The two bottles (Die beiden Flaschen)


In Wells… No, not Wales – Wales is when he is well-dressed. In Wells… although, no, not that either: well is what the English say just to get a sentence going, because nobody here starts a sentence with what it’s about. What it’s about is in the subordinate clause.

I recently asked a young man in London whether the number 176 bus stops here, where he was also waiting. And what did he say? He said, “I hope so.” Yes would have been too definite. You never know, maybe it won’t stop, and the English language, which can be so precise, loves little back-doors, just as emergency exits, they are not often used. But it likes to add a little, if and when it gets serious. “What is the difference between a policeman and a woman?“ a magazine asked, recently. “When the policeman says ‚Stop‘, he means it.” Anyway, in Wells. Wells is a pretty somersety town, but one can’t say that. One does say, Hannoverish, but: in Somerset. It has a beautiful cathedral, and such a peaceful air, although it is not cosy, it is plain, almost modern, and neat and tidy. Everything is how it should be, and it is so nice!

So I have a little walk around, and have a good look at the sights, the shop windows, they are my sights, one can always learn such a lot from them. In an antique shop, there was glass in the window, and when there is glass in the window… How does the old Berlin rhyme go? „Anyone with any culture will know what I mean!“ So I buy all the glass that is standing there, in my imagination, and finally I see two dark green, round-bellied, funny little bottles. They both have metal labels around their necks. On one is written ‚Whisky’, and on the other, ‘Gin’. Gin is a distant step-sister of Genever[1]. And any real gentleman knows what whisky is. And because I always just keep my whisky in those long bottles in which one buys it, I decided to purchase this green bottle, whose first name, as was immediately apparent, was Emily. Into the shop.

The English have an immortal soul, and horribly irregular verbs. I said something – if my English teacher had heard it, he would certainly have boxed my ears, but the salesman understood me. He said quite a lot which I understood, and some more which I didn’t understand. The English sometimes have such funny accents, don’t they? And then the haggling started. The bottle was not very expensive. („What did it cost you? I am interested because I gave my husband one just like it…„ Oh shut up! You and your numbers.) It was not expensive, but… but.

The whisky bottle was not on offer on its own. It was one of a pair. One had to buy the gin bottle as well. “Why?” I asked the man. (This was the only entirely correct sentence which I uttered during this conversation.) Why? And the man gave me such a wonderful answer that I must repeat it here. An answer which explains about half of England if one lets it. One could have thought he would have answered, „Because I can’t sell the other one on its own.” Or, „Because then I will make a greater profit.“ Or, „These two bottles and these six glasses and this tray are a set… I can’t split it up.” Not a bit of any of that, and there were no glasses or tray. The man said, „Because they were always together.”

This answer contains everything which constitutes the Englishman. For example, the unshakeable solidity with which things remain, once they have been established, until they fall apart on their own. Because they were always together. They are still together today, because they were always together. The Englishman and his cricket, this for foreigners completely incomprehensible procedure, a cross between a game of chess and religious practice. The man and the colours of his university are together. The gentleman and his dinner jacket are together in the evening. The judge and his wig. The country and power. Because they were always together.

Then I was touched. I thought about what could happen if I tore the bottle Emily from the bottle Martha. How Martha would cry, and that I couldn’t take responsibility for it. So I bought them both. Because they were always together. Would someone perhaps like to have the other bottle?


[1] Dutch gin, which was better known in Germany than English gin, in Tucholsky’s day

Author: Kurt Tucholsky

Published in:

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Vossische Zeitung TuchoKleineGeschichten Tucholsky Little Stories


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