The Leipzig Chronicles, Part II
Our travelling Durhamite Annie suffers from an accent identity crisis as she adds another country to her already confused brain
With another fortnight in Leipzig behind me, I have been led to consider some deep questions about my accent and lack of national pride. With my fingers in several pies (countries) I don’t know which lands to call my own. I often start talking in overly Proper English only to mock the British customs and social norms the foreign kids also find unfitting.
The fall back on the land of matryoshkas is not my preferable choice, as my English accent now poisonously seeps into Russian conversation. In conclusion, I’m a little lost. A recent experience has reminded me of the urgency with which I need to figure it all out.
It all started when I received some mixed news, which I will now share with you. Since it’s always good to end on a positive note, the bad news will come first. Here it goes. The much anticipated Leipzig-filipino accent that I was so enjoying developing at the language school will never make its debut.
My classmate has left town. She’s literally flown back to the Phillipines! To urgently finish off the third instalment of her diving course. Each to their own.
The good news is, however, that I have a brand new, shiny classmate (equally as advanced at German as my last one) from Brazil.
She speaks no English- so there are no intermittent instalments of fast-paced English explanation during class- but she’s very proud of her country. One-word descriptions of Brazil have never been bathed in so much vocal emphasis and adoration. Her accent is not far off the Leipzig one. I think I could get used to this.
I should interject and attempt to shift the frowns forming on your faces- you must be wondering why the hell I can’t just suck it up and stick with my own unique accent. Oh I would, were it not for the fact that English is not my mother tongue. For some unbeknownst reason to man, this means that my brain has learnt to automatically adapt my expression and pronunciation to the foreign accent of my counterpart in conversation.
Once I meet someone foreign, the switch flips- on my own, I’m powerless, ridiculously useless at accents. Having moved so much, I think the issue of fitting in has left a chip on my shoulder, and an indent in my brain?
There was Moscow, then a few of the -stans, then Prague, then Scandinavia, then London and then…Southampton. In Year 7 I luckily progressed away from the South’s answer to Newcastle onto Oxford.
My parents kept their part of the deal and I saw my best friend from Southampton, Jade, one weekend every month consecutively for a year- we alternated houses. As soon as we entered Southampton’s first roundabout, when we had been chitchatting for longer than an hour, I generously added the word ‘like’ after every other word in the sentence and dropped all of my ‘t’s. I embodied the perfect chav.
On return to Oxford, when the surroundings would prompt questions about my school and other ‘Oxford activities’ from her parents, I would regain the little eloquence I possessed and flourish into a well-groomed Oxford flower; this time to their amusement. Jade and I grew apart and needless to say it did a lot of good for the accent I have now.
The other anecdote ends less positively, namely in me failing my grade 6 piano- by ONE MARK. It all started with no night’s sleep. This won’t surprise those of you who know me- my insomnia started young and interfered with this big time. Before I could practice my scales and arpeggios for the last time I was already been driven away from the house, gazing longingly at the fleeting opportunity of a comfortable bed I was now ready for.
As usual, the 45-minute exam felt days long, and when we got onto that section everyone loves to hate- ‘the sight reading’ – I was half asleep. At this point of over-exhaustion everything simultaneously becomes a blur and a little funnier than it actually is, and the only thing the insomniac is left to do is match it with an expansive repertoire of witticisms they now believe to possess.
When, with his nose high up in the air, the examiner presented me with ‘Thee Frogmarch’, I lifted my hands much higher than necessary and for the first and last time ever in my life, cracked my knuckles. Instead of getting on with it, the one-woman show continued and I turned to the poor man, and replied in his own posh accent back to him: ‘Hokay Sire’.
The exam ended swiftly and I received a big grin instead of a slap on the wrist for being cheeky. I would later understand that the grin meant ‘Have a 99 instead of a 100, which by the way is the pass mark, with love, your Examiner’.
I’ve learnt from my mistakes that have cost me dearly in both, like, embarrassmen’, and piano lesson fees, but still wonder if a part of me actually enjoys letting my mind do its own thing. I’m far past that stage where I can tie my accent to a certain idea of myself- having moved cities, countries and continents, I’m somewhat torn between assessing the new against the backdrop of the old and starting with a clean slate.
Who knows when and where a German-Brazilian accent will come in handy. Besides, this new Brazilian classmate of mine has spunk- she’s an actress in a telenovela back home after all.
She let out a heartfelt cackle today when it was mentioned that the book’s recurring character Maria, the foreign exchange who is obviously not foreign because her Deutsch Grammatik ist perfekt, is in fact from Brazil.
For my new friend, pride in her nationality and accent is crystal clear. Perhaps it’s an attitude I should consider taking on-board. That laugh and unapologetic hair-flick spoke loud and clear; Maria would not be getting an invite to the Samba Fiesta.