Let’s just get something straight here okay? I do not have an accent. You do. In actual fact, South Africans have the most pure and perfect English accent you can think of. It is a little known fact that we speak with the most delightful English accent – and the purest of them all. I didn’t suck this from my thumb – it comes all the way from a very well known study of languages by Oxford University. Please do go and do a fact check. (And let me know if you find it because I couldn’t).
There is one snag however. I am not English. And we have 11 official languages in South Africa. Don’t laugh. Some countries don’t even have an official language. The problem is that we do not have a uniform accent. But people pretty much know where I come from when I open my mouth. Well, maybe they don’t. They knew in the UK and all over Africa, but have no clue in most other countries.
I don’t know how many times it has happened to me. It always starts the same way. I open my mouth and someone will look up and stare at me. Now I know I am one damn handsome dude (why else would babies cry when they see me?), but no reason to stare really. The stare is generally followed by a “I loooove your accent”. Thank you my dear, now can I just please pay for the cream and plaster to fill this gaping wound in my neck?
I hardly ever say it. I hardly ever respond to the “I love your accent” comment”. I just tilt my head slightly, look up with my narrowed eyes, nod slightly, and let my mouth curl up slightly at the edges for a seductive smile. It’s what I call my “French look”. It’s the only time I feel somewhat seductive and mysterious. Me. Old Johnnie Foreigner. Okay, generally the people wake up from their daydream when I look up completely and they can see my whole face – then their stare of admiration turns into a look of horror. That’s when the shouting and screaming starts, “Is that your real face?”, “hide the children!”, and “run, it might be contagious!”.
That I can handle. What I can’t handle is when someone asks me whether I am Australian. You’re a snag short of a barbie , mate. I ain’t no Aussie. Or a Kiwi for that matter. Dinkum no! We fight them on the rugby field each year and that’s enough. Thank you. Of course I have to just check if they know who are the rugby world champions? Say it… say it… Yes! South Africa! (Let’s not talk cricket okay? And what’s up with Aussie rules?) But it could be worse. I could be called an Englishman I guess! I share a love for winning in sport, a good braai (barbie) and a cold Castle (XXXX) with my Kiwi and Wallaby friends. Not so with the Brits.
I mean really. Do I look all pale and have bad teeth? (Okay, drop the bad teeth part.) People love to say, “I love your English accent.” Really mate, I don’t have an English accent. In fact, the English don’t even have an English accent. Been to Newcastle, Birmingham or Liverpool lately? Try and make out what the hell they are saying. They haven’t spoken English there since… since… well, I long, long time. The only English accent you can find anywhere is on the BBC and we all know they grow them artificially in the same lab where they got Dolly the Sheep.
Of course it is a really big problem when I order something. I love Starbucks. Triple Grande Latte is my fix. But hell. Why do they have to ask me for my name? They can never get it right. I say it and spell it for them. And then it comes out as something only the Hungarian dude standing next to me understands. And I don’t know what it means, but he didn’t react very well to it. So I took the advice of a friend (an Aussie – some of my best friends are Aussies) who said I should just have a Starbucks name. A name they can get when I say it. So I tried a few before I found one that works. I tried Tucker. Didn’t work – the guy kept on shouting “F*k you to mate”. I tried Richard – the guy kept on telling me I am a dick. I tried John – and that turned into Jane (must have been the dress). So I gave up. Now I am just known as “A”. And they still ask me to spell it for them.
But it works wonders at work though. My accent that is. I work with loads of global companies. And whenever I speak they listen. Because I must be smart. I mean really, just listen to my accent. My colleagues keeps on saying that I get away with murder because of my accent. I just smile and try and sound all continental. Saying things like, “Well, like Mandela once told me…”, or “I once found this little shop in Oxford…”, or “oh that, no we all have hair growing out of there in Africa…” At work I am just the pretty accent in the corner.
The worst though is meeting someone who actually recognizes my accent. “You from South Africa?” “Yes dear, I am.” “Oh great! I have a friend who lives in Africa. Maybe you know her?” I am not joking – it happens more often than what you think. We all know each other. Of course we do. And we all look the same as well. (Actually, the most disturbing thing is that half of the time I actually do know the person!)
Yes. Me and my accent. I love my accent. Even though I don’t know I have one. It’s mine. Even though I don’t know how to say my name in English. A, just A.
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