RP speaker in Japan, late 1980s.

There were many tales of discrimination of various types, both for and against ‘outsiders’ (with quite different attitudes towards whites, blacks and Asians), as detailed by Arudo Debito amongst others. Many were flattering, amusing, or mildly irritating, rather than distressing – for example, one Western friend (fluent in Japanese) who had a perfectly normal conversation with an eyes-down shopkeeper until the latter looked up and realized it was a ‘foreigner’… whereupon they suddenly lost the ability to understand any of the Japanese said gaijin was saying.

One experience of my own: I telephoned an estate agent. My Japanese was good, but evidently still had some kind of twang to it.

“Are you foreign? We don’t let to foreigners.”

I fibbed: “No, I’m just from [a remote area], maybe it’s our local accent?”

“Ah, that’s OK then”.


I was once marked down by a lecturer in Austria for speaking with a Yorkshire accent instead of RP in an EFL class. English is not my native language. Now I have a Welsh accent from when I did my PhD in dialectology at Swansea University. I’m proud of it.


One time, a British woman asked me upon meeting me ‘Where is home?’ I assumed she meant my address, so I told her which area I lived in, to which she replied (in a manner close to baby talk) ‘No, no, home. Where does mummy live?’ I was shocked as, although she was several decades older than me (and may have seen me as a young person), I have not lived with ‘mummy’ for almost a decade. I told her that I’m from Hungary to which she replied ‘Your English is so much better than my Romanian cleaning lady’s!’ I then told her that I’m doing a PhD in English linguistics and avoided talking to her for the rest of the night.


I had to raise an issue with higher management in a big multinational because they said we couldn’t speak any language other than English while on shift (illegal) and that we would lose bonuses or get fired if we did (highly illegal). They even dared to put it in writing and send an email stating ALL of it. Of course, they had to back down. But out of a team of 50-60 people (90% foreigners), nobody else was brave enough to complain. Not even foreign managers.