I love accents. If I had all the time and money in the world, I’d wander the country just listening (probably spending most of my time in Boston, because Matt Damon). I love that the U.K. has so many distinct accents and even dialects, packed into an island (and a bit) the size of Oregon. I love the history of accents in the U.S., the changing vocabularies as the settlers went west, the whole New Yawk thing. Dropping your r’s is upper class! No, it’s low class, stop doing it right away! No, it’s cool to have a New York accent! Start doing it again! So fun.
Back in England, I always picked up on accents and usually unthinkingly used them myself.
I distinctly remember my poor mother trying to get me to say ‘house’ instead of ‘haaas’ before I started boarding school, because she was afraid I’d get made fun of. This is how the conversation went:
“No, say ‘house’.”
“I’m saying ‘haaas’!”
Turned out, after a few years in the West Country, I picked up a Bristol accent, which probably made her beat her head against walls when I wasn't looking. I can also do a passable impression of several other U.K. accents, at least good enough that I’m a dab hand at reading Harry Potter to my kids.
But in America it’s different. I can’t do an American accent. I just can’t. You’d think twenty years in a joint would help you sound a little more native, but no. “Oh, I love your accent; where are you from?” “England, but a really long time ago now.” [My ‘really’ does sound a bit American.] “Oh well, your accent hasn't changed a bit!”
And then, of course, you go back to the old country and you find that indeed you have changed, and worst of all, you can’t switch it off. Can’t say ‘bill’ instead of ‘check,’ or ‘bins’ instead of ‘garbage cans,’ and when you meet people you are fundamentally programmed to say, “Hi, how are you?” which usually gets you a funny look, because they’d thought you were English but you don’t sound it, matey.
Story from the early years: I needed a passport photo taken, and had no idea where to get them from. So I did what any Englishwoman would do, and went to the closest equivalent of Boots (mecca for photo booths in the U.K.) I could think of: my local CVS. After all, they did print photos there (pre-digital days). The girl looked at me like I had just flown in from Mars and said, “Wuh? Pretzels?” It’s quite hard at these moments to keep the stupefied disbelief out of one’s face, let me tell you.
Kimberley Ash is a British ex-pat who has lived in and loved New Jersey for twenty years. When not writing romance, she can usually be found cleaning up after her two big white furry dogs and slightly less furry children. Her first novel, Breathe, is now available from Crimson Romance.