't disagree with anything nowadays without offering, Sioux-style, a raised open palm.

Admittedly, a lot of these have been ingrained into me by the sheer amount of time I spend in the back of cabs. But there's one phrase that, though jarring to me at first, I just can't live without anymore: "Tell me."

It is an incredible phrase. Just a couple of simple syllables, but which break through the inevitable string of introductory pleasantries and straight into what we're really talking about. They say: "Tell me how we can make this conversation work." Or, "Tell me, because I'm ready for anything."

It was a phrase first offered to me down the phone by an Indian gallery owner in Dubai, and from that first moment, I was hooked on its straightforwardness, its call-to-action and its suspension of British let's-dance-around-the-subject protocol.

I say it on the telephone, to colleagues, even to friends - many of whom look back surprised at my forthrightness. But I do wonder if we'd get a whole lot more stuff done if we took a more "tell me" approach to daily banter.

However odd these acquired quirks of daily conversation may be, I hold them dear. My rudimentary Arabic - enough to hold what I imagine must be the dullest of conversations for the other party - and the little social tics that I've acquired by osmosis over the course of a few years here, are worth far more than any trinkets I've accumulated.

Words and behaviour are something of an oral record of the various folks one meets along the way. We subconsciously imitate all the time, taking bits we've seen and like, while simultaneously adapting to a new environment.

But "tell me", if I'm really honest with myself, is there just for kicks.

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