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…”
“…you can hear…” he searched for the words, “…an Asian accent in their English.”
I suspected I knew where this was going.
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…