‘Are you going to have a fake British accent like Madonna?’
That’s the big question my personal Facebook friends asked me when I announced I was getting married and moving back to London from America.
A fake British accent was the least of my worries.
Finding an international shipping company, applying for a fiance visa, and getting a job held top spots on my list. Then, I planned to get ‘Into the Groove’ of London life. However, I knew I wasn’t going back to Florida with a fake British accent and having all my friends
mates wonder ‘Who’s That Girl?’ when I visited.
Like most Americans, I find a British accent endearing. But, I’m not trying to be a phony. I’m American. Not British (even though my great grandmother was from North London). I had no plans to speak with an accent. Well, not at first.
After a few months of living in London, I
realized realised I would need to give in. ‘What would be the reason to have a fake British accent?’, you ask.
Let me explain…
While Americans and Britons technically speak English, it’s no news that British people use different words than Americans for many things. Knowing them is one thing. Using them is another.
Some of these words sound silly to me when I hear them. For example, if you’re at a restaurant or pub in London, it’s standard to say, ‘Where’s the toilet?’ if you need to use the bathroom.
I have issues with that. It just sounds so crass to me. I feel like I am saying, ‘I have to take a piss. Where’s the pot in this place to do that?’ It’s just not cool.
For the first few months I continued to ask for the restroom. Finally, I just got plain sick of the blank stare back from the person I was asking. Saying it over and over at a louder, slower pace always works but it is time-consuming. I realised I needed to surrender.
In a conversation with my sister, who moved from Florida to Michigan a few years ago and is noticeably losing her Southern twang and speaking like a Michigander, the phenomenon I explained to her made sense.
She said that if I start talking like British people, it is more a matter of speaking to be understood than trying to have a fake British accent (like Madonna). You reach a point where you just need to Express Yourself. It was a Ray of Light for me!
Reluctantly, I have started to convert.
I cringe every time I say ‘veg’ in London instead of vegetables. My eyes silently roll to the back of my head when I say the word ‘brolly’ when referring to an umbrella.
And, I’m starting to really let the American accent mutha flippin’ go by dropping the ‘r’ sound from many words like ‘paper’ ‘water’ and ‘register’ so I can save time and not have to repeat what I need so often. It’s time efficient, not an attempt to be a Material Girl.
I just don’t have the time and energy to keep going round, and round, and round in London.
The basics for when and how to have a fake British accent:
- Be a Wanker- Choose certain words that you know are different for American vs British English when you need to communicate something quickly. It’s not Borderline. It’s a matter of talking to people in a language they understand. And- it will make life or your
- Open Your Heart- There’s a few keywords that go a long way in England. Please, Thank You, and Sorry. Master them with the full on accent. Sometimes you just need to say these words in order to keep calm and carry on ‘being British’ for a few fleeting London moments. Sorry.
- Deepah and Deepah- Drop the ‘R’ if it ends a word. Think of that dreaded thick Boston accent that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rocked back in the day of Good Will Hunting.
- Don’t Start Spreadin’ the News- I have a friend who left New York two years ago and has completely Hung Up her thick New Yawk kawwwwfeeee talk. She sounds nearly British now. It’s not very Vogue. In fact, it’s a little too fast and phony for me. However, another American expat friend of mine (also from New York) has lived in London for 16 years and has no trace of Brit speak when I talk to her. It’s refreshing. Yet, when she speaks with English people, she fluently converts to the exact words she needs with mild British inflections. Bloody brilliant!
- Crazy for You- Don’t use a fake British accent with your UK spouse, if that’s your living scenario like me. If you married a Brit and moved to London as an American expat, translating your ‘parseltongue’ is part of the deal he/she signed up for. You don’t have to wave the whole Union Jack at home.
- Like a Virgin, Talkin’ for the Very First Time- When you’re with a group of American expat friends in London, on a return trip home in the US, or entertaining American visitors in the UK, remember your roots. Don’t try to show off your ‘bilingualism’ and have a fake British accent in their company. The need is gone so you’ll look like a ridiculous show off with no social skills. Those are times you don’t need to take extra steps to bridge any gaps.
These are the words and phrases I am still refusing to use: ‘take the mick’, kip, chuffed, fag (for the word ‘cigarette’), gutted, ‘got the hump’, knackered and whinge. What words are on your list?
These are the words I secretly love and actually try to use as much as possible: dodgey, slapper, nicked, ‘on the piss’, ‘one off’, Blimey! Bullocks! Crikey! Hiya!
What words do you find yourself using to have a fake British accent in London, if you’re an American expat living here? Any Canadians, Kiwis, or Aussies suffering from the same language barriers?
Do you agree that it’s a matter of being understood and not being an imposter when you purposely say things with another accent as an expat? Is it any different from speaking Spanish or French with the proper accent?
the Sunny friends you lot who want to know more about the American expat experience in London, just Like a Prayer there are loads of articles on the blog to explore.
I think that’s about all for now. Innit, brov? Unless, you want to read this blog post again to see how many Madonna songs were featured? Please, please don’t click on the picture below. You’ll be sorry!!!