Accents: Brits sorting Americans from Australians

A while back, I mentioned that I’m sometimes asked if I’m Canadian. When your accent stands out, people feel free to ask questions. Sometimes I’m fine with it, sometimes I’m tired of it, and sometimes when no one comments I wonder why they haven’t noticed. I mean, here I am talking in this improbable accent that I have and nobody’s saying a word about it. I might as well be giving an impassioned political speech wearing a rabbit costume.

Which I should probably try some day.

Sometimes, though, the comments get strange.

Gloucester

Irrelevant photo: A view of Gloucester, from the path to the Cheese Rolling.

Wild Thing was in a store, winding up whatever business they’d transacted, and as she got ready to leave the kid working there said, “Say it.”

“Say it?”

“Go on, say it.”

He was almost begging.

“Say what?”

“G’day.”

So she said, “G’day?” Complete with the question mark, because how could she leave it out. It stood in for, “You do know that’s Australian, right?” as well as “You do understand that this isn’t an Australian accent, don’t you?”

“Brilliant,” he said. Which the American side of my brain still misunderstands as gee, you’re smart, even though the side that tracks British usage knows it’s just an indication that the speaker’s happy.

He was happy. Ill informed, but happy. Why interfere?

*

And in case you wondered why I posted two pieces at almost the same second on Tuesday, it’s because I screwed up. I’d scheduled one in case I didn’t finish the Cheese Rolling post on time. When I did finish it, I rescheduled my backup post, or I thought I did, but clearly I was wrong. Apologies. I do know most of you have other things to do in the course of a day other than read me. Although I can’t think why.

61 thoughts on “Accents: Brits sorting Americans from Australians

  1. Accents are brilliant, (indication that I like them very much) are they not? But this surprised me – as a Brit, I find that Americans often mistake me for being Australian. I am guilty of mistaking Americans for Canadians and vice-versa (I know the difference now, though). Sometimes I get Scottish and Irish confused, for which there really is no excuse, admittedly.
    I really liked the cheese rolling post.

    Like

  2. I worked with someone in the UK for a year before they actually realised I was British and not Australian. They were also British. No-one else could tell me why this person thought I was Australian. It was pretty bizarre. Maybe it was just because I liked watching neighbours on my lunchbreak?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A student on a tour of my ex British husband’s studio asked him what language he spoke at home. Ignorance has has no INS checkpoint border guards. I used to get asked where I was from as well. I’d blink and say, “Ohio.” Maybe my ebonics accent was not working with my dreadocks at the time. I think some people are a bit dim and things just fly out of their mouths. If I had a quarter for the times people thought I was a Rastafarian, I would buy a boat. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. Must have triggered a part of my brain. So sorry, back under the rock with me.
    Have a nice day. -ASR

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, no, please don’t go back under the rock. I loved the comment. People don’t–okay, I’ll rephrase: Some people don’t think. And on the rare occasions when they do, those same people think they have the right to ask anyone anything.

      Liked by 1 person

      • (Lifts rock up to peek for cars) It’s like when I was pregnant, everyone and their mother came over to touch my belly, to feel my baby move. I became a good luck charm. Rub the belly. No one asked permission. There was an assumption that I wanted that kind of intimacy with strangers I met on public buses. Why? Because I may have seemed pleasant and that was taken as an invitation. Culturally, it is across the board one of the most invasive things that I have experienced. Except of course, when you go to a hospital, while in labor and every nurse on every shift gets to check how dilated you are. Now that’s invasive. Now that’s why I need to stay under a rock, because one little comment leads to another and I don’t know when to shut up. My filter switch is stuck on TMI and it makes some people run.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Ha-ha-ha-ha! I promise I will always read your notes. Please make sure they are written in permanent pen, so they don’t get blurred by the rain. I do like to venture out from beneath the rock, but I get honked at by cars and large birds and I scuttle back under again. I’m working on being less of a troll. Some days are better than others.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder… if no one is commenting, perhaps you’ve lost your American accent? During my trip to England in the late 80’s I found myself adopting the British accent. Without trying to, I’d launch into the local vernacular.- I had to catch myself for fear I’d be perceived as mocking, or heaven forbid, misuse a phrase.

    Cheers. (Another term co-opted from my British correspondents.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not that no one comments, just that they don’t all the time (for which I’m grateful), and every so often I back off and think, Isn’t this strange? Here I am acting as if I belonged here and listen to me. When I make a joke about my accent, no one has yet said, “What accent?”

      Liked by 1 person

      • You know, I think (and I’m probably one of those “Ill-informed, but happy” people, so I may be way off the mark here) your posts sound (read?) British. But maybe it’s just the dry humor.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmmm. I hope not, because as a writer I worry about losing my writing voice. I do hear bits of Brit-speak creeping in sometimes, and I run them out when I spot them.

          Okay, you’ve got me worried now.

          Like

    • I doubt it. I lived in MN for 40 years without picking up (I’m told) something vaguely upper Midwestern about the O. I seem to be largely accent-proof in English. I have the one I have, and it seems to stay that way. Although, having said all that, I’m not sure I’d know if it shifted.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fun post! I was born and raised in California, and while I don’t think that I have any accent at all by American standards at least, I do still have people sometimes ask me where I am from. Evidently I am “exotic” looking to some folks and they go so far as to ask which country I hail from. It always makes me giggle when people just immediately start off speaking an entirely foreign language to me…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I had this silly assumption that Americans would be better at detecting accents than they are because there are such diverse regional accents and dialects within the boundaries of their own nation. But, no. They are not. Wrong assumption on my part.

