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I’m an American, I live in Britain, and I have a weird accent…

Posted on August 12, 2009 by yankeebean

yankeebeanI didn’t mean for the beginning of this post to sound like an AA meeting… but having said that, I DO have a confession to make.

I used to heavily judge people for ‘trying to sound English’. Now, I’m not talking your Dick Van Dyke’s or your Oliver Twist’s – nonono – I’m talking your Madonna’s.

(And now, me).

If someone moved to England and then started-up with the to-mah-to and the baaah-sil, I was instantly repelled.

Ridiculous! Insulting! Embarrassing! ‘Cringe-central… we have now reached cringe-central. Please take small children by the hand while disembarking…’

But OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHhhhhhhh, how the tables have turned! My eyes have been opened and all judgment reserved! I take it all back. And I apologise to Madonna, sorry Madge.

Four years in and my own weird accent has taken hold and is proving harder and harder to avoid. I don’t say weird as in ‘bad’ – I love weird things and embrace all things ‘dork’. But my weird anglo-ameri mutant twang is here to stay.

I made a little home-movie with my camera at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta this morning and when I listened back, there was mutant yankeebean chatting inside my camera; grabbing whatever vowel sound that took her fancy and any ol’ inflection that lit her fire.

Hi, my name is Yankeebean, I’m an American living in Britain, and I have a weird accent.

(Altogether now – “Hi, Yankeebean”)

————-

For Pacificbird’s views on  her ‘accent revelations’ click here

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  1. Liz June 9, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    So funny… I know this is a really old post… I actually found it because I was Googling Northern Ireland accents to find out if they ever sound American. I am watching ‘The Fall’ and one of the (verified) actresses from Belfast sounds American to me. Anyway… I think some people are just very susceptible to picking up accents, and of course it is normal to pick up foreign word usage if you live in a foreign area for awhile. I lived in Canada for a couple years for grad school and, in addition to now being able to detect even the faintest Canadian accent in anyone (who everyone else will think is American), and usually place their province of origin, I also picked up a clear accent. (And yes, there are a multitude of Canadian accents.) I also started using “zed” and extra ‘u’s in words, etc… (Kind of had to with the latter because profs expected it in writing.) I’m one of these people who cannot stand anything which appears pretentious, but I now realize I am just very impressionable when it comes to accents. I remember clearly picking up (of all things) a strong Wisconsin accent from a girl in my math group Freshman year of college. No offense to any Wisconsinites (my husband is one) but that is not an accent I would choose to mimic.

  2. Pingback: Them: Where are you from in Ireland? Me: Chicago | She's Not From Yorkshire

  3. Nicole Kaminski January 31, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    What a great blog post :) This is one of the main reasons I have never truly wanted to live in the UK, because I don’t want to be an American around all those lovely British accents! You sum it all up so well!

    • yankeebean September 6, 2012 at 11:26 pm

      You’d be surprised by how many compliments you’d get on your American twang, though. Lots of Brits seem to absolutely love it :)

  4. Mollie Jarvia April 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I love England!!!!!!!! Its amazing here. I hated america, even though im american myself! I have no idea why, i just didnt feel happy there! but now, i quite like it!

  5. Lindsey April 11, 2011 at 3:13 am

    Just moved home (connecticut) after doing graduate studies in edinburgh scotland. getting a kick out of this discussion. Everyone tells me “You have an accent!” or “where are you from??”. My family, esp sister finds my “accent” hilarious and it has made me feel a little self conscious about how I say things. They roll their eyes and think I’m doing it on purpose. But of course we can’t really control how we sound, it just comes out.

    I tend to soften my A’s ( “I lived in scotland for a year and a HAAAAHF” and actually think it sounds ugly and harsh when I hear half=”HAF”.

    “quite” is a big one, and I start throwing in the “cheers” especially in a bar setting. It just seems like the only word that fits certain situations.

    Also love: knackered, fuckwit, banter, craic, attrocious, “for fuck’s sake!”, brilliant, astounded… briticisms are so much more exaggerated and impactful … but feel silly using them here, as if I were just doing it to be cool.

