Minipost 15 – An Excellent English Accent

I gave some talks last weekend while staying in Whitehaven. After one of them, this lovely old chap came up to me and shook me warmly by the hand.

“Thank you so much for that excellent talk” he said with a genuinely friendly smile. “It were great.” He added (in broad Cumbrian which I can’t hope to reproduce here).

I thanked him for his kind words.

 

“I usually find” he continued “that when you speak to Pakistanis…”

Er…

“…you can hear…” he searched for the words, “…an Asian accent in their English.”

I suspected I knew where this was going.

“But you…”

Here we go.

“…you speak really fluently and I can hardly hear an Asian accent at all!”

It’s not the first time this has happened. In fact it happened twice that day. I’ve been accused of being Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi and, when I let the beard get particularly thick, Jewish. Oddly, I’ve never been accused of being Scottish and I do know that I have some Scots in me somewhere. As for the others, who knows? – it’s possible I suppose.

My Gran grew up in Darjeeling and attended a school there so long she eventually began teaching at it before going to Calcutta to train as a nurse. Darjeeling, in the time of the Raj, was well known as both a haunt for the Brits who wanted to escape the very summer my wife is struggling with in Bangladesh and as a place for young Englishmen to come and try to make their fortune. At least one orphanage was set up for all the (literally) half-caste children these men often left behind after doing more than seeking fortune. British women, bored and ignored by husbands, were not unknown to behave similarly. Is it possible that something happened in my own family? Both my Gran and my Mum have a look that has been described by others as faintly Asian before today. Interesting…

I politely corrected the chap about Pakistan – after all, I had just spoken for over 30 minutes about Bangladesh and I figured it appropriate. You really should not confuse Bangladesh and Pakistan.  To his credit, he appreciated his mistake and apologised for it.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I lived in one but was born and raised in neither. I was 19 before I ever left that little Island called Britain (and then only to go to Paris) and I was 35 before I came to Asia. I’m intrigued someone thinks I’ve any Asian accent at all!

For better or worse – and often the latter – I’m as English as a cup of tea. No wait, hang on…tea was from India…

Never mind…

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About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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21 Responses to Minipost 15 – An Excellent English Accent

  1. Sajib says:

    I wish I had a remarkable English accent. 😛

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    • lol bhai – clearly I need one too!

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    • Ladygardenia says:

      Me too, haha!

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      • I think both you two have great English – your written English is great – especially you Kristiina 🙂

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        • Ladygardenia says:

          Haha, now your just flattering. Many Estonians told me that after I started to write in English they wanted to stop reading my blog, lol.

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          • not flattering at all – you have great English! That’s terrible – why did they want to stop?

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            • Ladygardenia says:

              Thanks for your kind words! Estonians told me that I wrote in Estonian much more better. Which is probably true as everyone can express themselves better in their Mother Language, but as Sajib I didn’t want to be available only to the small 1 million people who are living in Estonia, but to reach out for whole World. : )

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              • And I think that is a very good point. I notice that both of you also write in your mother tongue – which is just as important. Not forgetting who you are but reaching out to an international audience. I can only dream of one day being able to write in Bangla! I’m amazed by you both! 🙂

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                • Ladygardenia says:

                  Exactly! Couldn’t say it better. It doesn’t mean that I have abandoned my country, by living in Bangladesh and don’t value my language, by writing in English
                  .
                  Can you speak in Bangla already? I would be happy if I could even speak in Bangla, cause Bangla letters are really difficult for me… I would be so amazed and proud of you, if one day you would really learn it!

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                  • I’ve spent four years learning it (and Santali – the tribal language common in our area). I can speak it quite well. My listening is a little dodgy though! Reading is no problem – read the newspaper every day – and I can write Bangla but my spelling and grammar are not great. I am working through O level Bangla material now but that is still way off being able to write to the level you do! Great pics on Facebook by the way – you’re looking good! 🙂

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  2. Lol this is such a fun read..you know people expect bengalis to have this really weird accent when they speak english which BTW they do have and I know so cos i am a bengali….. like fish will be phish or clever will be clebhaar….and cos i dont have one people think i am from another part of India…I have been asked are you a marathi or rajasthani..
    So i get how you must have felt….To my Grandmom all the white people were Ingreg( English), didnt matter they were from france or Britain or any where else…it was funny
    I specially loved the way you finished the write up… lol

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    • Lol Thanks Soma 🙂 I know what you mean – we have lots of friends at LAMB who are white but from America, French Canada, Finland, Switzerland etc but they are all “Ingreji”. Thankfully the word normally used is just “bideshi” which is much better. Interestingly no one ever says “gorai” (white person, tai na?) and I am intrigued as to why not.

      Thank you for your comments – as always, a pleasure to hear from you 🙂

      Like

  3. boomiebol says:

    Lol…I am in the same boat. Once I open my mouth, all sorts of countries come to people’s head…I have been called British, Jamaica, Haitian, Kenyan lol. I am Nigerian with a strange accent I guess lol. Great post!!!

    Like

    • Thank you Boomiebol. Glad to know I’m not the only one! The funny thing for me is not that people make mistakes about where you are from but that they make assumptions – like this chap did. He was quite sure where I was from!

      Like

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