Tag Archives: accents

A nasty infestation of Brits

On my occasional trips back to the UK, there’s always one statement of presumed immutable fact that practically every person makes when they find that I live and work in New York. No, not “you must see movie stars on the streets everyday.” And not even “planes land in the river there, don’t they?” No, the one thing that appears to have become an indisputable truth is “oh they must love your English accent over there.”

Now, I wouldn’t say that I have the classic English tones of an upper class brat. I was brought up in the North-West after all, and the idea of saying something like “gr-arse” for that green stuff that you have a picnic on goes against everything I stand for. Nonetheless, nobody would ever have any trouble guessing where I was from. Well, apart from those Americans who have presumed I was Australian or Canadian, obviously.

But however English I may be (and to be honest, I’d rather be considered Welsh, but that’s another story), nobody really pays a tiny bit of attention to my accent anymore. Put simply, there are just too many Brits in New York. Once upon a time, on my first trips to the city to see The Matchmakers, my accent could turn heads, stop traffic and probably cure cancer. Now every fifth person you meet seems to be from ‘the old country’, and the novelty has definitely worn off for Brit-weary New Yorkers.

The general American attitude to Brits is not helped by the phenomenal success of our actors in blockbuster Hollywood movies. No gritty movie about disaster or the Holocaust is complete without Kate Winslet, and if you’re a producer in need a strong older woman to kick some scrawny American arseass, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you couldn’t get hold of the phone numbers for one of the damely duo, Dench or Mirren.

And then there’s the men. There is a requirement under American law that all action or superhero movies feature at least one British male, preferably in a lead role. If they can play the evil enemy, all the better. It’s a ruling that’s kept Jeremy Irons in Veuve Clicquot for many a year, I can tell you.

Like most women, it would appear, The Special One is particularly taken with swarthy British actors. She became particularly animated at Christmas during a discussion of the merits of Clive Owen, and had to be reminded of her own relationship status when bitterly rueing the fact that he appears to be “very married, sadly.”

And don’t even get me started on Daniel Craig. It’s one thing having a wife who has a soft spot for certain movie stars, but it’s a whole different story when you slowly realise that you are only your life partner’s second favourite person to come from your own home city.

Such is the omnipresence of British actors in movies these days that Americans have started claiming the British as their own. It’s a time honoured process that began with Cary Grant, and continues to this day. Even in my own house.

While watching The Dark Knight this weekend, The Special One and The Young Ones refused to believe that Christian Bale was British, necessitating much grumbling on my part and an eventual trip to Bale’s Wikipedia page.

Turns out that the crowd-sourced opinion of Wikipedia is that Christian Bale is a “Welsh-born English actor.” We Brits may be everywhere these days, our accents may count for little, and even our love of fish and chips doesn’t mark us out as special. But never let it be said that Americans are any closer to understanding a single thing about our geography, alright?

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.