Last week I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen since my first months in Qatar, almost three years ago. After the usual quick catch-up and exclamations over how much time had passed since we were both Doha noobs, she drops a mind ninja: ‘Your accent has really changed!’
Surely not. Surely, my accent is as thick and twangy and Ottawa-valley as always. And then I realised that the phrase ‘surely not’ had just thrust its way into my brain like one of the Queen’s corgis muscling in on a royal photo. When did this happen? Yes, my flatmates (I mean, roommates?) are British and yes, since coming to work at Time Out I often feel like the lone colonial surrounded by the British Empire, but I still sound Canadian, right?
Only I’m starting to think I don’t. When I ventured home last, my family and friends all had a good laugh over the ‘pretentious’ Britishisms that are sprinkled throughout my speech like parsley. My purse is now a handbag, the washroom is now a toilet, and my cell phone is now a mobile. I have even written the word ‘whilst’ (although I apparently still can't say it without giggles from co-workers).
In addition, my hydro bill is now referred to as the electricity bill, I’m no longer puzzled by milk in cartons instead of bags, and I’ve realised that bangs do not, actually, mean the hair at the front of your forehead. I speak more slowly now too, and I’ve even developed that odd pidgin English hybrid that expats slip into when speaking to a taxi driver for 'clarity' which mostly makes us sound like idiots. But I hadn’t thought the actual tenor of my speech had changed.
Apparently it has. And that bugs me. I spend a good portion of my life explaining that – surprise – I’m not American. The difference is subtle but, as far as I can tell, we don’t actually sound like the Dudley Doright cartoon going ‘oot and aboot, eh?’ that many would make us out to be.
But really, does the way I pronounce ‘aluminum’ really define who or what I am? Since moving overseas, I’ve found myself becoming more militantly Canadian. When one of the first questions people ask you is ‘where are you from?’, it suddenly starts to matter a whole lot more. The occasional bouts of homesickness make you long for the weirdest parts of your home country – whether it’s my flatmates coveting cans of mushy peas or me eagerly awaiting the opening of Tim Horton’s in Dubai, we all have those things that are basically meaningless, until you’re far away from them. And finding yourself surrounded by people who sound like you – such a small thing considering that we’re all hypothetically speaking English in Doha – can take on a tear-jerking significance sometimes.
But it shouldn’t matter, right? After all, if my accent is flattening out while living in Qatar, surely it will revert back – after all, my Scottish flatmate, after Skyping her mother, regularly sounds like a lawn mower being revved up, even though her normal speech isn’t quite so effervescently filled with rolling r’s. So for me, it shouldn’t matter if I start sounding more British, or American, or whatever, right?
Wrong. I like my accent. I like knowing that I sound Canadian, I like ‘eh-ing’ in the appropriate places, and I certainly don’t want to be mistaken for an American or a Brit, although I’m sure you’re all very nice people, eh. Maybe this is just an excuse to Skype my mother more often.