One of the most interesting things about being a British expat is seeing the varied responses that my accent generates. Sometimes people are friendly, sometimes they are indifferent and occasionally they are plain rude! The best responses of course are the funny ones, often by people who can’t place my accent. Once in Texas I was told by a friendly local “You are the first Australian I’ve ever met!” Naturally I couldn’t disappoint this gentleman so I responded with a friendly “g’day mate.” While in the south I was asked if I was Australian three times, always in small towns so it’s probably hard for people who haven’t met many foreigners before to place an accent. I didn’t think I was either tanned or self-confident enough to ever pass for an Aussie. The other common response to my accent is an attempt to mimic it; even my wife does this although I must confess that I do the same to her!
I’m sure that most British expats in the US will have come across the situation before where someone identifies them as British and the conversation goes one of three ways; 1) You are asked where you are from and of course if it isn’t London they ask where it is in relation to London because they haven’t heard of it. 2) Their great grandfather’s postman came from England and they just love it and hope to visit one day. 3) They adore British accents and think they are so adorable and they heard that Catherine is pregnant again right? I don’t mind any of these because I’m pretty shy and they are actually a pretty good icebreaker in a conversation. Sometimes if you are lucky your new American best friend will go for the full house and say all three followed by a British cultural reference, usually the Beatles or Doctor Who. The first time I ever visited a store in the US with Kat the cashier asked me to keep talking because she loved my accent. Luckily that doesn’t happen very often or shopping would take forever!
I like it most when my accent can fly under the radar, Boston is good for this because as a big city most people there have met plenty of Brits and therefore my accent escapes notice. There are occasions though when I stay silent; one day a slightly crazy woman started a conversation with Kat and I in a bookstore and I knew that her hearing my accent and remarking on it would only prolong the awkward discourse so I let Kat do all the talking! I am not exaggerating about the awkwardness; I have tried to suppress the memory but I believe she said something like “When I saw you two I knew you were either brother and sister or husband and wife!” I don’t know what small hillside town she came from but that comment is not OK! I do have a slightly mischievous side to my character as anyone who knows me will testify and I must admit that I occasionally throw such clichéd staples of Britspeak such as “jolly good” and “bloody hell’ into the conversation just to see people do a double take.
Sometimes the accent can be a pain in the ass. The first job interview that I had in the US was over the phone and the interviewer was not expecting an accent and struggled to follow what I said. Needless to say it didn’t go well! The worst experience I have had so far was a Delta flight attendant saying rudely “I don’t speak that language” to me on a flight! If I hadn’t been so surprised I would have delivered a suitably sarcastic British comeback. It also gets really frustrating having to repeat myself continually because people can’t follow my accent, there have been times where I have just let Kat handle the talking. Despite these issues it can be fun having an accent and standing out a little bit and I’m learning to speak more slowly when I meet people for the first time so I don’t have these problems. It’s nice when they reciprocate because sometimes I can find US accents hard to follow at first too. Do you have any interesting anecdotes about accents? I’d love to know if you do 🙂