If I had a dollar for every time an American said to me, "I love your accent," my shoe and kitchen appliance shopping funds (two of my major weaknesses) would be incredibly healthy.
Everyone is very friendly here in beautiful Coastal Georgia, and this is part of the area's charm. It seems like every day I get complimented on and asked about my accent, especially from young people in restaurants and stores. It is very flattering and I do appreciate their interest, especially when they correctly guess that I am British, which most people do, although Australian or South African are runners-up. On one memorable occasion, Russian was suggested as my nationality. "But your English is very good," I was told.
People are lovely and chatty but sometimes - especially if I am tired or in a hurry - I think I should have a card printed with the following answers to the same questions I always get from strangers:
• Yes, it is a British accent.
• I come from London, England.
• I love living here and moved here three years ago.
• I married an American, which is why I have residency.
• I am sure you would love England/I am so glad you enjoyed your visit to England.
• No, I am afraid I don't know your friend or relative who lives in Britain. (It is a small island, but it does have over 60 million residents, so it is unlikely.)
Of course, I find the Southern accent extremely charming, but really, how many syllables are there in "well" ("way-ell-ah") and four ("fo-war-ah")? And why is New Orleans pronounced as one word?
As I have said before, we are divided by a common language and accent is a large part of that. I sometimes see a blank look on people's faces when I am talking - especially to older Americans - as my speech is very quick and fairly clipped. I might as well be speaking Russian after all.
And it is not only people that don't understand me. Automated telephone services sometimes just do not comprehend what I am saying, either. This is especially true of directory assistance. But on the bright side, I often get transferred to a real person eventually. And the conversation usually includes, "I love your accent ..."
Simply ordering water in a restaurant can be a real challenge. "Wah-ta, wah-ta," I keep saying, which sounds perfect to me, but the waiter or waitress just looks blank. Usually, my husband saves me by jumping in with what sounds like "wood-der" to me, but magically they understand immediately. Having parents from the South, having grown up in the Midwest, having gone to school in Pittsburgh and with a British wife, my husband is fluent in all English dialects - Southern, Yankee, British, you name it.
Hope is on the horizon for me, though. Most linguistic studies show that all regional dialects are softening and slowly merging into one blended, universal form of English. So maybe 50 years from now, I can effortlessly order water with my toad-in-the-hole (sausages and pancake batter) and spotted dick (pudding with raisins). But the differences in menus is a subject for another day.
God bless America!
Lesley grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.