As a British-American family living in Indonesia, we seem to speak a special sort of English in our house. Although our kids attend the British school, their classmates are from all over the world and the accents they hear are typically mixed. While my daughter generally sounds American, my son tends to favor British vocabulary – he enjoys maths, plays football (never soccer) and cheerfully reports that his day was “brilliant.”
To an American ear, my own accent has a British sound, while to a Brit, my British husband sounds subtly American. We joke that our accents have merged over time, which is further reinforced by living outside of our home countries for many years.
In our family we use British and American terms interchangeably – we have torches and flashlights, throw away rubbish and trash, wear pants and trousers, and occasionally enjoy sweets and candy. Our kids have recently started to recognize and understand some of the differences. The other day my son informed me that I was pronouncing “vitamin” wrong. I explained that I say it differently and my daughter quickly jumped in with her support: “It’s okay Mommy, I say it that way, too!” Tomayto, tomahto…anything goes in our house.
In a few weeks we will be heading back to the US for summer break. While our friends and family are generally charmed by the kids’ way of speaking (“so cute!”), my own hybrid accent mostly confuses people. I once had a job interview after moving back to the US from abroad and the CEO took me aside afterward to excitedly ask where I was from. “I’m from Seattle originally,” I responded. “No, where are you really from?” he continued. “Uh…Seattle?” Clearly not the exotic hometown he expected.
Although it shouldn’t bother me, sometimes it does.
When I first studied in the UK many years ago I was very self-conscious about my American accent. The young people I worked with would often imitate me and I was continually aware of standing out whenever I opened my mouth. Now, with my mixed pronunciation, I blend in more easily and comfortably slip into colloquial Brit-speak whenever I visit. I still sound different but I don’t mind.
Yet for some reason, it does bother me to be labeled as different in the place I am from. Partly I think it’s the perception of being “other” that gets to me. Living in Indonesia, I am used to feeling this way. But when I return to my hometown, I want to be able to fit right back in – even if it’s been years (well…decades) since I’ve lived there.
Despite my pre-vacation efforts to Americanize my accent, I can still hear the well-enunciated sounds tumbling out of my mouth and the British-style intonation. I try to re-train myself to soften my Ts, pronounce my Rs and say “really” instead of “quite”. Yet as much as I try to flick the American switch in my brain, I know I won’t always get it right. I’m bound to ask where the “toilet” is instead of the restroom and I might accidentally order in Indonesian, just to further confuse things.
I sound different because I am different. Perhaps it’s time to embrace it.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our American-mom-of-twins writer, Shaula Bellour, currently residing in Indonesia.
The image used in this post is credited to Jeremy Keith. It holds a Flickr: Creative Commons attribution license.