I am from Southern Europe and have lived in the UK for over 20 years. I have a clear accent, but when I lived in Hampshire, many locals would frequently say “Sorry?” because they couldn’t understand me – or didn’t make any effort to. I actually speak better English than the average native speaker, because I have studied for many years and it is grammatically correct. I am surprised educated and senior people in the public sector don’t know how to use the apostrophe, for example. To me, it is something I mastered when I was 8 years old!
After I moved to London, it was kind of liberating, because London being cosmopolitan, people are a lot more exposed to foreign accents. However, the native British still find my accent fascinating for some reason and constantly ask me where I am from, which can be tiring. You don’t want your accent to define you or to be the first thing people notice about you or the main thing they remember about you.
My accent nowadays must be a mixture of RP, Yorkshire, American (from TV) and Greek, which I appreciate is quite unique and different, but it is quite annoying when people cannot place me anywhere and then guess and go for the easy option to assume I am Eastern European. Nothing wrong with Eastern Europeans per se – it is just that these accents tend to be quite different to mine and I don’t like it when people are given generalised labels.
I’ve heard all sorts of nonsense that is actually racist, like whether I drink Vodka in the morning (apparently a comment assuming I am Polish/Russian? How ignorant and insulting, in any case).
If you don’t know where an accent is from just admit it. Don’t try to label people and make assumptions when you don’t have a clue. Ask politely, but don’t make it the first thing you ask about someone.
Even better, focus on the individual, their knowledge and personality, and not their accent. It just goes to show, white people can face racism too based on their accents in Britain.
Also, remember: if someone has a non-standard Anglophone accent, this means they speak at least one more language very fluently. Do you?