Having an accent in the USA: Why I love it, Why I hate it.

3 Aug

So one of the first things you will notice on arriving in the states as a Brit (unless you are mute, deaf or incredibly quiet) is that they love the accent. Now, obviously in big metropolitan cities like Washington, New York and San Francisco this is much less salient. You might get politely asked where you’re from, asked about the Olympics, the Queen etc, but quite frankly they’ve met more Brits than you’ve had hot dinners and they’re too busy going to art galleries and sealing deals to discuss the difference between courgettes and zucchinis, thank you very much. BUT outside of these so-over-euro areas having an accent is kind of a big deal. Now as an attention seeker ego-vampire I actually love it; I open my mouth to ask where the ‘washroom’ is and people are in rapture, fantastic! But there is a downside… with great power comes great responsibility. So here, for those who care, is a wee list of the good and the antigood things about living in the USA with a British accent.

The Good
1. This one’s obvious, people love it which by association means people love you. The accent will buy you drinks, make you friends, get you layed (probably!), hired, fed and endlessly complimented. As egotisitcal as this all sounds I challenge any Brit, even the most modest of you, to not enjoy having a group of excited Americans introducing you to everyone and buying you ALL the alcohol.

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2. People think you’re clever. There seems to be a strong association in the American psyche between a British accent and intellect. What is normally seen as blatant bullshit by my British friends is taken as fact by many Americans all because of the accent. This may seem decidedly Machiavellian but there is some small pleasure that I get from having a few points added to my IQ… especially when a lot of what I say is a load of rubbish. This also helps in interviews, apparently (and luckily for us) the stereotype of the Oxford educated British Gent has much more power than the Daily Mail reading football hooligan.
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3. Instant conversation/icebreaker. I know some people can’t stand small talk, I understand this, but for me it is endlessly preferable to those… long… awkward………. silences. Whether its at the hairdresser, or whilst waiting at a bus stop the accent can be very very useful when it comes to filling air. As soon as they hear it people will ask where you come from (London or Scotland are the only acceptable responses) and then you can spend a leisurely 10 minutes talking about the queen, tea, Harry Potter and dentistry before you can leave. Sounds silly but with my secret X-Men power of making any mildly-awkward social situation COMPLETELY UNBEARABLE this is a really really good thing!
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4. Wow you’re funny! You never were all that funny back in the UK, I mean you make your friends chuckle occasionally and some people like the joke about the hidden horse and the cheese (masque-a-pony, hahahahaha). And then you arrive in the states. Suddenly you merest utterance is very very funny. Sometimes people laugh when you don’t intend to be making a joke and you feel a bit like Hugh Grant, bumbling and somewhat confused, but someone just bought you a drink and shouted ‘I love this guy, he’s funny’ so you must be doing ok!
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The Bad

1. So it’s very charming how much they love your voice… but sometimes you wish they would just listen to WHAT you’re saying. Classic example whilst in a bookshop yesterday.

Me: Hello, I just came to pick up my boo-
Shop Assistant: Ooooh, just keep speaking!
Me: Haha, cheers… so I was hoping to get the-
Shop Assistant: He said Cheers! You ACTUALLY say that?
Me: Uuuuh, yes, che- thanks… can I have my-
Shop Assistant: I used to have such a crush on Daniel Radcliffe!
Me: BOOK! Can I please have my book! Now! Please THANKS! CHEERS!

So it’s all very flattering, but when you just want to be heard it can get in the way. There are times when you realise that the person has no real interest in talking TO you, they’re just observing your accent like some exotic butterfly. This can be a royal pain in the arse, especially when you’re trying to make friends: Great, everyone likes your accent but very few people want to actually know anything about you.

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2. Dance monkey dance: Say that phrase from that film! Say ‘pavement’! No say it more British! SAY IT, SAY IT!!!!!! Similar to the previous gripe, people will want you to perform. Again this is fine for a laugh, and once you’ve made a few friends it can be quite amusing but when it’s with a bunch of new acquaintances and you’re homesick and/or feeling a bit like a sore thumb having people point out repeatedly how ‘funny’ you sound can grate.
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3. Now I know my American accent is terrible, I sound like a reject gay OC character with a speech impediment. But the thing is at least I know how bad I sound! Now, a lot of Yanks really really pride themselves on their British Accent (or as they say Bri-‘ish Ats-eh’). I’m not offended that for the most part these accents are terrible, I mean they’re no worse than my American accent, but its continuously being asked to appraise them, by total strangers… that can get old! At a pub in Lodo I ended up surrounded by 4-5 yanks all speaking Bri-‘ish at me. I felt like I was trapped in a Dick Van Dyke Nightmare, or some budget Australian production of Oliver Twist. Again, this behaviour can make you feel isolated and also slightly highly strung. Again it all depends on the situation, I often make my American friends speak Bri-‘ish as it is hsyterical, but when it’s a bunch of strangers, and it keeps happening, and you keep having to tell people that, no, I’m afraid ‘spot-a- tea in the mornin tip top elo elo mi-jubblies’ is not really going to cut it…

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Anyway I hope that was even slightly sensical and not too whiney, patronising or egotistical. As I say over and over again the people here in Denver are incredibly kind, sensitive people. The points I make in these blogposts are mainly generalisations so do take them with a massive pinch of salt.

(This post was brought to you by too much iced Mocha and excessive playing of Xenoblade Chronicles.)

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3 Responses to “Having an accent in the USA: Why I love it, Why I hate it.”

  1. Abbi August 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    At least they’ve registered the correct accent. When I went to the States they constantly asked me if I was British, to which I responded: no, South African. The follow up response is always either, “oh so you’re a racist” or but “you’re not black”… sigh…

  2. commandpluszed August 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Hmmm, well actually about 70% of Americans seem to think I’m Australian. Apparently we all sound the same! Ah well, I can’t differentiate all the different American accents so I shouldn’t be too hard on the Yanks!

  3. Candi Lomeharst December 1, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Oh my goooood, you guys are so cute!!!

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