Tuesday, May 05, 2015

British Expat: 5 Places Americans Think My Accent is From

For the most part, my British nationality is probably not all that hard to determine. Even before Americans hear me speak, they might—from my un-straightened teeth, vaguely European dress sense, and lost-tourist countenance—place my origin as "from somewhere across the Pond." Their suspicions, indeed, are usually—usually—justified once I open my mouth and words such as rubbish, brilliant, and daft come out. 


However, the odd (sometimes very odd) occasion exists when even my accent is not, it would seem, a sufficient marker of my Britishness. Every so often, Americans will place my brogue thousands of miles from its actual home, sticking their pins into some peculiar points on the accent map.

With that in mind, below are just five such places. I have labeled them chronologically from most understandable to what-the-f#&%-just-happened?

1. Australia
Given that much of Australia's population derived from British immigrants and banished convicts, it is perhaps understandable that Americans would confuse my accent with that of Down Under. On one occasion, when I was working in a call centre, a customer rejoiced at having reached me because he was, in his own words, traveling to Sydney the next day and wanted to pick my brain for travel advice. Having myself never visited Australia, I nonetheless didn't have the heart to crush this poor individual's enthusiasm. Instead, I not only donned my best attempt at an Ozzie accent, but proceeded to invent a list of eateries around Sydney Harbo(u)r. To this day, I hope he enjoyed the five-star service supplied by the Snake and Kangaroo Inn.
  
2. Ireland/Eire
Okay, I get it: I'm a relatively pale man, my skin bears more than one freckle, and I am occasionally fond of Guinness. That said, I would almost contend that Irish accents have more in common with certain varieties of American English (the two share common rhotic traits, for example) than they do with most forms of British English. On this point, however, I do recall a particular St. Paddy's Day (St. Patty's Day in the U.S.) when someone (who shall not be named) glanced at my greenless outfit and remarked, "I figured you of all people would dress up for St. Patty's." At that moment—somewhat appropriately—my good old pale skin turned green, as I quipped, "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

3. South Africa
As with the first two places on this list, I've never so much as breathed the South African air, much less identified as one of the country's citizens. Still, that hasn't stopped some Americans from placing my home city as Cape Town. Bizarrely, one womanupon learning my true nationality having initially made this faux pasattempted to iron over the creases by joyously insisting that she once dated an Englishman whose accent was "just like yours." 

4. Canada
For the most part, Canadian English and American English can sound—to the untrained ear—almost interchangeable. So much so, in fact, that Canadian actors such as Michael J. Fox, Ellen Page, and Jim Carrey have seemlessly portrayed characters that were, for all intents and purposes, American. How anyone could mistake British English for Canadian English is quite beyond me, but this—believe it or not—has happened to me on more than one occasion.
   
5. Kentucky
What-the-f#&%-just-happened?

This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana, and has written for BBC America and Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

6 comments:

Elizabeth West said...

Kentucky made me giggle.

Someone at the petrol station in London yesterday asked me if I was from Jersey. (I'm not; I'm from Missouri.) So Brits can't always tell ours either, LOL.

I'm getting better at it, however, the more time I spend there and the more telly I watch. I can tell if you're Irish or if you're Scottish. I have a bit more trouble with Welsh (unless you're actually speaking the language itself), and though I can hear a Northern accent, I can't tell where it's from unless it's broadly Liverpudlian.

Paul Askew said...

I got New Jersey one time (I live in the South). That was simply bizarre, but I refrained from laughing until later, as I was at work.

Paul Askew said...

But yes, Australia and South Africa are the commonest for me. I used to feel a little insulted when I was called Irish/Scottish/Welsh, but now I see those as near misses...

I was born and raised in Cumbria, by the way, spent some time in Leicester and London, then lived for many years in Yorkshire.

An English person knows that my accent is definitely northern, but it is not easy to place me exactly, as I moved around.

nancy john said...

So, have you decided on the state you are settling in? Do you know how a certain state's tax, housing, education and pay scale will impact you and your dependents (if any)?

Canadian Medical Exam

JHay said...

I'm from Kentucky. I grew up in eastern KY and moved to Lexington KY about 13 years ago. It goes without saying that in eastern KY we have a different (thicker) accent. Sometimes even in Lexington people will ask me if I'm from Ireland or Scotland. I just look at them funny and say no. To be fair, it's usually university students from out of state. But it kind of blows my mind that they'd never heard an Appalachian accent before. One time a college girl, upon hearing my accent, asked me where I'm from. I said "Carter County". She scrunched up her face in pure disgust and said "Oh..." and walked away. I'm sure I also need not mention the fact that Appalachian people are looked down on here.

Anonymous said...

I was born in Cheshire, England and moved to the U.S. almost 50 years ago, after I finished university.I have kept my English accent. I traveled a lot then settled in Kentucky. Because I have strawberry blonde hair and freckles, as soon as I open my mouth Americans assume I am Irish.Nothing could be farther from the truth. My DNA says I am Scottish,French and Scandinavian. I correct them as to my true nationality, but the response usually is; "Well, isn't that the same thing"? No doubt you can imagine my response &*#@**

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