Monday, February 27, 2006

"I Love Your Accent"

Until moving to NC, I had thought that I didn't really have much of an accent. It turns out, however, that I do.

It seems that a number of people here "love" our accents, although they can't always place them. On more than one occasion, we have been asked if we are Australian. Sometimes, people just ask us where we come from. Although seemingly an easy to answer question, it is difficult to judge what the person means. What the person means depends on the level of their experience (or lack thereof) of things non-US.

Map showing the countries that form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandThe reply "England" has resulted in anything from, "Well, obviously. What part of England?" to "I knew there was something European there -- English or French or something." The former tends to come from people who have been to the UK or have friends/family there. Mark spoke to one person who said that he used to know someone from England who came from a town called "Wales or something". Mark didn't have the heart to tell him that Wales is a different country, not a part of England. I think that he must have been getting confused between "Great Britain" and "England".

The other possible response to the question of where we're from might have been "Birmingham", but the US has more than one Birmingham of its own. Our standard answer is "Birmingham, England". This usually tends to answer their question.

After these conversation openers have been successfully navigated, we can move on. The nature of this progression depends on how interested in our being English the person is. A waitress might comment on her love of our accent, then ask us what we'd like to drink; someone who's been to England may discuss their holiday and the sites that they've been to. Mark had a long conversation in Walmart with a Vietnam veteran who had heard his accent. The veteran did most of the talking, about how much he liked Tony Blair. The conversation ended with him saying, "Well, when you go back to England, tell Tony that I'm a big fan." I'd like to think that he was joking.

Even once the origin of our accents has been established, our native language is sometimes in question. Several fifth graders, while Emily still had "new kid at school" celebrity status, asked her, "What language do they speak in England?" Recently, one of Emily's friends asked me, "Did you all have to take English lessons when you first moved here?" I think that she asked this because when I was talking to her I kept forgetting to use American words for some things (knickers/pants = underwear; trousers = pants; crisps = chips; chips = fries; courgettes = zucchini etc...). She must have started to think that we speak a different language.


Justin J. Buol said...

I think it's fair to say that between 70 and 90 percent of Americans have no idea on any difference among England, Great Britain, or the UK. I think many would use the terms synonymously.

I am surprised at the comments about "What language is spoken there," but it has almost become passé to note the stupidity of (American) society, particularly of the youth.

As far as accents go, I am only now beginning to be able to discern English from Australian from New Zealand from South Africa, as my pastor is from New Zealand, my theology professor from Australia, and several South Africans are on my campus. Before I would have had a difficult time.

Steve Walton said...

I've experienced the same thing while on study leave in Princeton - I and an Aussie from my church have great fun when American friends think he's a Brit and I'm an Aussie. :-)

charlie said...

Greetings, Viola, from Glasgow which, as I'm sure all Americans know, is in another part of England :o)

Who said that GB and the USA are two nations divided by a single language?

Flying to texas today for a couple of weeks. I'll wave as we pass over.


Michael said...

I only wish the American ignorance of things abroad was half as bad as you think. Its probably twice as bad.

In 2004, after we had told my family we were moving to England for a while, my 16 year-old niece later remarked, "Oh, I thought you were going to Europe." This might have been a valid statement If she had any grasp of "the continent", but she its safe to say that she just assumed England was part of another continent.

I was twice asked if I was Australian when I was in the UK.

Lorraine said...

Very funny. I will now confess that I am a complete sucker for an English accent, in all it's variations.

crystal said...

It's sadly true that many Americans, and not just children, are unaware of geography outside our own country.

I'm another sucker for the English accent, Australian too (Hugh Jackman!). The one time I was in England, I was told by a native that I had a charming accent .... I thought he was crazy as I'm from Californai, where we have no accent :-)

jacqui said...

On day 2, our company relocator guide took the children and I to the local Social security office for our SSN (the policy had changed the previous yr and the the relocator didn't know). Completed all the forms and asked where we came from "'X' United Kingdom" we replied and she responsed, "is that in Canada?"

Have loved skimming through your entries re moving to the States. Move over here in 2000 for 14 months and now we are here for the long haul!

Hope get a volunteer job, although that lack of SSN can get in the way with some. Once you have been here for a year.

Ren said...

When I moved back to Brazil from Australia, people would think I was from the US. One lady that had studied English and spoke fairly well thought that she had learned it all wrong when she tried talking to us. We explained that she had learned American English and that the accents vary like in Portuguese.

I lost my Australian accent long ago, but every now and then, when I'm VERY mentally fatigued, the accent kicks in. It took several years before I started saying tomato like the americans. I have always had the tendency to start talking like the people I'm around. When I moved to the south, I started hearing from my northern friends that I was getting a southern drawl.

Oh, and that question, "Where are you from?", I always ask them, "Do you mean where I was born, or where I just moved from?"

Selwyn said...

I watched a TVM film yesterday called "The Perfect Wife" - all about a lady marrying a doctor simply in order to kill all his `kith and kin' because she blamed the said doctor for not treating her brother who died in a road accident. She poisoned the brother with some thing noxious in a bowl of "oatmeal" - which I understand to be what we call "porridge"?

Iwanski said...

You know what I love? When English people do a funny impersonation of an American accent. It's so hilarious.

The best has to be the actor Mark Addy. He has it down perfectly.