WTF Wednesday: Faking an Accent

Posted on
Jun 22, 2011
Posted in: WTF

It’s time for WTF Wednesday, a semi-regular feature where I ramble on about downright crazy things I’ve encountered while traveling.

I am going to make a statement which will date me far beyond my 30 years, and one for which I will ask my younger readers (should they not presently be napping or enjoying a juice box) to forgive me.

I do not understand young people.

While I remember little from my idyllic early-20s (owed, I’m am sure, to the fact that the sheer wholesomeness of my recreational activities rendered them boring and unmemorable, and not, because, say, THC destroys the hippocampus), I can’t recall ever faking the accent of another land. Except for a brief stint in 2003 when I accidentally caught a Newlyweds marathon on television and started speaking with a faint southern accent, which wasn’t so much intentional as a symptom of having overdosed on Jessica Simpson, I’ve always stuck with my rather-generic-sounding Seattle accent, and it’s served me well.

But apparently there’s an entire generation of young Americans who, discontent with their normal parlance, have started mimicking that of other lands, and badly. Rand and I became aware of the phenomenon this past week while visiting the Bay Area. We found ourselves in the middle of a parched fairground on a scorching hot day, enjoying the unintentional hilarity of the Marin Arts Festival, and in dire need of refreshment.

Crepes, sausages, AND gyros? It was so international, I felt like I was at EPCOT.

We worked our way through stilt-walkers and couples in matching Hawaiian shirts to a collection of food stands on the outskirts of the fair. Rand ordered a drink from a young 20-something who was at that particular moment pretending to be from the working-class part of Boston. The sheer emphasis that he placed on each and every syllable soon made it clear that the closest he’d ever come to Southie was watching The Town twice in a row while drunk on Samuel Adams.

We proceeded to stare, fascinated, as the kid switched to a pseudo-Australian accent for the next customer. I was willing to accept it as an isolated incident: perhaps he was an out-of-work actor. Or an idiot. Or both. But it soon became obvious that he wasn’t alone. Everyone behind the counter was agonizing over their vowels, struggling to sound slightly more interesting. When Rand’s order was up, the blonde girl who handed him his drink halfheartedly attempted a European accent (let’s call it Germ-ish) before giving up and saying, “Uh, here’s some napkins” with the cadence of someone born and raised in the Bay Area.

We were stupefied.

Was this another young-person trend that I didn’t understand? Like the appeal of Taylor Lautner and the notion that vampires don’t instantly die in sunlight – was it something that you had to be under the age of 22 to appreciate? Were kids all over the country running around pretending they were from “just outside of London” even though their accents were more reminiscent of a tobacco-chewing Glaswegian?

Rand and I convinced ourselves that this was not the case. We were sure that when we returned to San Francisco, we’d encounter not a single person trying to artificially pepper conversations with words like “lovey” and “bollocks.”

And we were wrong.

As I was wandering down Mission, a young man collecting signatures tried to stop me. I explained to him that I wasn’t able to vote in California and kept walking. It was a half a block before I realized that his accent was a muddled mix of California, Australian, and Kiwi.

I immediately dismissed it. He had probably grown up in Australia, I thought. And moved here a few short years ago. Obviously. I was unwilling to believe that it was an epidemic.

Later, I walked by the young man again, and failing to realize he had spoken to me earlier, he tried to stop me once more. This time, when he spoke, his Australian accent was gone. He now had a southern drawl.

And I can only hope it was from watching too many episodes of Newlyweds.

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