After 30 years in the States, I still have an Italian accent. When I go back to Italy the family tells me I have an American accent. Go figure. Even before the coming of caller ID, I couldn’t make anonymous phone calls. I would barely say “Hello,” and the person on the other end would say; “Oh, hi Maria, how are you?” And being a bit slow on the uptake, I would ask; “How did you know it was me?” Accents can be tricky because it’s easy to forget you have one.
When you meet new people, they will either love or hate your accent. It has nothing to do with you personally; it is strictly related to the understanding factor. If they understand you, they like the accent, if they don’t, well, they don’t. Unless you are Sofia Vergara then all bets are off.
When my kids where in high school, on rainy days, if they had nothing to do, they’d haul home some of their friends and ask me to pronounce difficult words for their entertainment. Their favorites were “hurt” and “hearth,” and “beach” and…that word that rhymes with “witch.”
Just when I begin to think that I’m getting control of the accent thing, my computer provider outsources the technical help to India. The person I reach, who says his name is Brandon-yeah, like that’s his real name-can’t understand me and vice versa. So, in desperation, we are spelling. Here is how it goes:
“Swan, my last name is Swan, S as in Sam, w as in wedding, a as in apple, and n as in Nancy.”
Brandon says: “Okay I got that. S as in serpent, w as in wasabi, a as in alligator, n as in Nairobi.”
Somehow I don’t think Brandon is from sunny California.
Like I said, I’m so used to my own accent it hardly bothers me at all, unless I’m with some of my friends or family who came to America after me and yet have no accent at all. They make fun of me! The other day I was grocery shopping with my grandson and I ran into my friend Joe, who has the distinctive Italian habit of expressing himself with his hands, but no verbal accent.
I said to my grandson, “Why don’t you run and get me a cart instead of playing around.” He takes off, and I wait by the frozen food aisle and talk to Joe about his wife’s health. Time goes by. I’m getting very chilly. My lips are turning blue, and, my feet are falling asleep, and still the kid isn’t back. I’m about to go looking for him when he shows up, but he has no cart. He hands me a pack of playing cards with a big smile on his face. “Here Nonna, Boy, it was hard to find them!”
Joe’s roaring laughter cooled the atmosphere in the frozen food aisle by another few degrees.
I admit I haven’t tried very hard to lose my accent: I haven’t tried to Americanize my speech. In fact, I wouldn’t even try to say the word “Americanize.” An accent is a great conversation starter, even if during the conversation I have to spell out the occasional word and a few ideas are lost in translation.