Thursday, September 29, 2005

“Where are you from?” I get this a lot. I also get comments on how thick my American accent still is and if I am keeping it that way on purpose. Accents are a big deal here. My guess it comes from most people being the same shade of pale and they needed something by which to discriminate others. I am nowhere near as proficient at the accent game as the natives here, but it’s a fun game to play anyway. I am not doing too bad considering I came here with typical American ignorance assuming there was three major accents; Irish, Scottish, English. Cockney was just something they did for movies. And welsh… is that a country? In Britain adjacent neighbourhoods have different accents. Hell, sometimes they use different words all together. It is something I have really come to appreciate and enjoy. It is diversity not possible in the states. I grew up in the dark heart of the south (which unfortunately has risen again). Yet, I have a very standard of-the-shelf non-regional accent. Although, when I drink corn liquor I drop all the g’s from my present participles, and have a hankerin’ for sodomy. My mother and father where raised a thousand miles apart, but have the same accent1. A thousand mile separation on this side of the Atlantic would mean the parents speak different languages if not use different alphabets.

There are accents here I really love to listen to. One of the department heads has a great accent and occasionally I drift off listening to the cadence and melody of his voice rather than the meaning of the commands he’s giving me. There are other accents that immediately grate the nerves. There is a particular west coast Scottish accent that is so nasal and harsh in tone that I see why they are perpetually stabbing one another. It is also not uncommon for people to hold several accents and switch between them when the occasion arises. Locals of Aberdeen and the islands have such an incomprehensible twang that they must use a more comprehensible one even for fellow Scots. The whole point of this accent business is to be able to pin point a person’s origins, and this question, “where are you from?” means just that. The problem is I am not “from” anywhere in that sense. My answer, as the question means to me, would be “Edinburgh”, but I know this is not the answer that is sought. I have tried “America” as a response. This too is never satisfactory, usually because the person asking has been to a city in America and wants to know if I know this guy “Gerry” they met on holiday in Orlando. Finally, I just give them a résumé of the places I have lived in America (just the states involved usually suffice). Though this answer satisfies the listener, I always feel disingenuous. I was born in New Mexico. I lived there for my first years of life. I am not ‘from’ there because I can’t remember a thing about the place and I have no urge to return. It means nothing to me. I grew up in Florida. This might be the best candidate for the ‘from’ location. Yet to me, it is an accident of fate that my formative years were spent there. It too holds no allure to return. My family is there, but they aren’t ‘from’ there either. They just happen to be there now. I have spent almost as much time in Texas, but again it was just another city I happen to be in.

So, to me, where I am from is where I am, but it only became an issue when where I am is certainly not where I am from. You dig?

1) Dad does occasionally say things like ‘warsh’ instead of ‘wash’.


  1. Word of the day for you: Mockney.

  2. I always really enjoyed the "Where are you from?" game in Japan. It's obvious they meant, "Where are you from in America/Australia/France, big foreign white girl?", but I would always answer with the name of my rural Japanese neighborhood, "Kitagata-shi" or "Mizuho-cho." I figured after 4 years I was entitled, but it was actually coincidentally fun to frustrate all that Japanese politeness and make them say what they actually meant.

    My Australian friend had lived in the same little town in Japan for so many years that when she went out of town and spoke Japanese, people could peg her adopted town. Usually she never went more than an hour or two away. I was so jealous of her for that.


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