I’m sick of everyone telling me I’ve lost my accent
Please, please leave me alone
I did a lot of things on my Christmas holidays. I ate all of the pink Quality Street in the tin. I watched Megamind three times. And I listened to the same conversation on repeat from all of my home friends and family. If you’re from anywhere regional in the UK — if you don’t have a nice London newsreader voice — you’ll know the conversation well. My mum, furrowed brows, looking at me in the backseat of the car as we drive home from Belfast City airport. Her lip twitching as she exchanges a look caught between disapproval and pity with my dad. Me stopping in the middle of my “what am I doing with my twenties existential crisis any chance of some money” speech. “You’ve lost your accent” she says.
As all people who’ve been told this know, the remark puts you immediately on the defensive. You start second guessing every word you say, and although you pretend you don’t have a clue what people are on about when they accuse you of going soft and southern, you notice your R’s getting thicker and your G’s slipping after two, then three, then four ridiculously expensive drinks in your local (seriously, were they this expensive before you moved away?). You inwardly cringe at your upward inflections and annoying slang which you have to explain to your disgusted friends who think you’ve affected a superiority complex.
Because yeah, you have changed your accent. You know this, deep down. You know you’ve refined it, when you’re at work, asking “are we having a meeting now or after lunch?” in a “how now brown cow” kind of way. As you’re on the phone to confused secretaries, trying and failing to get put through as they chirp “Sorry? Again? PPI? Can’t make you out hun”. Your problem is that you’ve repressed this: the worst part of social mobility. The bit that makes you squirm when your mum asks what your ex-boyfriend is up to now or if you “remember Theresa from school”.
Changing your accent is a necessity, one you pretend not to notice, one you remained baffled by. It’s not that you’ve tried to “become posher” and it’s embarrassing that it’s diluted your identity. But it’s happened none the less.
And now, when you come back to London, you’re stuck in a weird limbo. Your London friends are both laughing at the suggestion that you “lost” your accent in the first place, and judging the ghost of the thicker accent you’ve brought back with you. Your mum is pleased when you phone her, telling her you’re back safe (never “home safe” — don’t break her heart), but there’s a pause, isn’t there, after you say: “How’s things back there?”
“You’ve picked up that stupid accent again,” she says.