Parlez-vous Expat?

An open outlook, a can do attitude and a weird accent. The telltale signs of a seasoned expat.

Here in my hometown I’ve been asked more often where I am from than in any other place I’ve lived. ‘You sound a bit foreign’ is the typical refrain. ‘I can’t quite get your accent…’ and even worse ‘Are you from the South?’ (I’M FROM YORKSHIRE).

north south divide photoAfternoon at Betty’s: a Yorkshire ritual. Photo by chatirygirl   

I guess that’s what you get from years spent with a Spanish husband, a multiculti clique of friends and flatmates with accents stronger than their native town’s local cheese.

It’s not just the accent but the turn of phrase, the mannerisms. Spanish affirmations: ‘We should do this, no?’ German swear words – ‘Scheisse’ really isn’t that strong but it feels great to shout loudly in public. Not intending to condescend, I dumb down my vocab for the foreign audience no matter whom I’m with. I use simpler words automatically, I paraphrase myself to check the listener has understood.

speak english photo

A while back my mother found a recording I’d made as a teen as a revision aid. My English was so pure it was as if I were Jane Austen myself.

Then as the years went by I came to believe that I had lost my accent, that it was neutral, classless. The silver plum lodged in so many of my southern friends accents had worn way. The gritty Yorkshire edges had been filed off. A particular bland shade of magnolia for the voice box.

Then a good friend said the same of himself.  In a posh Indian accent. So everybody has an accent, you just can’t hear your own.

At Christmas I met my brother’s girlfriend from Moscow for the first time. She spoke amazing English but was struggling to understand me at one stage and asked my brother to step in. Even I could speak more Russian than him (I got lost in Moscow a few times) and how could a country bumpkin like my brother be easier to understand than a bon vivant city slicker nomad like myself?

Perhaps I’ve become too foreign even for the foreigners? Better brush up on the Yorkshire…

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