I’m terrible at foreign accents, it becomes evident early on. And yet in spite of that I have got into a habit of using them in the least consequential situations.
Ordering at fast food restaurants – that’s where it all started many-a year ago. I tried British (which just sounded Australian), Australian (which just sounded New Zealander), New Zealander (which just sounded South African), and then American. American was easy to do – it was 95% similar to my personal accent but without being polite.
I’m bad enough with accents of native Anglophones. I couldn’t pull off speaking English as if it were my second language, with a thick layer of whatever I decided to claim was my first. The level of ethnic stereotyping was bad enough when I stuck to the list above. It could only dive into further distaste if I tried to make everything sound like “AAAAYYYE that’sa spicya meatball!” with an accordion playing in the background.
This habit has mostly tapered down, partly because I don’t go to fast food restaurants often enough to care or keep in good practice. But a few months ago I walked to a Subway about a kilometer away from my workplace to get lunch, and decided to put on whatever lazy accent I felt like. It turned out to be sloppy Australian. So much for that habit making a strong comeback. Yet another reason to not do this every time, right?
But I’ve gone to that same Subway a few times since. I don’t go regularly enough to be recognized, I don’t think, but maybe I do. If this were a location with a number of employees, different ones working each time, I could easily drop that act. I could have easily dropped that act after the first time in any case, but I chose not to. This Subway, I gather, is owned and operated by primarily one family. It’s not excessively busy there at lunch times, so they wouldn’t get the sheer volume of customers to never remember me or my voice. I feel the need to keep this up every time – but how do I explain my shitty accent if anyone asks?
The answer I’ve come up with is: lived in Brisbane until the age of 11 when my family moved to the outskirts of London for a couple of years. Came to Canada at 13 and fell in love with proper winters, so I never want to leave. It’s enough time to establish the Australian base, but not so much that I would permanently identify as one. Accents from that age can be undone, right? They can be overwritten.
The most important thing is that nobody actually cares enough to ask in the first place.