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Posts Tagged ‘Accents’

I have been living in Australia for 10 years now and have had to cop a lot of casual, knee jerk anti Americanism. And, you know what? It’s offensive not to mention hypocritical. Those of you who read this blog pretty much already know that I’m no flag toting patriotic “God Bless America” wanker. I know my country of origin is fucked up for many reasons and rapidly getting even more fucked up. I don’t harbour any illusions that my country is some sort of land of milk and honey that does no wrong. I can complain about America right along with most people and I understand where anti American sentiment can stem from. But there are certain people (a whole lot of you Australians, whether you think so or not) that automatically denigrate America in ways that you would never dare do so to any other country. The reason you wouldn’t dare demonize any other country in that way is because it is offensive, insensitive and racist. So why is it ok to do it to the US? Yes, the US is predominantly white so the racist* argument would be hard to hold up. But that doesn’t change the offensiveness. This sort of thing happens across all sorts of subjects but the one I notice the most is language and accents.

Just now on Twitter, I noticed some people I was following having a conversation about the correct way to spell “premie” (as in, a premature baby). The fact that Americans say “preemie” was mentioned. I jumped in only to say that the reason Americans say that is just an accent thing. We pronounce “premature” “pree-mature” as opposed to the Australian/English habit of pronouncing it “preh-mature.” I also pointed out that “mum” vs “mom” is accent related yet it’s reflected in the spelling so go figure. I then got served with some snotty comment along the lines of “if it’s American then it’s wrong.” I pointed out how offensive that statement was and I got served with yet another snotty dismissal of all things American.

Here’s the thing: Accents are not wrong, they are simply different ways of pronouncing words. Different is not Wrong. Accents fascinate me because they seem so random and weird. I always wonder how one group of people speaking the same language as another group of people came to pronounce things so drastically differently. Even groups who live right next to each other have radically different accents! I find some accents beautiful and some of them make my teeth itch. Honestly, even I find a really strong US accent quite jarring especially after having lived overseas for so long. So, I get that some accents are just not palatable to certain people but they are not Wrong, for crying out loud! Neither are different spellings. They are DIFFERENT and they are all ENGLISH (well, in this context I’m only talking about English). I would have gotten pretty upset (and justifiably so) if any of my teachers had marked me down for spelling “colour” the British way as opposed to the US “color.” The same goes for if my kids happen to spell something the American way.

Language is a funny thing. It’s always changing. The English we speak now is nothing like the English spoken in Shakespeare’s time, for example. These days it seems to change even faster (I’m no linguist, that’s just my personal perception of how quickly words seem to make it into the dictionary). Accents add another layer to this. It’s all pretty fascinating and a good topic of discussion, really. But to say that everything about US English is Wrong and therefore should be ridiculed is ignorant. I wonder what the people who behave like this would do if an American went off about how Australian English is Wrong and deserves ridicule? You can bet they’d get pretty offended and justifiably so.

The language thing isn’t the only time this casual anti Americanism happens around me, to me, or about me. It’s uncomfortable on top of offensive. How should I act? If I stand up for myself and my country, I am seen as an overly patriotic American wanker. Often I have just joined in or let it go for the sake of social harmony. But, that is pretty cowardly on my part and after a while, it gets to me. These things should not be ok**. Part of what’s wrong with America is Americans’ perceived arrogance and ignorance of the world. And you know what? That’s fair enough because, as an American, I know that the American government (and many Americans, collectively) can come off as arrogant and ignorant of the world. It shits me too. But what shits me even more is that the people displaying the casual knee jerk anti Americanism are BEING JUST AS ARROGANT AND IGNORANT OF THE WORLD as the Americans that they complain about! So, get off your high horse, you arrogant fuckwits! Not everything Americans say, do, spell, eat, or think is shit. Quit acting like you’re so much smarter and worldly than an entire country of people just because you happen to live somewhere else. In short, grow up.

*    I almost want to call it a sort of cultural-ism. Does that work? Can I make that a word?

**  I’d just like to note here that I am not entirely humourless. I can take a joke and I do find most America jokes pretty funny. So don’t give me the “Australians take the piss” lecture. I know they do and I love it. What I’m talking about is not your usual light hearted Australian piss taking. Some jokes go beyond that and have too much animosity behind them to be funny.

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Yesterday I got a chance to visit a friend in the Perth Hills. I love going up there. It’s beautiful. Carlia lives about an hour’s drive away but it’s worth it. Even the drive is beautiful. There is something about the hills that make me almost like living here. It’s the trees, I think. I need to be surrounded by trees every once in a while. It’s a comforting feeling. Even though the kinds of trees are different, and there are no mountains visible above them, it makes me feel a little closer to home. The hills are the best during the autumn/winter months. During the summer, it’s too hot for me to fully appreciate the trees … I’m too busy melting. If you want to see what I mean about the beauty of the Perth Hills, check out Carlia’s blog particularly this post. If we have to stay in Perth, I really want to move to the hills.

