Don’t pack your accent when you go overseas
It all started with Bob.
Sorry, I mean, “Bawb….”
Even if you really didn’t want to listen, there was very little choice, the American woman’s voice rang out across the terminal in a short, high pitched southern Florida squall.
Sure, airports can be big places. But when you’re stuck in a check-in queue, that you were at least an hour too early for, it’s kind of hard not to gawk at those around you.
Especially, as was the case in this painful scenario, the characters in question are basically begging you to watch.
As the voice got progressively louder, “Bawwwwwwwwwb…” a lone figure came into view. She was short, round, dressed in a rose-coloured tracksuit and wearing an expression of sheer anguish on her middle aged face while a pair of reading glasses swung violently from a piece of rope around her neck.
“Saawwry,” she shouted, with just a hint of hysteria, into the face of the man standing in front of me, while the rest of our queue ducked to avoid the spray. “It’s veeery complicated. I jest don’t have time to explain,” she said before shoving her way to the front of the queue, trailing a small family of large, mismatched suitcases behind her.
Then, after taking a very short breath, she proceeded to give the airline stewardess (and the rest of the assembled crowd) a blow by blow account of her and husband Bob’s European adventures. And presumably, some explanation as to why they, together with the rest of their eight person troupe of travellers, also armed with enough luggage to fit out a small circus, needed to push their way to the front of the line and board the flight to London - first. Well ahead, of the quiet and polite line of people who’d formed an orderly queue at least 30 minutes before their dramatic arrival.
Probably out of exasperation, (sheer horror) or just lack of care, I never found out why they were allowed to pull off this rude little manoeuvre. But I was left unable to shake the feeling that if they’d attempted the same thing with a softer or less obtuse use of their accent, me and the twenty or so people around me, probably wouldn’t have minded so much.
And as I took my seat on the plane and hurriedly jammed ear plugs into my ears, I wondered, is it just Americans, or does everyone pack their accents when they go overseas. And crucially, should we?
UK Columnist Charlie Brooker thinks so that we should.
In a recent piece for The Guardian he said not only does he make sure he takes his accent with him on holidays, on visits to the United States, he’s also sure to carry some subtle variations.
Hauled up in immigration at a US airport with a steely police officer, he claims to have revved up his British-ness and generally behaved like “a minor royal”.
“Not an aloof, chilly posho, but a genial gosh-what-a-wonderful-country-you-have Hugh Grant-type, one who smiles a lot while using slightly formal language. I apologised profusely by saying, “I apologise profusely,” he wrote.
While on another trip, he found the reverse very useful and chose to “dumb down” his native tongue, especially at petrol stations and bars where he discovered “mockney”:
“Saying [words like], “blimey” and “bloke” and “bleedin’ ‘ell”, even if I was only asking the way to the toilet (sorry, “bog”).”
But I don’t think we should bother. Well, not the loud, brash, impatient version of it anyway.
So if you really have to take your accent with you on holidays, maybe think about toning it down a bit and trying your best to blend in. You could even make something of an effort to speak the local language, even if it’s just good morning or thank you as you’re leaving - there’s even an iphone app for that now.
But whatever you do, please don’t scream across the terminal and push in at the check-in counter, it really pisses people off. Especially, if you’re wearing a pink tracksuit.
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