I recently had the pleasure of experiencing a “British Invasion.”
Anne, a family friend from London-via-York, bravely “nipped” into our fair city for a fun-filled weekend. I mention her courage because this summer she’s been driving around the Midwest in what she calls a “hideous” pumpkin spice colored/coloured car. (I thought it was cute.)
Not only that, she’s been coping with a steering wheel and road rules that veer to the opposite side of her familiarity.
I learned so much from this cheerful soul, but one outstanding takeaway was: If you have an English accent around here, you are an instant rock star.
Anne would disagree. As we rolled past fountains, strolled along the Country Club Plaza and chortled away amid the cicada racket on my backyard deck, she said that she didn’t understand the American fuss about her way of speaking.
With her sing-song inflections that sounded very much like a voice straight out of Buckingham Palace, she insisted, “I don’t think I sound much different from anyone else here.”
Wrong. It seemed to me people were melting even when she said the most mundane things.
“May I have a Diet Coke without ice cubes, please?”
Double takes. Smiles. Instant hypnosis.
She might have been oblivious, but I noticed waiters, waitresses, store clerks and others we encountered falling under her spell. There was a bit more lingering. Sudden joy in the air. Maybe even dilated pupils.
“This is a proper store,” she would say, followed up by others’ neck turns, grins and silent swoons. Strangers’ eyes seemed to beg, “Oh please say something else.” People simply perked up in her presence.
I grew up with parents who have two very distinct accents. Maybe even opposite ones: French and Brooklynese.
With every sentence my dad still carves the letter “r” into stone. My mom, on the other hand, launches the “r” to outer space, never to be heard. And because of this I learned early on to listen to what people are saying, as opposed to how they are pronouncing it. Accents rarely dazzle me.
Except, maybe, when I hear Anne and her fellow countrymen. Because, come on. Benedict Cumberbatch. Queen Elizabeth. The entire cast of Downton Abbey.
The British accent is so inexplicably appealing. It’s peppered with pronunciations and phrases that knock over most “Yanks.” I suppose this is why years ago my firstborn son downloaded his cellphone Siri voice to a man who sounds like James Bond.
“Merge left after the traffic light you bloody fool!”
I confess I became mesmerized listening to Anne. As soon as she showed up in her gourd-hued rental car, or as she calls, her “hire car,” I was compelled to jot down a glossary of British utterances that just don’t happen here. This exercise gave merit to the saying, “We are two nations divided by a common language.”
To hammer the point, I took a small sampling of Anne’s actual words and mashed them into one somewhat logical sentence:
After so many water top ups at the lunch that also left me pogged and needing a kip, I had a brainwave it was a good time to nip to the loo, get some petrol and wipe the bloody mozzies off the windscreen.
Translation: After so many water refills at the lunch that also left me stuffed and needing a nap, I had an idea it was a good time to visit the restroom, get some gasoline and wipe the darn mosquitoes off the windshield.
“Bloody mozzies,” by the way, is now a phrase in my permanent vocabulary. Call me an Anglophile. I’ve definitely been bitten.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DeniseSnodell.