The reason for the gathering at Carlias was an Intimo party. Intimo is a line of lingerie that is sold via a party plan. I am not shitting you. This is a real thing in the world. Party plan undies. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be attending things like undie parties, I would have laughed in your face. I’ve even hosted Tupperware parties of my own. What’s worse? I’ve not only been to a sex toy party but I’m planning on going to another one as soon as my friend is able to organize a date for it. Yeah, my life is exciting, is it not? 🙂 But, hey, they’re good excuses to get together, eat some cake and enjoy the company of friends (and even, dare I say, make some purchases … though not this particular time).

My accent was brought up at the party. Everyone thinks it’s funny how Australian I sound when I pronounce an “O” sound. It is kind of funny, I suppose. The scary thing, though, is that I realized today that I’d find it difficult to actually pronounce that “O” sound in an American accent now. In fact, it might be impossible. Since when did I become so Australian, that I cannot even immitate a full American accent? Oh, hai Identity Crisis, I forgot you existed for a while. Sigh.

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It’s a funny thing, being in an expat. Often I don’t realise how much I *do* want to connect with other American expats until I hear the telltale signs of the accent in a public place. This happened today.  I heard another woman in the grocery store speaking with what sounded like an American accent. This always comes with an internal conflict that usually ends the same way every time.

I wonder: “Should I ask her (him/whoever it is) where they’re from?” And then I proceed to agonize about it until I conclude that I don’t actually have the guts to just walk up to a stranger in the store and ask. I worry that maybe she doesn’t have an accent, maybe I just thought I heard something I didn’t. Or maybe she’s from Canada and I misheard the accent*. Then I start to wonder whether it’s worth asking at all … I mean, the only thing we have in common is an accent. This can be problematic … often the person I am wondering about may not turn out to be the kind of person I want to be friends with anyway. What if she hits her kids or uses CIO or actually liked Bush or is homophobic or any number of other things I would probably consider deal breakers? Just because we are both American expats in Australia does not mean we would be friends.

Then I figure that she probably don’t want to be bothered. I mean, she can hear my accent, right? If she wanted to know, she would ask. Then, after the moment is gone, I realize that my accent has morphed so much in the years that I’ve been here that even Americans don’t always recognize our common origins**. I kind of like my changing accent (it is pretty unique to me as it is somewhere in between) but, at the same time, it saddens me that I’ve become somewhat invisible to other Americans.

To be honest, the few times I have asked have resulted in stilted conversations in which we both worked out that we don’t, in fact, have anything in common except for a common country of origin. I know all this but yet the conflict continues each time I hear the accent.

*   I’ll let you in on a little secret: Often Americans and Canadians cannot tell the difference between our accents … especially when we’ve been overseas for as long as I have. There are certain keywords (“sorry” is a big one for me) but even they can be iffy at times. So, Australians, stop being so shy about accidentally identifying an American as Canadian. If they’re the type to get offended then they’re no one you want to bother talking to anyway. (I have often been tempted to simply identify as Canadian, tbh. Especially during the reign of Dubya.)

**  When an old friend arrived for his visit last year, he laughed at my accent because it surprised him so much. Well, that and the fact that he’d just gotten off the last leg of a 24 hour trip and was a little giddy with jetlag so anything probably would have made him laugh at that point.

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We watched Up with Bug (4 years old) yesterday … and I LOVED it. 🙂 I’ve been hearing people rave about this flick for a while now and, hey, I’m a bit of a sucker for Pixar so we finally got around to watching it. I wasn’t so sure about it in the beginning. It was a little sad and realistic for a cartoon. Not that I have a problem with sad realism, its just that I tend to prefer my cartoons a bit more … cartoony. And then the dogs were introduced. Classic. Absolutely … Squirrel!… classic. I think I pulled a muscle from laughing. 🙂

Some points that particularly impressed me about Up: Both the hero and the villain were geriatrics. Awesome! Finally old people being shown to be able to do stuff other than sit on their asses being grumpy old farts (not there weren’t a shortage of grumpy old fart moments, of course). The other thing that struck me was that the kid who befriends Carl in the movie was non-white! He looked to be Asian of some description (hey, its a cartoon, its hard to tell sometimes) … definitely NOT white, though. How easy/standard would have been to make the kid your typical blonde haired, blue eyed Anglo stereotype? Really easy … but they didn’t do it. Its sad that that is notable and impressive. It shouldn’t be but it is.

A good, funny movie would have been enough for me but Up had an added bonus: It got The Geek to say “squirrel” which amuses me to no end. Have you ever heard an Australian pronounce the word “squirrel?” It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. It triggers a giggle fit each and every time I hear it. But then, I guess I’m just easily amused ….

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