  6. Parakeet May 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    After several years of living in the UK as an American, my US family doesn’t seem to mind that I say some things a bit strangely now, which is nice. I do find myself apologising when “something weird” comes out, though! (Especially British expressions Americans don’t understand.)

    I sometimes got the “Irish” thing, as well. Very interesting!

    • yankeebean May 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm

      Parakeet – I’m just now getting to the point where I say British things that some Americans might not understand – but I don’t even know I’m doing it. It take a blank-look on their face before I realise that we’re ‘divided by a common language’.

      Does this mean I can say I bilingual now? ;)

  7. Michelle April 12, 2010 at 7:39 am

    I know what you mean about the Irish / American thing.

    There was a year when London black cab drivers would ask me if I was from Ireland.

    Gosh, I’m sure now that I’ve been back in the US for a while, I’m going to sound really American again to the taxi drivers in London. Meaning that they will immediately tell me about their dream of retiring in Florida. ;-)

    I had two male friends from Northern Ireland who had lived in London for about 10 years and the result was that they sounded quite American. In a very nice way – I loved to hear them speak. [Didn't hurt that one of them was a dead ringer for Paul Newman at his prime. Ahhh.]

    Oddly, for such a tiny region, I also knew some guys from Northern Ireland (Belfast) whose accents were so strong that they were very hard for me to understand, and even our acquaintances from Kent had trouble grasping everything they said.

    I have no idea why, except perhaps because I once had an officemate from there, but there is a town (not a city or anything) in the Midlands that for some reason I’ve got the accent down on, and I can say to people “Oh, are you from x” and they will stare at me in shock and say, “I’m from 15 miles from there! How did you know that, because even other British people can’t tell?” Of course, in my income-tax-flurry-induced mental fog right now (2:35 am) I can’t remember the name of the town.

  8. katsmum April 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    I’m a Canadian living in Wales for the past 15 years and my accent has definitely evolved! I seemed to have been able to keep it pure for the first 3 years but then something happened and it began to change. Native Brits can almost always tell that I’m a foreigner, but am I American, Canadian or Irish*? Canadians & Americans almost never detect I’m anything other than British. I own a business here and locals often start speaking to me in Welsh on the telephone, they think I sound Welsh! I call it “Accent Limbo” – it’s neither here nor there.

    * Having been in Ireland and hearing a local speak like me, unlike some of the other replies here, I DO see where that comes from!

  9. Marcia March 27, 2010 at 5:23 am

    I left London 22 years ago and I have a mixture of a North London accent, Brooklyn accent and Jamaican accent. Imagine using all accents in one sentence! My coworkers and patients love it, but my kids want me to make up my mind and use just one.
    “Yeah right, that’s bloody impossible, cho” (which is followed by the kissing of one’s teeth) :-) )
    = = =
    Brooklyn North London Jamaican

  10. yankeebean August 20, 2009 at 9:19 am

    ‘Up the wazoo’ – I say that ALL the time and my guy has started saying it now, too. For some reason I consider it a small victory :D

  11. Dyana August 19, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    i’ve just ended up teaching my coworkers americanisms.
    up the wazoo and hugh-ass being the two i can remember now (of course the difference between yard, lawn, and garden, and how the US health care system works). while they’ve taught me through the vehicle of good natured peer-pressure which words really make me stand out.

    in general, my language goes where it wants to. rarely do i force myself to say one thing or another. it’s damn obvious i didn’t grow up here (though most people are quite polite about inquiring) but saying tinned tomahto rather than canned tomayto makes people more comfortable.

  12. SapphireCate August 19, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Hi I’ve just found this blog (via one of Dan Savage’s readers!). I’ve managed to consciously hold onto tomato, but my vowels have gone their own way – I get the Irish thing a lot too (and specifically: “educated Belfast”) and had to have a fight with a BA attendant to get a landing card because he didn’t believe i wasn’t Irish and kept trying to explain that EU citizens don’t need landing cards.

    Down here in my southern city – where we have tons of american expats – we call the accent ‘mid-Atlantic’ (as in, somewhere south of Greenland).

