I come from a land down under

Having tired of the geographical incorrectness of calling me a shandy drinking southerner, She Who Was Born To Worry has now taken to calling me her ‘Yank son’. Not that she actually has another son and needs to differentiate us as a result. Although there has been talk of an elusive half-brother called Eric (the forklift truck driver from Belgium) now that I come to think about it…

Actually, I think she just imagines that I’ll pick up the phone to her one day and start talking with the mid-Atlantic twang much beloved of the likes of Joan Collins and Shirley Bassey. As it happens, I’m taking active measures to ensure that never happens, including listening to plenty of podcasts from British radio, and a compulsory three hours of BBC America every week. I’ve even persuaded The Special One to watch the first series of Spooks with me, having picked the DVD up on a whim at Heathrow Airport. She’s not so keen on the presence of Keeley Hawes, but as I’ve presented it as a means to maintain my British identity, I think I’m going to get away with it.

The strange thing is that while She Who Was Born To Worry thinks I might be in danger of turning into an American, America is pretty convinced that I’m not even British in the first place.

When accent identification skills were being handed out, America was obviously eating a burger and fries, and reading Entertainment Weekly. In what is rapidly becoming the linguistic equivalent of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, I’ve lost count of the number of people who, on hearing my pretty robustly English voice, have firmly identified me as an Australian. I’m not alone in the problem either – as far as most Americans are concerned, Brits must be walking around with metaphorical corks dangling from metaphorical hats, throwing virtual shrimps on the barbie. The grill, that is, not the faintly pneumatic Mattel creation.

The strange thing is that Australia has a population three times smaller than the UK’s, and most Americans will never even have met an Australian, let alone correctly identified one. In contrast, the relatively close relationship between Britain and the USA (and the fact that it only takes seven hours to get between the two, rather than more than twenty) means that Britain and the British are a much more familiar concept than Australia and Australians. Of course, with many Americans still struggling to understand the need for a passport, it’s likely that Lilliput and Lilliputians are more familiar than the two combined, but that’s a side issue.

Incidentally, I’ve been also been identified as Irish, German and Scandinavian as well since arriving in the States. It’s a source of undeniable pleasure that nobody’s accused me of beingcalled me an American yet. It’s only a matter of time.

As I cooked dinner tonight, The Special One and The Young Ones sat down to watch the X Men movie. Having seen an interview with the cast half way through, The Youngest excitedly bound into the kitchen to say that she had no idea that Wolverine was British. Ironically, Hugh Jackman’s actually an Australian. The three of them have been living me for a year now, so their ‘all foreigners must be Australians’ radar will have to go in for a 10,000 mile service.

5 thoughts on “I come from a land down under

  1. Karen

    haha Well here is one example of why they may be mistaking you: Prison Break tv show, there is an Australian character, who sounds nothing like any Aussie I’ve ever met! Funnily enough he is played by a fellow Brit!

    I’ve been mistaken for a Scot on one occasion, but I think most people get it right.

  2. Expat Mum

    I think the term is “soft shite southerner” actually. At least that’s what us in the North East used.
    And what about South African? Yes, I can add that to the list of my perceived accents.
    I think what happens in the American brain is that they hear you speaking English, but (hopefully) it’s obviously not an American accent, so they just start guessing wildly.
    I recommend regular Top Gear viewing just to keep up with the vernacular.

  3. Amanda

    Well…if your dearly beloved can put up with watching Keeley in the first few series of Spooks, and if the presence of Matthew Macfadyen doesn’t compensate, then tell her to hang in there as she will be rewarded in the later series with the wonderful Rupert Penry-Jones! Glad you’re keeping up with your British TV homework.

  4. Trixie

    They don’t understand you …. we all know that you’re a rain-loving Northern poofty. Best come home I reckon ….

  5. Alasdair

    Dylan – it’s possible that they have learned that it’s safer to call a sassenach an Aussie, than to call an Aussie a sassenach … (grin) …

    When an american ‘hears’ an accent, they seem to have learned NOT to presume it’s an english accent, but will rather list off alternatives …

    I am regularly asked “You have an accent, don’t you ?” – and my standard reply is to answer, smiling innocently, “Actually, no, *I* don’t have an accent … *you* do …” … the usual response is the mildly goldfish-like (or two-stroke-like) “But … but …” …

    The next question then tends to be “Where are you from ?” – to which my response is “I’m from Glendale.” … after a short pause, when they look puzzled, I further explain “Los Angeles is a suburb of Glendale.” …

    If they then ask “And before that ?”, I answer, equally truthfully “North Hollywood” …

    An intelligent few will ask the sensible first question – “Where are you from originally ?” – or “Where were you born ?” …

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