Don’t do a British accent

Words Collide

Gena-mour Barrett

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]

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  • catrina

    I must say, completely with you on this. Just returned from a 2 week holiday in the USA, and I found this a lot. I inevitably got a lot of “where are you form?” Which was fine polite conversation, bit exhaustive, and I would have thought entirely obvious, but still okay. The WORST were the mimickers. One occasion I asked for cigarettes at Wal-Mart, to which she kept asking me to repeat myself, which only confused me making me think am I mumbling? Am I too quiet? Then she started mimicking (awfully) random words I said and laughing then going oh, no I love it! I love it! Okay she meant no malice, but it was rude and made me feel awkward to say the least. The second was when I was trying to check out of my hotel. The receptionist I was talking to was fine but whilst she was doing her thing (printing bills, checking charges were okay etc) this guy next to her was like “where you from with an accent like that” and I was like “I’m from the UK” to which he responded in a terrible imitation “OOOH THEY U-KAAAAY” to which I just smiled politely. Then he continued to interject my conversation (which I wasn’t even having with him!) mimicking words I said in an awful mimick (which I assume was meant to be my accent) and saying a reel of random phrases and words such as “KEIINGS CRUSS STATEEEION”, “D,yeeew waaaant some meeewr cups of teeeeeea chaps”. It was just embarrassing (I was embarrassed for both of us), rude, made me feel self conscious and like a big joke. judging by his laughter and gigantic smile he didn’t mean any harm and was genuinely excited to meet a brit, but he really made me feel awkward. Please US citizens if you are ever tempted to mimic a British accent, please just don’t. No matter how good you think you are at it, you’re not, the biggest American actors usually aren’t, I guarantee you can’t pull it off either. Even if you could do it. It’s rude and embarrassing (for both of us). Mary Poppins was set in 1910, and Julie Andrews level of “proper English” is in the minority, we don’t wear top hats.

  • I used to get the same thing back home from the Kent kids trying to sound ‘road’.

  • Mel Content

    not an argument, a question and comment. Or can you not understand anything not written in colonial dialectic? Congrats on being able to use a computer with such limited literacy skills. Your parents must be
    proud.

    I am not only proficient in the use of a computer (a skill set which in all likelihood obtained about the time you were born) but make a living with it, as one of my specialties is the development of industrial automation and process control software for PLC and HMI applications. That alone may not impress a self-identified intellectual such as yourself, but I assure you is far more compensatory for my time and efforts than the articles you post in the Daily Cal. As for my use of standard English, it is the hallmark of those with a professional (and marketable) education, not those who have had had their small minds stuffed with the type of race/class/gender PC victimology intended to indoctrinate and placate those who lack the mental horsepower necessary to major in a genuinely useful course of study. But have fun being the snarky little collegiate know-it-all if you must. You clearly know it all, and your attitude suggests that you have no more to learn in the world for fear it might run contradictory to your already established world view…

  • Mel Content

    Congratulations for using a bunch of PC psychobabble in place of a coherent argument.

    • Enbrujada Dasein

      not an argument, a question and comment. Or can you not understand anything not written in colonial dialectic? Congrats on being able to use a computer with such limited literacy skills. Your parents must be proud.

  • Jamie Berent

    As a fellow Brit in the USA, I’m kind of bewildered. I don’t mean to offend you, the article is well written but it is basically telling people to stop having harmless fun. Like you, people imitate my accent all the time, but they mean no offense by it and even though (like you said) they’re all pretty terrible at it, this shouldn’t be something we should attempt to censor. There is no harmful intent behind it, and it’s simply a way to make some humour of our differences, as opposed to not acknowledging them at all.
    I enjoy using my accent as an ice breaker and when someone makes fun of my accent, I do a poor american imitation myself and everyone has a laugh at how bad eachothers accents were. I’m sorry, that in your situation, you find yourself offended, but being offended doesn’t mean you’re right.

    • Enbrujada Dasein

      Your comment begins with a denial of the author’s experience of being made fun of because of her british accent. The article brings to light an experience of harmfulness. Why do you think it is acceptable to negate that? This article gives food for thought, asking the reader to think about ostensibly harmless mimicking, something that you insist should remain unthought. Why is your experience more important than the author’s, and why should she do what YOU do? I get from your commentary that mimicking doesn’t bother you and you do it too, thanks for sharing, but please also look at how it shuts down the whole piece and hierarchizes your experience over hers… its arrogant.

  • Katie Escane

    Gena this blog is so great, you’re such an amazing writer (also on the accent note: DO NOT COME TO AUSTRALIA its been 7 years and still when I’m introduced to someone its as if a chorus of chimney sweeps greet me back) I hope you’re still loving california xx

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