The “Outsider”.

Everybody back home wants to know if living in America is like living in the movies. I try and explain the excitement of going to a Walmart with an escalator especially for your trolley (shopping cart) and the touch screen vending machines, the weirdness of strawberry cream cheese and the horrific popcorn selection, but other than point out that I can eat Mint Oreos here, or just pop to New York for a daytrip, it’s really difficult to distinguish quite what they expect from the actuality of day-to-day living.

Technically, I’m not really a tourist anymore. Yet, you wouldn’t really think that if you sat in on a few of my classes. There is still one girl who claps in excitement every time I open my mouth, but I do count this as an improvement on last semester’s collective jaw-drop of fifty of my fellow classmates, and the professors. The reaction to “The Accent” is something I will never get used to. Perhaps my favourite response is “Oh I’m going to do it now…” and then the most ridiculous, slightly cockney (a regional London accent which I have no idea how you guys know) seems to spring forth. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. Well, I love it until you ask me to say “bottle”, or “bacon” repeatedly, or you think I sound like I come from London – or to the point when you’re disappointed I don’t come from London… That will always slightly offend me. But then again, there are people who’ve asked if I’m from London OR England — and my sarcastic replies are never lost!

When we first arrived, the five British girls (myself included) were on our way to a house party near Pine Hills, Albany when we were overheard by a bunch of wannabe-basketball players. (I know I’m on the short-side, but still, these guys were TALL.) Anyway, we were on the intersection outside the store when we were mobbed. There is no other verb to express what exactly happened to us. There were cries of “We have the British girls!!” from left, right and centre as swarms of blokes descended on us from all directions. At the time, it was rather terrifying; these blokes were huge. Looking back, it was hilarious; I seem to remember one drunken fellow yelling at me for liking crumpets because if I was the personification of that particular English stereotype, then he must be the personification of his chosen American one: stupidity. Unfortunately, the irony of that entire situation was completely lost on him.

This level of “adoration”(?) “celebrity”(?) isn’t restricted simply to the Albany males…I have been asked/forced to have a conversation with my fellow Brits in the breakfast queue whilst American girls formed a circle round us and hung on our every word – which, could be whatever we liked…because we were allowed to choose our topic of conversation, we just had to let them watch us in awe as we did so.

Perhaps the greatest thing ever, is the fact that back home, I have the British equivalent of your Southern accent. And here you call my voice beautiful and ask me to talk more. Back home, they can’t wait to shut me up. So it’s great. Mostly.

I do wish to beg the question though, as to why my accent is so attractive, why it is so sexualised that numerous boys would clamour to a street corner to ask me about crumpets? Just tonight I was introduced as “Jess – she’s from England!” and again, reference was made immediately to my accent before I’d even opened my mouth. Don’t get me wrong – my accent opens doors here, I know that. And I completely appreciate it: when I spent the first week of my trip to Utah alone in Salt Lake City, I relied on my accent to keep me safe, because it made me memorable. I just don’t necessarily understand it. We speak the same language, mostly. Granted I have to translate “loo” to “bathroom”, and I will never order “fries” but I’m not half as different as everyone makes me out to be. I grew up watching the same movies, reading the same books and listening to the same music that all of you did. It’s funny, I was accepted onto the majority of my classes last semester because of my supposed exotic accent. I was singled out in classes to give “The British Opinion”, regardless of the fact that no one person can speak for an entire nation. I was given countless fantastic opportunities because I was “different”. And I have loved and appreciated all of them. But, to survive in America’s great melting pot, one must become American. You must walk like an American, you must talk like an American, you must think like an American. And nobody considers that until they get here: no movie will ever let you in on that little secret, well perhaps until I write the screenplay myself. Somehow, although that was the most frustrating obstacle I had to get my head round last semester; this idea that although I was praised for being “different”, all anybody really wanted was for me to “fit in”, I relish the experience. I think I did grow up, just a little bit, in America this year. Doesn’t that make me slightly American too?

4 thoughts

  1. You know I never could understand why British accents were so attractive. I mean we speak the same language but just say it differently. I can only imagine what being the center of attraction would be like due to your accent. It’s almost like singling out somebody out for their differences instead of just accepting it and letting it be. I’m sure the special treatment must be nice though!

    Oh and congratulations you’re on you way to becoming American. ‘Murrica all the way.

  2. When I would travel to London for work, I would always joke with colleagues about how I felt that the West Coast American accent was the ‘baseline’ from which all other accents were born of.

    Have you ever noticed that singers with accents (Australian, English, Irish, etc.) all seem to sound ‘americanized’ once they start singing? e.g. Adele?

    1. I’m a trained singer, and I’m not 100% sure, BUT I know that when I was learning how to sing opera/theater music, I was taught a “correct” way to pronounce vowels and other sounds. So, it’s possible that if someone is classically trained, their accent will be less obvious. I could be wrong, though!
      -Ingrid aka lilgrrrlcreep

  3. Jess I’m so glad you wrote this article! There’s such a fine line between appreciating a culture and fetishizing it and I’ve always wanted to hear an account from the position of the fetishized. I understand that my own race is fetishized to a point but I can’t even imagine going to another country and being hungered over for the way I speak. No one wants anything to do with this New York accent!

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