The British Accent
I was talking about accents the other day with a Canadian friend who used to live here but repatriated a few years ago. She was saying how British children sound so posh and sophisticated due to their accents. I used to think that too! Until I had children who speak with a British accent….. ! There are times when I do an invisible double take – when I expect them to sound more like me and speak with American accents and instead they sound British. Honestly, sometimes I just don’t understand some of the words they say to me so I ask them to repeat themselves. It’s one of our family traditions now; sometimes I have to pronounce words with a British accent so they understand what I’m saying to them. That can be challenging, I’m not very good at doing accents.
Our conversation prompted me to think about the first few years after I first moved to England and how people would mock my accent and mimic what I said, how I said it. Some of it was funny, some offensive and some outright mean. There were times when people were relentless in their teasing either by constantly laughing in a slightly cruel way (not the I’m laughing with you way, but the I’m laughing at you way) or by repeating everything I said in a mock American accent dripping with disdain. I mostly just brushed it off and tried to laugh along with them even though it was hurtful and, let’s be honest, sometimes I had no clue what they were actually talking about so I just played along.
Now, looking back, I see that it had a profound effect on me and over time, I began to change the words I use, the way I speak in order to fit in and to be ‘accepted’. I also began to hate the sound of my own voice in certain situations and at times felt humiliated – mostly when I couldn’t understand what it was exactly that they were making fun of so couldn’t ‘fight’ back!
There’s a great quote from a book that I’ve just read called Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn Gardner
Cultural humility demands self-evaluation and critique, constant effort to understand the view of another before we react. It requires that we recognize our own tendency toward cultural superiority. Cultural humility gives up the role of expert, instead seeing ourselves as students of our host culture. It puts us on our knees, the best posture possible for learning.
I do everything I can to learn, to fit in and to be part of my host country. I always have. It was certainly very challenging and sometimes depressing during the early years especially when faced with situations I’ve described above. I think trying to belong in a culture that you didn’t grow up in is a fascinating topic, especially if you’re raising children simultaneously; children who do belong. I highly recommend Between Worlds. It’s written by an adult Third Culture Kid raising Third Culture Kids and aimed at Third Culture Kids, but if you’re like me as well (as I say in my book – I’m a Third Culture parent!), then you’ll love it too.
And for those new to Britain, just because the British accent sounds posh and sophisticated, it really doesn’t mean they all are.
Meghan Peterson Fenn is the author of Bringing Up Brits and co-author of Inspiring Global Entrepreneurs with Heidi Mulligan Walker. Meghan is also the Director and Chief Designer at her own design company, White Ochre Design Ltd. And, she is an award winning expat blogger.