I can’t say I have difficulty with accents when coming back to the UK, except the difficulties I had in the first place – Glaswegians who speak very quickly, Brummies who mumble etc. The thing that I have to get used to, though, is the huge number of accents in such a relatively small country. You can go ten miles down the A1 from where my family is and the accent is noticeably different. In the States, yes, there are subtle differences, but usually it’s just the Southern twang, perhaps a New York brogue, the Boston flat ‘A’, and the rest. (There are other accents, but you have to be here a while to notice them.)
What has kept me on my toes are all the new words and phrases that have popped up in British vocabulary since I left. It’s not an immediate assumption that if something is “pants” it’s probably not very good. I mean, since when did the name of a garment come to be an adjective that often has nothing to do with clothing? And although “chavs” themselves have been around forever, (we used to just call them “common”), that word is relatively new. In the northeast, for some reason, they are called “charvers” rather than “chavs”. No one is able to tell me why there is a difference.
By far the biggest challenge is keeping up with Cockney Rhyming Slag, which I was never much exposed to anyway, but now it seems everyone’s doing it. Yes, I know that “Apples and Pears” means the stairs, and “Trouble and Strife” means the wife, but a “Billie Piper” being a windscreen wiper? At least I know who she is, courtesy of BBC America. Going out for a couple of Britneys? Apparently Britney Spears is now the rhyming slag for beers. We’ll see how long that one stays in fashion. I’m going to have to do some homework before the summer, I can see!
Really, how could I? When I visit the States, I am among people who don’t have an accent.
The regional accents in America, like America itself, are broad; I would have to travel several hundred miles south to Dixie to find an accent that is fundamentally different from my own, and even then it wouldn’t be hard to understand. For accent and regional dialect mayhem, you really can’t beat Britain, where you only have to cross the street to find a people talking in a strange, indecipherable inflection and using totally alien words (like “Twitten”) to mean “Footpath.” In this respect, America is comparatively bland.
I, on the other hand, can occasionally be misunderstood by my friends in the States, not because I have developed an accent (which I haven’t) but because I have adopted British phraseology. If I call something “Dodgy” or identify someone as a “Grass” or refer to an arrest as “being nicked” it not only causes confusion for my listeners but alerts you to the types of people I hang out with when I visit my homeland (and why my wife insists that every other year is often enough).
But I digress.
The short answer, obviously, is “No.” The dearth of truly interesting dialects in America (which is rivaled only by their lack of imagination regarding cheese) makes misunderstandings of the kind you might encounter in a Glasgow pub nearly impossible. And I think America is poorer for it. I would love to go back there and find they have, like Britain, developed some truly distinctive and attractive speech patterns beyond the habit of ending every sentence on a high note, as if they are asking a question. I find that, like, highly annoying? But it doesn’t confuse me? It just gets on my tits?
And that, in turn, confuses my American friends.
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