    I have a very strong Scottish accent. It is strong enough that people who know Scottish accents can pinpoint that I am a Fifer and some who are especially good can detect that I am a Fifer with an Aberdonian parent. Despite my rampant Scottishness, however, it is staggering how many people here in America pass comment on my accent only to get it completely and utterly wrong. I get Australian and New Zealander rather a lot. I have had South African. The one I get most of all, however – even more than people accurately detecting that I am Scottish – is Irish. It happens almost weekly. Most people accept being corrected and then we can have the whole “close but no coconut” laugh and move on. Some people, however, are adamant that I am Irish. Because obviously they no better than I do where I am from, right?

    So this was a conversation I had about five months ago:

    Man: That’s not a Philly accent.
    Me: Well spotted.
    Man: My family are Irish.
    Me: Cool. I’m not Irish though. I’m Scottish.
    Man: Yeah, my grandparents came over in their 20s.
    Me: Uh huh.
    Man: So where in Ireland?
    Me: Sorry?
    Man: Where in Ireland are you from?
    Me: I’m not. I’m from Scotland.
    Man: Oh. It’s just that you sound just like Sean Connery.
    Me: Sean Connery is also not Irish. He is also Scottish. Like me.
    Man: Cool.

    Like

    • Great conversation. A real classic. It’s funny, though, that you should talk about how many accents the U.S. contains, because I have the same feeling about the U.K.–how can you squeeze this many accents into a small country without starting a fire?

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Years back, as an Australian living in England/Europe, I was often mistaken for American. One time, an English friend warned off a shopkeeper who was showing interest in my accent. “Oh, I can tell the difference,” he said confidently. “You’re Canadian”. Then when I was living in Yugoslavia and struggling to learn the language, I took it as a compliment that I had enough command of pronunciation to be mistaken for Hungarian instead of a native English speaker. But after four years away, the funniest was when I returned to Australia, my new colleagues mistook me for a Brit! And a toffy one at that! Hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m guessing that the most important accent categories are like me and not like me. Or maybe that’s from around here and not from around here. So Australia, Canada, Argentina, Mongolia? What the hell, if you’re in England, they’re all not from around here.

      When my Spanish accent got good enough that in Mexico I was asked where I was from rather than immediately pegged as American, I was flattered to pieces.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. LOL. I mispronounced “quiche” when working up in the Lakes District, and my hospitality colleagues fell around laughing. “You colonials . . . ” the chef spluttered. “What?” I responded, “you live on an island the size of Tasmania, and you can’t decide amongst yourselves how you want to speak the language.” it’s all relative . . . smaller or bigger concentric circles. So long as no offence is taken, and misinterpretations don’t lead to knives at dawn, then I think the variations are just part of the marvellous tapestry of society.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You speak my mind on accents! I have an accent with my Mandarin, sometimes people try guess and sometimes they might give me a funny stare and some don’t seem to react which leaves me confused/happy/neglected!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Having started life in the UK, spent many years in Canada and then in Australia, I know I have a pretty mixed up accent. I get asked if I’m Irish a lot (apparently those three accents mixed together = Irish), and I get ‘Where are you from?’ even more. I love the look on their faces when I reply ‘Coventry.’ :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I grew up in Connecticut and now live in Philadelphia, where people recognize I have an accent but can’t quite place it (though I’m sometimes misidentified as a New Yorker). I think you’re right with the categories “From Here” and “Not From Here” which are probably the only classifications important to the primordial part of our brains anyhow.

    I’ve now lived in places other than Connecticut for more years than I lived there, so I guess I should stop saying I’m from there and maybe people will stop expecting me say stuff like “Pahk the cah in the Hahvahd yahd” (yes, people are funny with their requests for you to perform when they think you’re from some place else). The only trouble with saying you’re from Philadelphia is that people want you to say, “Yo, Adrienne!” and eat a cheesesteak in front of them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I used to know what to say when people asked where I was from: If we were standing in Minnesota, I said, “New York.” If we weren’t, it got a bit more complicated, but not much. Now, though? I don’t know what the real answer is anymore.

      As for performing, I don’t have the accent people think of as a New York accent, so to date no one’s asked me to say, “Giddoudda da way, asshole,” (although I could, with conviction if not quite the right accent). Mine is a New York accent, not the New York accent. But I can slip into the attitude with no effort at all.

      Like

    • I’m the opposite, Karen. I’m the Karen who grew up north of Philly but haven’t lived there in donkey’s years. (Still trying to figure out how they came up with that particular measurement of time.) However, I still have quite a bit of the accent while speaking Anglo-American. It confuses people to no end unless The Boffin is with me to corroborate my speech.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Damn, you are organised: scheduling posts, wow. As for screwing it up, dates contain numbers, so it is OK, as we know your love-and-hate relationship with numbers. :-)

    And the boy: he must be your friend for life now.

    Liked by 1 person

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