    Thanks so much for the awesome blog – I will definitely be reading more!!

  13. Steve Shawcross August 14, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    A Northern Irish accent can sound like an American in certain lights ;) … Christine Bleakley is a good example. Or maybe I need my ears syringeing!!

  14. Peter Bond August 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    After 30 years here I know my accent has changed, as well as the phrases I use. i often can’t remember if a phrase is British or American. People notice my accent and realise I am from somwhere that they can’t place. Often the guess is Irish or Canadian. Canadian I can see but I don’t understand where they get the Irish from – good to know I am not the only one that gets that!

    you can imagine that after such a long time I tend to use English pronunciation, but for some reason the one word I have never been able to adopt is “borough”. I don’t know why but the English way of saying it seems just a step too far.

  15. Redlilocks August 13, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Ohhhh yes. I do so relate! When I speak to family back home, I am lovingly chided for ‘putting it on’ and ‘trying to sound English’ – I tell them there’s a whole country of people who would strongly disagree that I sound at ALL English! But yes, my voice inflections have changed and my pronounciations have changed and my lingo has changed. I struggle at times when I’m talking to them to translate my very English expressions into phrases they will understand! (“When you live around it 24/7 it just rubs off, I swear I’m not doing it on purpose!”) I’ve gotten used to it now and Expat In the City, even ‘toilet’ sounds natural and normal coming out of my mouth – when I too absolutely CRINGED everytime I used to say it. But how cool is the word ‘knackered’ when you are exhausted or ‘skint’ when you are broke? There’s something rather endearing about the dialogue so we might as well embrace our mutation!! ;)

    • yankeebean August 14, 2009 at 9:26 am

      Redilocks – I totally agree!

      Living in England has given me a whole host language that’s genuine useful, and SO flippin’ descriptive… ‘knackered’ features heavily in my everyday-speak. Another saying I love (and still find hilarious) is ‘does my nut in’. ‘Does my nut in’ sounds just like I feel when I say it – classic…

  16. Ashley August 13, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I feel ya!
    I was in the bank the other day and thoroughly confused the bank manager because he thought I was British from my accent until I pulled out my American passport as ID.
    I don’t always notice my accent changing but when I do, I am mortified. I too used to judge the “posers” like Madonna, but now I feel their pain! My accent is chameleon like and depending who I’m talking to I can sound born British or yankee doodle American. Oh what a weird life we live as transplants.

    • yankeebean August 14, 2009 at 9:29 am

      Ashley – I’m always a little stunned when people ask me if I’m Irish. IRISH?? WHERE does that come from?? My dude, Mr. Nice Guy doesn’t get it either – he always assures me that I sound American as ever, but Mama-didn’t-raise-no-fool, I know my accent is mutating… I can tell by the look on my brother’s face when I go back home – the same look I used to get whenever I heard Madonna talk on the news…

      Sigh ;)

  17. Expat In The City August 13, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Firstly, I just have to say thank you! I only just discovered this blog (thanks to my husband!) a few days ago and after everything I read I find myself smiling bigger and bigger because it is all so familiar!
    I don’t have the accent yet although sometimes after a few glasses of wine in a predominately Brit crowd I’ll slip up and something totally English with a bit of accent spurts right out without any control or warning. It’s usually only my husband who notices and quickly calls me out.
    I still to this day can not say “toilet” without absolutely detesting myself.
    I love doing “Overly American” things to almost make light fun and show that I am proud of where I come from. For example at my first job in the UK (in a secretarial role) I “high fived” everyone after every good job, and it all started with the first “high five” to my boss!

    • yankeebean August 14, 2009 at 9:35 am

      Expat In The City – Hahahaaa! Your comment made me laugh out loud!

      ‘It’s usually only my husband who notices and quickly calls me out.’

