“I shouldn't be saying this – high treason, really – but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren't fooled by our accent into detecting brilliance that may not really be there.” – Stephen Fry
When it comes to accents it’s great being a Brit in the States. OK, let me qualify that. Sometimes I would like to be able to sneak in and out of a shop without attracting the covert attention of everyone around me simply by asking for a gallon of milk. Oh yes, and it would be rather nice not to have the occasional sales assistant start imitating me, to my astonishment! I’m sure they mean well, but a) they usually have terrible “Briddish” accents, and b) would they do that if my accent was Bolivian or Bangladeshi? I think perhaps not.Anyway, as I was about to say, although many of us have different British accents, they are usually all very popular with the natives here. Having grown up with British-sounding people I never really thought about us coming across as particularly intelligent or sophisticated, apart from the real boffins* that is. Indeed, there are some UK accents that sound positively brainless, even when the individual has a triple digit IQ (not naming any of course.) Americans however, don’t seem to make the same distinction, or at least I’ve never heard a British accent being denigrated.
From my own experience in the States, I have to agree with Fry’s statement. I’m quite often asked to read something out at school parent meetings for example, and when I ask why, I’m told it “will sound better with a British accent”. Personally, I think your average American has such a smooth, confident delivery on anything from the cafeteria menu to international diplomacy, I’d never dream of questioning them, but apparently I’m in the minority.
Not that I have much of a potty mouth these days, (three kids), but we Brits can usually deliver some fairly colo(u)rful language and get away with it over here. Dropping the “F” bomb usually has people in hysterics as they tell you it never sounds quite as good when they say it. And of course, if you use British swear words such as bloody and bugger (excuse me) it delights them. Unfortunately my favo(u)rite one, “sodding”, is completely unknown here so it has disappeared from my lexicon.
So yes Brits, if you fancy a quick IQ boost, pop across the Pond and just talk for a while!
(*boffin – seriously intelligent person, usually a scientist).
This post is adapted from a 2009 post on Toni’s other blog Pond Parleys; Both sides of the pond – both sides of the issue.
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.