The fight took place in the
Temple Bar area of Dublin.
Ten days ago three French-speaking men came together late at night on the streets of Dublin. Words were exchanged, which triggered a violent altercation that has left a young doctor in a coma in a Dublin Hospital and a young student in jail.

The story is both sad and bizarre. Details are still sketchy, but the press here reported that the fight was the result of an argument over accents.

The doctor in a coma is 26-year-old Frenchman Guillaume Osterstock. Osterstock came to Dublin to study at Dublin's Royal College of Surgeons and is in Beaumont Hospital, where he had worked. His alleged attacker is 23-year-old Simon Mercier from Quebec City in Canada.

The Montreal Gazette says Mercier's friends and family are totally stunned at the turn of events that transformed a sojourn in Europe into what might well prove to lifelong nightmare. I can well understand.

It's easy to imagine all sorts of possible dangers when a young man goes off traveling in a foreign land, but getting arrested after a senseless, violent fight is probably not among them. That's especially true if the man is not prone to fighting when at home, which seems to be the case with Mercier.

The very idea that two French-speaking people from thousands of miles apart would come together in Dublin and it end in violence is odd. When you add in the fact that both men should have been in good spirits - one studying abroad and the other off on what was to be a care-free lark - it seems even stranger. None of those involved had any reason to be in a bad enough mood to warrant such violence.

What could have gone so wrong?

Thousands of young students travel to Europe from America and Canada every summer and for the vast majority it's a great experience - a whole new world opening up for them. Of course some are targeted by thieves and a rare few are victims of violent assaults, even murder.

Yet none of that was true of Mercier. He was in Dublin with a friend when at some point he came across Osterstock. What was said between them we don't know, but I do know that if you're not ready to be confronted about all sorts of things you've never considered before it can be disorientating, frustrating, angering even threatening when it happens when you're abroad.

For Americans traveling in Europe, politics can often be the cause of such confrontations. I can still remember how stunned I was when shortly after I'd arrived in Dublin for a year's study I was confronted by some angry, I mean really angry, fellow student who was in my face over President Reagan.

I'd apparently been a lot less negative than would satisfy this guy. Truth was I was smug and gushing in my praise of Reagan. It was 1986, a few months after America had bombed Tripoli and this guy was livid. {He couldn't say enough nice things about Gaddafi. Wonder how he feels about him now?}

I had neither the mindset nor the physique of someone who would get in a fight, but if ever there was a moment when I wanted to take a poke at a guy it was then. I just wanted him to back off. As things were going from heated to over-heated a friend of this guy came over and steered him away.

I walked off wondering how I'd become so worked up, how things had nearly gotten out of hand. While I'd always engaged in political debates at home – and often been smug and dismissive while doing so – I'd never been anywhere near as angry about what was said. Later I accepted I had to be more cautious about what I said, how I expressed myself and how I reacted while I was away from home.

While politics can often be the trigger for such rancor, it's not the only one. I've witnessed such incidents over baseball vs soccer, New York vs London (for music), movies and other really trivial matters.

For that reason, while it may be unimaginable for many to consider an argument over accents as possibly leading to such violence that a man is left on life support, it doesn't seem so remote to me. Things can get out of hand in a hurry when you're not on familiar ground.