Yes, you heard it here first. The first rule of doing a British accent is never to do one. Ever. No, seriously. Since I’ve been in America, every attempt at impersonating my accent (that has inadvertently ended up sounding more like the Queen or Eliza Doolittle) has been terrible, and if I’ve told you otherwise, I was lying. The number of people that mimic me a day is incredible. Granted, at first it was cool. My accent was a novelty that made me marginally interesting and was handy as an icebreaker, if only for someone to ask if I was from England and for me to solely reply “yes.” However, if I am to be wholly frank, this accent is a pain in the arse. I urge you all never to mimic another person’s accent without permission, and here is why.
It was a day like any other. I entered a coffee shop (with the intent of buying tea and not coffee, obviously) and looked for a table. Laptop open and tea in hand, I searched for a sign that displayed the Wi-Fi password, and it was nowhere to be found. I looked to a guy who seemed to be tapping away happily on his computer and simply said:
“ ’Scuse me, do you know what the Wi-Fi password is?”
“PARRRRSE-word,” he replied, laughing, “PARRRRSE-WORD?”
I stared at him, confused as to why he’d just repeated part of my sentence back to me in what sounded like Russian.
“Erm yeah, the … password.”
He began laughing again, and for what, I have no idea, because he really was the only one amused. Eventually, he told me the password, and I thanked him, doing a sterling job at not shouting a truckload of profanities at him. He didn’t even know me, yet he thought it was perfectly acceptable to mimic my accent in the least flattering way possible. It’s something that we all like to do, and I am the first person to admit I have had a field day with some people’s accents in the past — but I don’t think the majority of us realize how rude it can come across as. Have you ever experienced a younger sibling or friend copy everything you say to the point of insane irritation? That, my friends, is an accurate description of what it is like to have a British accent in America.
I have never been able to understand the fascination with the British accent. People have told me that they love it, that it’s cool and that I even sound smarter because of it. It makes no sense to me. British accents are just like any other accent — different but, ultimately, boring. Contrary to popular belief, I am no better off in the United States having an accent, and judging by the snapchats my friends have the joy of receiving, it definitely doesn’t make me any cooler. The only thing it pretty much gives me is social anxiety, knowing that my accent is so obviously recognized and so easily targeted as a source of humor. Of course, I understand that for many people I’ve met, mimicking my accent is not something that is done out of spite. Most would assure me the reason they do it is because they like it, and I too am guilty of copying an accent out of admiration. However, when someone tries to impersonate me, two things happen: They do an awful job at it, and I instantly feel like a joke. There have been times when I have been interrupted mid-sentence just so the person can laugh at a word I’ve said or ask to reel off different words just to hear how I say them. After six months, the ol’ “accent thing” has become pretty old. Just when I think I have sneakily slipped under the radar, I am fiercely reminded of my difference, which is a beautiful thing but often tiring. Sometimes, I just don’t want to be reminded that I say things “weird” or that I sound “hella foreign.”
Thus, if you are reading this and happen to meet me, do me a favor and leave my poor accent alone. I assure you, your mimicking it is not as cute as you think it is, nor will any amount of fake laughing I force make it funny. However, if you are interested in learning how to do a decent one, I will quite happily teach you. For a fee, of course.
Gena-mour writes the Tuesday blog on cultural exchange. Contact her at [email protected]