Brits ‘Going Native’ in the U.S.: Can You Go Too Far?

This sloth knows how to keep it real. (Wiki)

This sloth keeps it real. (Wiki)

Most people in the U.S. and the U.K. comment that I haven’t lost my accent despite having been here for decades. Given that I was a grown-up when I came, it doesn’t seem too surprising to me, and I do wonder how some Brits start twanging away within months of stepping off the plane. (That’s genuine curiosity rather than condemnation, btw.) I recently met a guy who I confidently assumed was Australian, until about halfway through our conversation when he confessed he was English, and he’d only been here 10 months! I don’t know who was more embarrassed.

I usually say I haven’t made a conscious effort to resist “going native”, but truth be told, I probably have. You see, it always makes me squirm when I hear otherwise English-sounding Brits replacing the occasional “t” with a weak “d”, or inserting an audible “r” in words like start and farm. (Scots, Northern Irish and people from Cornwall have an audible “r,” although it’s still not quite the U.S. “r.”) Anyway, I try not to do it myself because I don’t want to end up sounding like Anthony Sullivan, the king of late-night infomercials. This “Grater Plater” ad is exactly what I’m talking about, see below.

On second thought, don’t listen to me, the guy’s made millions from his voice!

Although I have no problem saying “bayzil”, I can’t bring myself to drop the “h” from herb, nor can I attempt the American “tomato”. Not only does this require a change in the “a” sound, but I’d also have to replace the “t” with a “d”; too many changes in one word for a successful mission I think. (Admittedly, this has caused many a problem in sandwich bars, and I’m now adept at pointing or going without. They never understand my fake U.S. accent anyway.)

For some reason, adopting the American “o” sound has been less traumatic for me. The talk show queen is “Oh-prah” (as opposed to opera), we eat “yow-gurt” and “rizzow-tow”, and I’m just about managing to rhyme that big, hairy, flat-faced animal with cloth, instead of saying “slowth”. (You’d be surprised how often that animal’s name comes up when you have a 9-year-old!)

If you’re a Brit in the U.S. with Anglo-American children, your pronunciation can give rise to much mirth. Whenever I order hummus and pita bread my kids fall about the place. What’s wrong with pronouncing it hoomuss and pit-a-bread fer cryin’ out loud? (Round these parts it’s “hum us” and “peeta bread”.)

Speaking of kids, I grew up in a time and place where “butt”, “fart”, “crap” and “fanny” were words that one didn’t hear coming out of the mouths of babes; my kids still get a right old telling-off if I hear any of these, and I don’t care if “everyone else here says it.”