Sunday, September 23, 2012

America: the exotic country across the sea

The other evening Charlotte, one of the other teachers at my school, was explaining English and American pronunciation differences to her class and commented that the school had a new American teacher and this is how I would say something. The class got excited and asked if they could meet me. Charlotte said no, not during class. If they wanted to meet me they could introduce themselves when the class was finished. 

I was at the front desk as this was happening, talking to Howard (one of the two directors and also one of the teachers) about something. One of the adult students who will be starting in October was standing nearby and started staring at me before blurting out "I love your accent!"

I never thought that being American was all that interesting. Why would I? I've lived in America most of my life and from my point of view it's a very big country where we all have boring accents and have some really stupid television shows. I'm starting to understand some of my dad's experience of being an Englishman living in America: lots of comments on the intriguing accent and eager questions. "What area are you from?" "Why did you leave?" "How long have you been here?" "Are you going back?" Etc. Etc. I even get asked to say things so they can hear my accent or see if they can get me to say some Americanisms.

Interestingly enough I've been told by some people both in America and England that my accent doesn't sound entirely American: I say a fair amount of vowels with an English sound, but things like my "r" "t" and "d" sounds are distinctly American. My brother is the same way: people laugh sometimes when they hear us talking to each other and we bring out the English sounds from one another. This is almost certainly a result of hearing our dad's accent growing up.

Something I find myself explaining often  is American restaurant portions. I have been teased on many an occasion while eating out about the large amounts of food you get in American restaurants, followed by amazed looks when I say "Well of course they don't usually expect you to eat it all. One of the best parts of going out to eat is being able to take part of it home and have it again later." Strangely most people on this side of the pond assumed that Americans either eat it all at once or just throw away lots of food a la ancient Rome style wasting. Boxing your food to take it home is simply not done in many countries here, or if it is they will give you a surprised and strange look. So when I tell them that I worked for several months waiting tables before I left America and one of the most common questions I would ask customers at the end of their meal was whether or not they wanted a box, they are somewhat incredulous. 

It should be noted that posh restaurants in the States generally have much smaller portions and one does not generally ask to take food home from those places.

Seriously, one of the best things in university would be if a relative offered to take you out to dinner or lunch. Food! Enough food for more than one meal! I find it really difficult over here to see any restaurant food go uneaten. After all, it's food that was paid for and if it doesn't get eaten it will go to waste!

Before I left America my friends had fun looking at my British passport. We all had a good chuckle over the warning that "This passport remains the property of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and may be withdrawn at any time," as it gave us a mental image of the queen seated on her throne with a pile of confiscated passports behind her.

Over here people are fascinated by my U.S. passport. A couple of people have pretended to steal it because they want very badly to move to America. When I got my British passport I was delighted with the fact that I could now travel freely around Europe. It's only now that I'm starting to fully appreciate just how much of the world is open to me.

While opening my Spanish bank account Howard and I had a long wait and he had a lot of fun flipping through my passport and looking at all the pictures and reading all the little patriot tidbits that are printed in it. The preamble was especially interesting to him. I rolled my eyes and commented that we're forced to memorize and recite it in primary school which I hated. 

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 


 I have this song sung at me with some surprising frequency:

1 comment:

  1. If I wasn't American, I'd sing that theme song at you too. Hell, I'd do it anyway. Luckily, I didn't have to memorize the preamble in primary school. Maybe because I was homeschooled for most of it? I have a hard time conceptualizing the American Accent, maybe because I haven't gotten out of the country that much. And you do have a weird accent mashup. Not quite American, not quite British. It carries your dark, subtle humor well. And watch out for that Queen. She's sneaksy.