It’s my language, your accent….Mate


When visiting Texas, can I barely resist the urge to yell ‘Yee-Haw’ (a must if on a horse)? If in Alabama I continually add ‘Y’all’ to every sentence. As for California I cringe as I find myself muttering ‘No problem’, ‘whatever’, ‘I’m good’ or worst of all ‘I’m stoked’. (I should be with a red hot poker up my backside every time I say that). I know to every local I must sound as fake as a flight attendant’s farewell, but I suppose it makes up for the occasional American who greets my English tones with… "Cor blimey stone the crows, do yer want-a-cuppa bloody tea, mate?" Quite apart from sounding like Mary Poppins, chimney sweep Dick Van Dyke, whose accent is as far removed from true cockney as tact is from President Putin, the speaker is also oblivious as to how to actually use the word ‘bloody’ and ‘mate’. (This is a short blog; you’d need an extra memory chip in your computer to be able to download why this is so wrong. Just take it from me, it is). However this person is cheery and thinks his English sounds are welcoming to me. Why? My beloved wife is an American with a delightful lilting Southern Accent. It’s as clear and fresh as a mint julep despite living here for over 20 years. Yet when she goes home they all accuse her of sounding English. At first I thought all her relatives were either stone deaf or making a joke but actually I realised it was not her accent, but her use of words and syntax that made my wife sound ‘furrren’. ‘Lift’ instead of elevator, ‘flat’ instead of ‘apartment’, ‘fag’ instead of ‘cigarette’ (always a dangerous misunderstanding that one) and our curious use of ending a sentence with ‘indeed’. Deny as much as you like but no matter how jingoistic, patriotic or linguistically challenged you are, we all pick up accents and grammatical mannerisms if we are someplace long enough; they stick like gum on a shoe. The reason has to be a subliminal yet natural desire for a human to fit in and be accepted; subconsciously we seem to have this strong desire when we meet someone who is different from us, to try to act and sound like them… even if we cannot speak like their language. I wonder if this knee-jerk urge to communicate is the most powerful argument for our inbuilt resistance against bigotry and illogical racism? We like to fit in, be accepted by strangers, rather than be apart from our fellow man.

...and another thing

There are, of course, people I wish to avoid; some whom I may have offended, though ‘forgive and remember’ is my motto. However mainly those who want to cause me physical harm because of what they might think I represent. (The exception being the Robin in the garden who definitely wants to peck my fingers off when I feed him yet whom my wife would probably lay down her life for. ‘Oh, Hunnee what’s a little peck when he’s so cute’? Still lucky she did not adopt a shark, I suppose).

...and another thing

It takes a very strong dose of willpower not to bobble your head from side to side when asking directions from an Indian in Gujarat, or from gesticulating wildly whilst arguing with an irate Italian taxi driver in Rome. I’ve never been to the Arctic but I would worry about quickly being detained for sexual harassment as the urge to rub noses with a local would be an itch I would just have to scratch.

So next time you find yourself repeating your Chinese order asking for ‘lice’ instead of ‘rice’ or you say th-th-th-thangria instead of sangria when in th-th-thSpain, just stop a moment. It’s your subconscious wanting you to belong, even if occasionally it might lead to the waiter tipping your food and drink in your lap.

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  1. Kevin Cooney says:

    Sometimes the urge to hear that accent can have devastating effects too-a double whammy for my good friend Mr Millib*nd whose Chinese girlfriend persisted in saying for at least a month that she was looking forward to “the erection”
    Top oh the Mornin ta yah!

  2. Stuart Graber says:

    When I came from the USA to live in England some 30 years ago I was given a book called Brit Speak/Amer-Speak, really imaginative title- that!
    If your a Brit in America don’t ask “what’s for pudding” at the end of a meal. Most Americans will assume you are one. If your an American visiting Scotland don’t go into a shop asking for a family Tartan especially if your name is Jablonski!

  3. Polly Pitcher says:

    Spot on old bean.( Also like the philosophy and that.)

  4. Peter says:

    I shall take your thoughts on my forthcoming trips to Spain and Russia …
    I will probably end up with “Ole Comrade ” !!

  5. Len Wright says:

    Is it the Americans or the English that confuse “you’re” and “your”?

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