Friday, March 28, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 28 of 31 / Accents


Christy and I are standing in the middle of a gift shop, listening to an incredibly thorough description of a line of baby toys. 

"The wood is sustainable, the paint is non-toxic, and the packaging is recycled," says the salesperson. 

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.


  1. I also love accents. It was so respectful of you to not ask her about her accent. Few people would have that kind of reflection and would just plow ahead. Thanks for showing her that we aren't all "big, dumb Americans."

  2. What a unique topic for your post! Loved it. How thoughtful to think about how your questions would make her feel.