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The English Voice and The American Ear

Matt Roper notices his English accent may be proving less ‘irresistable’ to the American ear as the Brexit shenanigans drag on and other countries start feeling sorry for Brits and the tangled Brexit mess we’re in

For the most part you can’t open your mouth in America without somebody asking you “is that an accent”? For some strange reason they can’t seem to get enough of an English voice – it’s like catnip to the American ear.

But you and I know that there are many English accents. A Scouse accent is entirely different from a Manchester accent and they’re two cities with just over thirty miles between them; and Scouse is almost a dialect in itself, while the Geordies speak in a way that all of us like – though hardly any of us from elsewhere can imitate it, no matter how hard we try.

In the States, there are some people who actually find an English accent sexy though I have not the slightest idea why. You’d never find yourself, for example, in the middle of Paris or Rome and being told that your accent is’ irresistable’. Not a chance. I’ve been in South Africa, Australia, Iceland and India and nobody cares much for it in those places either.

So what is it about the Americans?

What they generally tend to love – and most importantly, clearly understand – is a standard English accent. Received Pronunciation.

Some say they like it because it’s the same language but less familiar. Many Americans are seduced by the idea of the Royal Family and the British aristocracy. Pomp and circumstance and so on. They don’t want a monarchy themselves, of course. But they love the idea of this distant land across the ocean with all of its history – palaces and castles and princes and princesses. I think it’s their idea of something respectable (see rich), refined (see well mannered) and intelligent (see well educated).

But of course, not all of us are rich, refined or well educated. My folks came from fuck all but they’d shatter your kneecaps with a sledgehammer if you didn’t say please and thankyou. Nobody needs to be well off to have manners, and all that.

So I think the aristocracy have a lot to answer for when it comes to the idea of being English to the American mind and so too does the likes of Hugh Grant with his incessant caricatured bumbling in some sugary romantic film about booksellers or people being late for a posh wedding or whatever. (Forgive me, I’ve seen both of them just once and it was many years ago). Yet thankfully, not all of Britain is seen by the Americans through the distorted lens of Richard Curtis.

I’m pretty sure that my mate Alex has this idea that walking though the East End must be just like being in a scene out of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, while my pal Carla thinks that everybody in Manchester goes around calling each other a “twat” all day. (She loves Oasis).

I’ve even had people tell me they like an English accent because it sounds “authoritative”, which could mean this sort of person has some sort of sado-masochistic colonial fetish type thing going on for them. It’s an old perception of somebody with a higher status, I’m sure. It works in advertising, too. “Buy this”, says the English voice in the American advert. “It’s the classy choice”.

But it’s a strange time to be living in a foreign country while Brexit is dragging its dying carcass through the long months of 2019. We are losing our appeal to the American ear. I’ve noticed the change, too. More recently it’s gone from “that accent is hot” to “oh, I’m so sorry for your country” – spoken in the same soft tone people tend to use to console you at family funerals.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But it’s a nice thing to be told that you have a great accent – even if you can’t hear it yourself. Because as we all know: nobody thinks they have an accent.

That said, I’m determined never to become a horrid English stereotype and you do see it over here – more often than you might think.

More tea?

Matt Roper is a British comedian based in New York City. His relationship with Lush goes back to 2011 when he performed for the muddy festival-goers of Lushfest, returning the following year to curate the line-up of the comedy stage. As he travels around the world, he shares his musings with us here in a series of writings – a sifting of thought from a restless but always seeking imagination  

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It’s a strange time to be living in a foreign country while Brexit is dragging its dying carcass through the long months of 2019

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