It is important to quickly pick up the local vernacular when living somewhere new. I learned this first hand when I moved over to the UK and lived in Cornwall. The Cornish accents that I encountered were for the most part quite mild and easy for me to understand, but rather it was the words that I struggled with.
When I went to the little shop (which I would’ve called a convenience store then) the man who sold me the Saturday paper said something like,’ Alright me lover?’ As he was quite a bit older than me, to the point of being elderly, I didn’t question it much, but when I arrived home and my British flat mate woke up, I did have questions. Alright is what one said instead of hey what’s up. And me lover was the same as darlin, sweetheart, honey, and so on and so forth. But it was explained to me that this wasn’t done in the way my North American ears heard it. Which means that it wasn’t meant to be overly familiar or sexist or anything like that. It was just the local shop keeper being his usual sweet self.
So I got used to the alright bit and managed to deploy it daily convincingly but I couldn’t get the hang of me lover (or me ‘andsome for men). There are just some things that will always sound ridiculous coming from my mouth.
London was easier because I only met a few English people – everybody else was as foreign as I was, and coming from Canada I was used to hearing all sorts of different accents speaking English. London is also where I was mistaken for: a Kiwi, Aussie, South African, and American. Usually within the space of a day. Never Canadian. But it was easy enough to pick my fellow Canucks out of a crowd: we all had MEC backpacks and some kind of Roots-branded clothing. I can’t tell the difference a lot of the time between American and Canadian accents, so I’m rarely offended.
And as an aside, the first time I ever really ‘heard’ a Canadian accent was some time ago when I was at The Mom’s and watching the CBC news. It was kind of neat hearing my own accent the way other people did. Though, I can’t get aboot right on command.
So far so good for me and understanding the locals. Things got a bit tricky – as I knew they would – when I moved to Glasgow. Glaswegian can be impenetrable – even to the locals. My Scots boyfriend at the time couldn’t understand some of my pal’s mates – but he did give me a good tip: smile, laugh and keep drinking. When in doubt, offer to go to the bar. After three pints nobody else understands what’s going on either.
I did start to fear for myself though when I met one of the Professors in my department up there. He spoke at a break neck pace, mumbled, and had a proper thick accent. It sounded lovely, but I understood nothing.
I was very relieved to find that my supervisor was an American ex-pat. At least I could understand what he was saying, even if I didn’t agree with it.
Now, the funny thing for me about imagining what The Mom must’ve been like on holiday is this: I know, I know with every fibre of my being that she would’ve started ‘doing’ the accent. Because it’s fun to pretend like you’ve got a different accent. I just wonder if she’d have ever stopped. She’s prone to carry on when she enjoys things a bit too much.