Christy and I are standing in the middle of a gift shop, listening to an incredibly thorough description of a line of baby toys.
As she talks, I am listening, but I am also scrutinizing her accent. I'm not certain, but I think I detect the high-vowels and the back-of-the-tongue tones of a South African accent, one of my absolute favorites. The salesperson is now talking about the developmental appropriateness of the toys' components, but I am transported to a time, when I was living in Sydney, and I first started to be able to distinguish the Australian accent from the New Zealander, the British from the Irish.
We leave the shop (after I bought several toys, of course), and Christy wonders if the accent was Australian and says she wanted to ask. This also makes me think of Sydney, when I couldn't go anywhere without being asked where I was from. Even when I had lived there for a few months, and then a year, and then more, I still was asked where I was from. And I always would be asked this, as long as I lived there. Even though I worked there and payed taxes and rent and commuted on the train and went jogging past the Opera House. I can't blame people for asking. I sound like an American. There, I sounded like a foreigner. Just like the salesperson today sounds like a foreigner here, and always will.
But because I was once the foreigner trying to make a life in another country, I think I know how she feels. I think she probably doesn't want to be asked once again where she is from. I think she doesn't want to explain she isn't, in fact, British, even though to the American ear everything with a slight lilt sounds British. I think she probably doesn't want to tell the story once again of what she is doing here, slightly defensively, as if she has to have a good reason. And so, I am glad we listened to her expertise, and we left without asking, and that we became people who treated her like a really knowledgable salesperson working at a toy shop instead of a really knowledgeable foreigner working in America.