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Thursday, October 22, 2009


By A.J. Llewellyn

There is one aspect to being a foreigner in the US that few immigrants talk about. Yes, I'm Australian and yes I've lived here 25 years but I still have trouble ordering food in restaurants and making myself understood when dealing with even the most basic business transaction.
People tell me my Australian accent is cute, but try asking for butter in a restaurant.
I did yesterday and the waitress acted like I was speaking in Swahili, backward.
"Butter," I said, resorting to a Ricky Ricardo impersonation by picking up my bread roll and knife and miming the act of buttering.
"Oh, budda," she said, giving me a death ray stare. "Why didn't you say so?"
"I did," I bleated, making my friends laugh.
It's a matter of shame to me that I can't make myself understood and it's why I prefer to write. Recently I was trying to negotiate making a late payment on a bill and the automated voice response system kept asking if I wanted to pay the 'past due amount' or the full amount.
"Past due amount" I enunciated into the phone.
On and on the electronic dunce-wizard and I went until I realized it was not identifying the word "past" as in "pah-st."
So I said "past" the American way and the little voice on the other end accepted my arrangements. I really thought I should have gotten a medal or a sticky bun or...something after that effort.
The first week I arrived with my dad, we were, like most Australians, obsessed with the idea of diners. And the famous bottomless cup of coffee. We hit every place we could find. Sadly only a few are left standing but when we went to one, on La Cienega (Australians pronounce ot La Sinayga until they are educated properly) my dad asked if he could have the rest of his coffee in a cup to take away.
The wait staff scratched their heads and acted like they had no idea what we were talking about. My dad is a man of the world but got frustrated fast.
It took ten minutes, by which time we were traumatized and the coffee long cold for them to beat us over the head with "you want it to go."
"That's what I said," my father shrieked.
I still want to "take away" but remember to say I want takeout or to go.
My brother Anthony learned the hard way that scallops in a fish and chip shop are not greasy wonderful slabs of fried potatoes, but seafood.
I learned too. Fast. I learned to pronounce the city of Van Nuys like guys, not niece.
Sepulveda Boulevard, the main north-south artery of Los Angeles is an amusing challenge to all Australians. I can always tell a new Aussie in town by the way they pronounce it.
In Australia there is cheap wine called Sepulveda. It's pronounced Seppel-veeda. That's how we pronounce the street name too: Seppel-veeda. It should be Sep-ahl-veda.
La Jolla. Who knew it's pronounced La Hoya?
Not in Australia we didn't.
Pardon me whilst I butter (pronounced butt-ter) my toast and try to hang on to what is a big part of me. The way I speak. What about you? Has anything like this ever happened to you?

Aloha oe,



Anne D said...

As Kiwi in Florida I know exactly where your coming from. Plus I have it southern'afied :)

silverpixies said...

AJ!! I bet its sexy how you say butter!! i am from the north and live in the south i kinda understand what your saying its like damn do i live in a different world? I want Tea without all the damn sugar!! *blows kisses* you can talk aussie to me anytime!!

Serena Yates said...

LOL - your blog reminds me of my first big tour of the US when I was a student. While many people told me how 'cute' my British accent was, I almost starved in Tennessee. They did not understand a single word of 'the Queen's English' at all. Thank God for self service!

Anonymous said...

As a Canadian, listening to certain regions in the US speak English, makes me shudder. I feel it is just so completely bastardized. You are not the only one.

Jambrea said...

First I have to say that yes, your accent is cute. :)

When I was younger I went back and forth between Virgina and Indiana. My accent would come and go. lol I learned quick that kids make fun if you sound different. It took a couple weeks, but in VA I would have my southern accent and in IN, I would lose it. lol So you never know how I'll order a drink. Will it be pop or soda or even soda pop. lol BUT...I never just said give me a coke. :)

Sometimes if I talk fast or count fast, my southern accent will show itself. It will on some words too, but for the most part, I have a newscaster type accent. lol

AJ Llewellyn said...

Thanks for the awesome responses. Serena, I hear you! UI actually like going to English tea rooms and not only being understood but not having to worry about 'slurring' my speech to get...butter. lol
Thanks everyone!

Amanda said...

Hey Sweets!

I so feel you. I was born and rasied in sunny SoCal, were dude and sweet, Awesome and totally were acceptable vinacular.

I am now is the south, Alabama to be exact and I get the evil stink eye every time I open my mouth.

I get the obligitory, "What part of the north are you from?" To which I say I'm not from the north I am from the west, like the west coast, 20 minutes from the beach? Los Angeles!

Well needless to say I think the stink eye follows me now on a daily basis, god forbid I say sweet or dude, or my fav saying lookit I know I know, not a word but fun to say and it makes my better half laugh. So its all good!

I have to say though any accent other than mine is dreamy and you could say pay, or butter or coffee and I would sigh wistfully like a love sick teenager.

Just know you are sooo not alone in this. I get it too.


Susilien said...

AJ, You are adorable. Honestly.

Story: When I was growning up in Ohio, (Considered a midwestern state for some unknown reason, all you zoning people need to look at a map!) I would have people who didn't know me ask me what school I went too. They couldn't understand me. I too speak like someone on a news station.

I have lived in the same area my entire lifetime!

My parents and grandparents never approved of slang or slurring of words. My grandmother's family can trace our lineage all the way back to the time of William the Conqueror and she always told us that we need to hold onto the dignity of speech.

Although I do tend to say warshing instead of washing.

Good luck in the restaraunts.

Lynn Crain said...

Only in Scotland. But then again, I don't understand them either.

I think part of it is not only our dialect but how we've been taught to enunciate words.

For example, I'm taking a Gaelic class. In it the teacher is always saying, 'You haven't made this sound since you were a baby. You'll have to retrain yourself.'

This drives me crazy but I understand what he's saying. If I had lived in a household where they spoke Gaelic, it would just roll off my tongue because of the exposure factor.

After I had been in Scotland a week, I had a Scottish lilt and my DH asked me once if I could hear myself. I told him that I could and I liked it. LOL!


SiNn said...

i was born in Pa and lived in southren ill for a bout 4 yrs after my 8th birthday they stuck me in aspeachc lass because i said everything like i would in the city my accent was damaging the rest of the classes learning process can you believe that an accent i moved when i was 12 and spent 10 years in Indiana and i tooka trip to Ky ppl stopped mejust to hear me say gas and soda and introduce my self because i sounded more city then southren now i still get teased how i pronounce things since i sometimes revert back to the city way mixed with my now southren roots so i say things like Dun instead of dont yano instead of you know then i go allw eird and pronouce othe rthings more stressed or with a different accent can sometimes be embarassing or annoying

Yina said...

Oh yeah. I am from Sierra Leone an English speaking country in West Africa. When I started high school In Maryland in the 90's I use to get speak English, or what, they I would slow my speech and pronounce the work the same was and they would understand and then pronounce it the american way.

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