No really, hear me roar. Because there is no way that you will make sense of anything else I have to say. This bloody accent of mine. I don’t even think I will able to understand it if I heard it coming from your mouth. It’s just a shame I can’t write in an accent. Maybe I should do a podcast and see how many people switch off from this blog. “Hello, this is Angry….” Click. Thanks so much for your commitment…
Okay, I used to argue that I have no accent. That you all have accents and not me. Oh I can quote you studies by Oxford University proving that South Africans have the purest English “accent” out there. That we speak English the way it was intended by God or whoever made the rules of English. The Queen I guess.
But I am so damn wrong about that. You see, I am not English. Fatal flaw number 1. I can only have the purest “accent” (or non-accent) if I actually qualified as an English South African. I am not. But it came as a bit of a shocker to realize that I have one damn heavy bloody accent. I never heard it before. Until yesterday.
We had this guy from South Africa visiting our offices today. Of course, as the resident foreigner and South African, I had to go to the meeting. (I was also secretly hoping the guy would bring some biltong and Castle – but no bloody luck with that either.) He was from my hometown – Cape Town. I guess they also wanted me to translate for them. This guy had a heavy accent. Or so I thought.
I introduced myself and we were walking and talking on our way to the meeting-room. (Small world – we went to the same primary school.) All I heard was “Ja, man” and “lekker“. I thought the team might have some trouble understanding him, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone. Or they were doing a pretty good job acting as if they understood what he had to say. But the meeting went well. He was a typical South African. On top of his game and as sharp as a needle in a condom factory. Sharp enough for you to think it’s all going to go very wrong any minute. But he was good – he made me proud. Even with the accent.
I saw him out afterwards and made him promise to bring me some Castle, biltong and a few other goodies next time he comes to visit. He should have known that any honorable South African will never fall for bribes of diamonds or riches – but a well placed can of Stoney and a packet of Simba Chutney can swing a deal in seconds. A lesson I hope you learned young man. Don’t let me repeat myself.
Anyway, after a few comments that included “lekker“, “boerewors” and “moerse” we said “cheers” and off he went. Nice guy. I rejoined Ms C, my colleague and friend, to download. But first I had to check on the accent. So I asked her, “Tell me I don’t have an accent as heavy as that”. She looked at me, laughed and said, “You sound just like him”. Damnit.
She even reminded me that he used words that only South Africans use – like thumbsuck. And that she looked at me to see if I realized he used the word – they make fun of some of my expressions at work all the time. Fun in a good way. And thumbsuckis one of those words I use often. It means to create something from nothing. Like in “I created the data from nothing – I thumbsucked the data”. Damnit. I didn’t even blink when he said it – it was just English to me. Damnit.
No wonder we always need a translator when we go to meetings. I remember one of my first meetings facing a new client. I kept on talking about the data we were using to support our argument. And the potential client just stared blankly at me. Not a clue of what I was saying. So Ms M stepped in to say that I mean data. Pronounced completely differently. I pronounce it da-ta – the “a” pronounced like in the “a” in “la” ( as in “do re me fa so la te do”). Not day-ta. Thanks Ms M. And she’s pretty good at understanding and translating what I have to say. And makes it sound even better than what I actually meant to say.
(Another word is Iraq. I pronounce it E-Raq – standard “a” as above – while Americans pronounce it Eye-Rack. No wonder MediCare makes so many mistakes. You try and fill in those prescriptions without making a mistake baby.)
Anyway. Another favourite expression of mine is used when someone asks me how long something will take or how much it would cost or how involved it would be. My response? “How long is a piece of string?” You see, I can’t tell you how long the piece of string is until I have more information – and the same detail is needed to answer the other questions. I still get blank stares for that one. And a few laughs from our team.
But the accent do have distinct advantages. I can pretty much say whatever I want and people will smile and believe me. I sound so… worldly. You want to talk development? Who better than someone with an accent and from Africa. You want to talk about the global economy? Who better than someone with an accent who lived on a few continents already. Like my boss and friend Mr M says – I can kill someone and get away with it if I just keep on talking and smiling.
Yes, my accent. Not easy to understand, but it comes in handy. I generally call myself the pretty accent in the corner. We can use it when we need to because it does tell the listener that I might have a different perspective – and I get their attention. Especially over here in the US where accents are still a bit of a novelty. I mean really, you guys think every and any Englishman on the big screen must be a great actor – just because he has an accent! Hugh Grant anyone?
Of course the accent helps me get away with silly comments and general stupidity because of the way it sounds. I am the Hugh Grant of my profession. No matter how stupid I actually am, my accent makes me sound smarter and wiser than what I really am. And better looking.
WTF? Yes, better looking. Or at least marginally more attractive. Okay, more acceptable for public viewing. Just. Barely less horrifying than Freddy Krueger on a bad night. Children run away screaming their little heads off when they see me, but hang on to every word I say when they hear me speak. Scary looking, but with the accent still a huge improvement over my non-accented self. Last week Friday I was talking to a few of my younger colleagues at work – a young guy and two young women, one who just joined us. And the other young women looked at our new colleague and said that I have the coolest and nicest accent she has ever heard. Aah, always good for the ego of any (almost) middle-aged man. Even if he has his own little accent of love. My wife. The one with the purest accent of all. Or rather, as an English South African – the one with the non-accent. Just music to my ears and heart.
So hear me roar. That’s about all you will understand. But take it from me (imagine an accent saying this) – the accent makes me wise and cool. And a little bit better looking than with my mouth shut. I have the data to prove it.
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