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Digression on “The Accent”

May 11, 2010

Many people from home have asked me what effect the English accent has on Americans: ‘Do American girls’ eyes glaze over in instant infatuation?’, ‘Does the accent give you an air of intellectual authority and suavity?’, ‘Do people ask you inane questions about Harry Potter?’ The answer to all the above is yes. I am very lucky that due to my itinerant childhood as an army child I have shunned any regional twangs and am left with that middle-of-the-road BBC accent that all American’s desire from an Englishman. I am also becoming increasingly pucker and deliberately flood my speech with quaint anglicisms such as ‘bloody hell’, ‘totty’, and ‘codswallop’.

However the main reaction I seem to get whenever I let forth my dulcet tones is one of utter confusion. I had a mystical conversation with an old man on a bench outside a Greyhound Station in Lake City, Florida (i.e. the middle of nowhere) which went like this:

Old Man: ‘Hey boy…y’all from Gainesville?’

Me: ‘No’

‘Y’all from Jacksonville?’

‘No…I’m from England’

‘New England?’

‘No…the United Kingdom’

(Look of complete blankness accompanied with a long pause)

‘You born and raised in England?’



And then we both carried on looking straight ahead and didn’t say another word to each other. His was the first but not the last face I observed that look of blankness upon…even slightly more intelligent folk become too embarrassed to ask me whether I’m from England or Australia…and there is bollocks all chance that anyone here has a clue where Bristol is.  I’ve found as well that if there are any fights or disturbances on the Greyhound Bus if I start speaking to calm things down people are so thrown for a loop by my voice that any aggression immediately dissipates. They probably think I have the power to have them taken away and beheaded.

On another occasion I was in a supermarket in Virginia trying to buy alcohol when I was asked for my ID. Upon presenting my British Driver’s License to the cashier all hell broke loose. It wasn’t long before five or six managers descended upon us, passing my ID between themselves, and leafing through their extensive catalogue of American driver’s licenses. I tried to explain to them that they would struggle to find my license on their file, not even in the New England section which they had inevitably turned to first, because I was from overseas. Finally the head head honcho came down to tell me that State Law prohibits them accepting any foreign identification for purchasing alcohol…of course. In this same supermarket my host Kyle asked sincerely whether we had developed self-checkout in our country yet…

And at this time of huge political upheaval and change back home in Britain I hope everyone there understands that no-one here, including the majority of my intelligent peers, has any idea that we have recently had a historic election…and nobody cares. Over here those who have actually heard of our country still know it as ‘Jolly Old Britain’ and think that London is still ‘foggy’. The only evidence I’ve seen in the South of any global-mindedness is that one of the most popular t-shirt slogans is: ‘Texas is bigger than France”. I much prefer living on a small island.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Westy permalink
    May 11, 2010 08:25

    You’re not a very nice person Tom Brown. You have hurt my feelings. I am recording the whole series of ‘Luther’ for you. It has Idris Elba in it. You will like it. This is all. Much love!x

  2. Kristi permalink
    May 11, 2010 13:05

    As an american living in the quaint backwater of Nottingham for the last 25 years, I can report that I STILL get the same look of blankness when I open my mouth in Sainsburys. To make it worse, when I ‘go home’ to San Diego I get the same thing. Endless questions about being from England, Ireland or Australia. . .

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