When in Rome…

By Lisa Sugarman

I have a problem. A problem that I’ve been conscious of for some time now, but simply haven’t been able to identify. I’ve always known I was different. So I guess maybe I’ve just tried to ignore it, assuming it was a phase that I’d eventually outgrow. Or maybe I could just bury it deep enough inside my psyche that I’d forget about it altogether.

Only Dave and my girls know my secret, for lack of a better word. Otherwise I’ve managed to keep it from most everyone else. And with the exception of the occasional slip of the tongue, usually when we’re traveling and I’m especially relaxed, I think I’ve done a fairly good job of hiding it. Amazing the kind of freedom you feel when you’re across the Atlantic and in a foreign country.

The problem is, it’s actually getting tougher and tougher to suppress these tendencies. And despite my best efforts to ignore the behavior, it’s only made the compulsion stronger.

See, for the most part, I haven’t really understood what I was dealing with. But now, after finally taking the time to search for answers, I’ve discovered that what I’ve been dealing with all these years actually has a name. And while rare, is nothing to be ashamed of or concerned about for the long term.

I have Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). Or a facsimile thereof. And I’m not going to be embarrassed by it any more.tumblr_inline_mo36u746u51qz4rgp

What does that mean? Well, it means that, at random times, and with no advance warning, I break out into a fake foreign accent. Could be British, or French, or Jamaican, or just a simple southern drawl. Sometimes it’s at the dinner table, other times it’s in an airport. But it’s almost constant whenever I’m in a foreign country.

What can I say, I’m an accent whore. I love them all. Foreign and domestic. Because to me, they all have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi quality. They all have a unique allure.

The truth is, I’ve wanted an accent for as long as I can remember. Sort of like how some kids grow up wanting a pony. But I wasn’t exactly like other kids. Just ask my aunt and uncle who live in central Georgia. Whenever I went down to visit my cousins, I transformed into a bonafide Georgia peach within ten minutes of debarking the plane. And I usually kept the drawl for most of the trip. Just couldn’t help myself. I just find accents so addictive. And my penchant for them has only gotten worse.healthdiagnosis_foreign_language_books

For instance, about five years ago Dave and I took our girls to Europe on holiday. Uh, there I go again. I said “holiday.” We were in London for about ten days and from the second I cleared through customs, I was like a language chameleon—taking on a British accent before we even made it to baggage claim. And, much to the embarrassment of both my kids, I kept it up for most of the trip. Em-barr-a-ss-ing.

The thing is, though, I’m not alone. You might remember how Madonna adopted a British accent almost immediately after she married Guy Ritchie and moved to the UK back in 2012. There’s also Nicki Minaj and Johnny Depp, both of whom are notorious for lapsing into British accents at random times.17xxv9jjs5611jpg

Now granted, some accents are sexier than others. You’ve got your South African, Italian, Brazilian, Australian, British, and French, to name only a few of my top-tier favorites. Texan and Southern are the only American accents that foreigners can really hear, and they’re just downright adorable, so those make the list, too.

Ok, so I guess, at the end of the day, I probably don’t have a legitimate case of FAS. But rather something a little more benign, like linguistic accommodation. (It’s amazing, the stuff you can learn when you’re alone in a room with a laptop and Wi-Fi.)

With linguistic accommodation, most of the dialogue adaptation happens subconsciously, with people just responding to what they hear around them. Much like in my case. I hear a French accent, and I automatically start replicating it.

Because let’s face it, if you’re an American, and a pretty decent number of us are, then you know that we really don’t have anything resembling an accent. It’s sad but true. And I think there’s probably a decent amount of accent envy here on our side of the pond.

Think about it. Start speaking to someone who’s British and they automatically appear more intelligent. More posh. You know they do. It’s a known fact that accents trigger emotional responses. I mean, just by virtue of the sound of someone’s voice, they can project an intellectual quality.joshandchuck--0188--dont-be-dumb-foreign-accent-syndrome--large_thumb

Now this is certainly not to say that someone with a foreign accent is smarter than someone without one, but general perception—and that’s really what I’m talking about—is that someone with an accent appears more worldly. More exotic. More glamorous.

So for those of us who are drawn to these mysterious, sexy foreign dialects to the point where we fuse them into our personality, I say, bloody brilliant! Because if inserting a twang into your voice or impersonating an Aussie is all it takes for you to feel a little more sophisticated and erudite, then I say have at it. And I’d be gobsmacked if people didn’t take to it eventually. Otherwise, the worst thing that happens is that you end up looking like a wanker. And people eventually forget wankers.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.

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