New Zealand Travel Tip #6: Use Your Accent to Keep Them Guessing

March 31, 2009

flagI’m not sure where or when it went, but my American accent got lost somewhere along the way.

When I was in Sydney a few years ago people asked where in Ireland I was from, if I was originally from Queensland, and what part of London I lived in, all based on my accent.

On this trip, New Zealanders and other travelers have assumed I was German, Canadian and Australian. When I tell them I’m from California, born and raised outside of San Francisco, they get a squinty look on their faces like I’ve just given them a very difficult math problem to figure out. Then I get responses like:

“I never would have guessed you were American.”
“You don’t sound like you’re from California.”
“Are you sure?”
“You have a really subtle accent. How’d you do that?”

Then I give them a thrill by, like, going all valley girl on them? And, like, being a little louder and more like the people on TV and stuff? And they’re all like, “Yeeeah, now that’s American!”

What *real* Californians sound like.

What *real* Californians sound like.

And that pretty much solved the mystery for me. Because while I’ve never talked like a character straight out of “Clueless”, at one time I was all, like, you know, Californian in the way I talked. But after high school I moved to Boston for college, and my first day there I was talking to my RA who, within a couple of minutes, said, “So where in California are you from?”

Right then I decided to watch myself a little more closely, to blend in and try and sound a little more adult in the way I spoke. And apparently it worked so well that not only did I rinse the Californian out of my accent, but a lot of the American as well. But what does that even mean?

In my hostel in Rotorua, a guy at a table across from me answered that question when I overheard him bragging to his friends that he could always identify an American. “They’re really loud and in your face. But Canadians are quieter and nicer.”

Ah ha! So it’s not just my accent, but my general calmness, politeness and general courtesy that’s ruining my American rep! The irony is that two of the loudest, most obnoxious and embarassing people I met on my trip were from Toronto. Go figure, eh?

For final verification that my accent was all kinds of messed up, I turned to Facebook and one of its trusty quizzes. I allowed Facebook to determine which Muppet I am (Rowlf) and which celebrity I should marry (Jude Law? Really?), so I figured they could accurately identify my regional speech pattern as well.

The answer? I’m a “Northern Accent”, despite the fact I have never lived in the North. I haven’t even visited that much.

I guess Facebook doesn’t understand me either.

One comment

  1. I’m perusing your New Zealand and Australia posts, hence this comment 6 months after the post date. Highly amusing post! I’ll be curious to see if my American accent is terribly obvious while I’m in New Zealand and Australia. (Leaving in a week and a day!) I’m Californian and I’m sure I could bust out a valley girl accent (or even a Southern one) if need be. Being loud and obnoxious on the other hand… that goes against my nature a bit too much.

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