      I can SO relate to this – my dude is diligent about helping me not make an idiot out of myself and has now mastered the art of wordlessly communicating with me when I’m about to (or already am) making a a faux-pas…

      Toilet freaks me out, too… Why can I swear like a trucker when I’m mad, but saying ‘toilet’ gives me the creeps? ‘Loo’ is my saviour, though :)

      I love your high-five story!!! It’s SO funny b/c I used to be a receptionist AAAAAAAGES ago and I was always ‘punching it in’ with people. The big boss man’s name was Peter, but I called him P-Diddy and made him punch it before he was allowed into the office. Looking back I don’t know how I got away with it :D

  18. SmittenbyBritain August 13, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Hiya,

    I just noticed you have included my blog on your link list. Thanks very much.

    Melissa

    • yankeebean August 14, 2009 at 9:36 am

      Smitten! It’s our pleasure, we all LOVE your blog.

      Everyone go and check it out!! You can get to it from our Links page (up there at the top of your screen)

  19. Christine August 12, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Well I have been in England for 10 months now and I say things without noticing. However it is not really my accent that has changed (although I have a feeling it will down the line the longer I am here) but I have noticed more ‘British’ phrases being said by myself.

    The girl next to me at work is ALWAYS saying ‘Do I heck?’ For example:
    Me: Do you remember the name of the street you were on?
    Her: Do I heck!
    I can only image me starting to say this shortly just because I hear it about 20 times a day. lol :)

    • yankeebean August 14, 2009 at 9:39 am

      Christine – ‘Do I heck!’

      I love it! :D I wonder how long it will be until I have the guts to say it… I hope it’s soon…

      • alpspitz1 May 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm

         ’Heck’ is a euphesism for ‘hell’, which was long ago, considered a bit risque. It  originally tended to be a northern expression more than southern, but due to the small size of the country and  TV/Radio  programmes that cover the whole country, over the years expressions  are sometimes  used used by parts of the country  that would in pre-TV/radio times remain exclusively in that region.

  20. Almost American August 12, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Oh how I HATE Americans who TRY to do British accents! It’s not the same though when it’s an American who lives in the UK! There are times when it’s just easier to say things the way the locals do rather than having to repeat yourself several times over while they try to figure out what you’re saying! There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s not at all the same thing as trying to sound British for the sake of sounding British!

    • yankeebean August 14, 2009 at 9:41 am

      Almost American – Do you find that British people sometimes translate things for you, too? People will often be talking about football, and then glance at me and say ‘saahhh-kerrrr’. VERY helpful, wouldn’t you say? ;)

  21. teri August 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    tell.me.about.it.

    how many times do i have to say, ‘i’m not trying to do it! weirdly enough, it just comes natural!’ i find myself saying ‘quite’ a lot — quite nice, quite a bit, quite lovely. and sometimes it is natural, but i guess other times its a bit more forced. like toilet. i cringe a bit when i say it but after reassuring myself that yes,this is what they say here,i barrel through ‘toilet’ and neglect ‘bathroom’ like a good expat should.

    and sometimes when i’m leaving work i just say ‘peace out’ to my colleagues, just to remind everyone that i haven’t totally lost my linguistic roots.

    • yankeebean August 14, 2009 at 9:47 am

      Teri – I’ve jumped on the ‘quite’ band-wagon, too. BIG time. I say so much that I’m almost consciously trying NOT to say it as much now. Back to the more American choice of ‘really’. The word of my people! :D

  22. peacefulyorkshire August 12, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Loved your post, darlin, as I can relate. When I go home I am mortified by the flack I get bout “trying to have a British Accent” and am worried about my relatives and friends thinking I am such a POSER trying to speak Brit -style. It usually takes a couple of days for it to wear off, for my accent to become my old self again (for my my voice to become louder…. hehe). In the meantime, I too cringe when out pops to my US family some kind of phrase I’ve picked up in England like “I am just gonna nip to the loo” or can you hand me the “kitchen roll?” BLeh!
    My parents and siblings then look at each other knowingly with a special look in their eye and I just die a little inside. I truly think that you have to be an expat gone home to understand…

    • alpspitz1 May 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm

       When I worked in Germany with Americans in a US Recreation Centre I used Americanisms sometimes, but fellow Brits didn’t generally approve of their use. Some though were acceptable if they were sufficiently coarse, like ‘shit-faced’.

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