My son’s American accent was relentlessly (and badly) mocked and imitated in his secondary schools here in London, and it made him absolutely miserable. This naturally made the other kids do it more. He has taken badly against the country as a whole as a result – a stereotyping overreaction in itself. Prejudice begets prejudice. He hates it here and can’t wait to be old enough to move away.
‘I did not expect THAT!’ – Reaction over an American accent coming from an Asian girl.
‘How is your English so good?’ – Presumption that my native language can’t be English.
‘No, you ARE American’ – This guy started a fight over this, convinced he knew me better.
Because I sound so American, it always strikes me when people start correcting my English only after they find out I am not a native speaker and actually from South Asia. Seems I speak it ‘like a native’ but only till they figure out my passport. Then it’s a giveaway.
I’m American by birth, English by accent and face an awful lot of criticism for it. I was once detained in a horrible little room at JFK airport because my accent and passport didn’t ‘match’ and I was questioned about false documentation before being brought to tears because I thought I was going to be arrested. That was the most unusual experience. Other than that, I often get odd looks when I speak about my history and my parents very much do not like that we sound unrelated.
I grew up in Canada, the States, and Europe—with a BrE-speaking mother and Oxford-educated Canadian father. Our library had books in American, British, and Canadian English, and French. I don’t know how to describe my family’s English. I call it “mid Atlantic,” but it’s truer to say we’re used to different Englishes—just as everybody does, we generate ontologies and use new language wherever we go.
One day I was talking with BrE speakers about a teacher who’d told students “gotten” was the past participle of “get.” Shocking,” said one. “Ouch,” said another. “No excuse,” said a third.
But I’d heard people from England, Scotland, and Ireland say “gotten.” Hearing this, one of the BrE speakers said that I “must be mingling in very different circles.” She wasn’t talking about a suffix. And the oddest remark? That if my family was “swapping” from AmE to BrE, some “contamination” was likely.
When I was 16 years old, I was an exchange student to Germany for a year. I’m American. One of the classes I was taking was English literature. It was early on in the school year, I didn’t know many people. The class was reading the Grapes of Wrath. The teacher was a non-native English speaker but spoke British English. One day we took turns reading from the book aloud. After I read, the teacher said, ‘Too bad you butchered it with your American accent’. It was Steinbeck! But at the time I didn’t stick up for myself.