Accents are funny things aren’t they? They define a person – both to themselves, but also to others. Meet anyone and how they talk often tells you more about them than what they actually say.
Canada has surprised me in more ways than one – but a large one has been in its accents and languages. In Canada alone, there were more than 200 languages reported in the 2011 Census of Population as a home language or mother tongue. English and French are the official languages and in more ways than one, the most common form of currency to communicate between different cultures and people. I’ll be stood at school waiting for the kids to come out of their classes, and the abundance of different languages you can hear is simply staggering. At the Recreation and Leisure Centres it’s a similar story and it’s lovely to have such diversity – and something I hadn’t thought I would encounter to this extent. Names of people often reflect their cultural background too and there’s a plethora of choice over here – I’ve smiled when my youngest kid has formed new friends and upon asking their name, has nodded in understanding and carried on playing whilst not being able to recollect what was said or re-interpret it.
You can safely say for those that have met me and spoken to me, that there is a fairly strong northern English accent. My father-in-law (coming from what I would call ‘the south’ of England although he would fiercely contest it is more ‘Midlands’ in orientation), has taken great delight and pleasure over the years in requesting translations for various turns of phrases I’ll utter, through a third party – namely, my husband. It’s said with much mirth and I’ll also try to come up with something to baffle and confound him just to see his reaction.
So, take the girl out of England what do you find? Quite often, 2 countries divided by a common language! My husband is often in hysterics leaving me to front conversations in cafes, restaurants and shops just to savour the exchange of words between the parties. There’s been a few disasters ……
I love my cups of tea (British tradition and built into my DNA), and I like it strong, white, and without sugar. Upon staying in a hotel when we first arrived, there was no milk in the room so off I trotted to Reception to ask for some from the kitchen. It was a testy conversation, I’ll be honest – I wasn’t overly sure the Receptionist understood what ‘milk’ was, so I settled on compromising on the word ‘cream’ as this term seemed to be acknowledged and understood (in the coffee sense of the word). ‘Cream’ would be sent to the room, so imagine my bafflement and surprise when after 10 minutes, there was a knock at the bedroom door, and a lovely lady from the ‘Housekeeping’ department wanted to provide me with a ‘crib’.
Equally, I’ve asked for ‘hot chocolate’ and been provided with ‘hot coffee’. This week, we went for a meal on my birthday and I asked for ‘tap water’ only to receive ‘hot water’ in glasses at the table. Slightly unusual I admit, but we decided suffering in silence was probably less problematic than attempting to explain the error.
Usually though, I’m met with the response, ‘I really love your accent’ followed by the question, ‘where are you from?’, with the option of choice offered as ‘is it English or Australian’? This astounds me each and every time, but it’s happened so often that all I can assume is it’s obviously something that to people in Canada sounds alike. Now to me, an English accent is quite distinctive and one I wouldn’t mix up with another country – Australia being the last option I’d have selected. But maybe it’s the equivalent of me trying to discern the difference between American and Canadian? To me they sound similar – without the Texan drawl and Deep South accents taken into account – but clearly are offensive options when suggested to a Canadian.
I’m muddling along though and if all else fails I often adopt the approach of a true English-person abroad – speak slowly, louder, and adopt hand signals …
Could you imagine what on earth life would’ve been like if I’d gone to a completely different foreign country where the language of the nation wasn’t rooted in English? That said, all these things are fun, memorable and life defining – and that’s what it should be about.