“I don’t mean to be rude but… where on earth is your accent from?” asks a colleague I’ve never worked with before.
“Guess!” I laugh, both amused and unsurprised by the question.
“But… I just can’t place it. Are you from the moon?!”
Okay, barring the moon comparison, this has been the most frequent question I’ve been asked ever since I moved to England in 2009. I have been asked if I’m American, if I grew up in America, if I went to an English school, if my teachers were American, and after having shaken my head no to all the aforementioned questions, if I have any link whatsoever to an English-speaking country.
Some people have even asked me where in the UK I’m from and… “oh, is that an Irish twang I hear there?”
Upon revealing my place of birth, 99% of people’s reactions have involved a gasp, frown or a wide-eyed expression.
“But… you don’t sound Bulgarian!”
“Thank you.” I always say because, let’s be honest, a Bulgarian accent is rather hard and thick.
The same scenario plays out when I greet customers in French (one of the few perks of working in Gatwick Airport is how often I get to practice my languages).
“Your name isn’t French” they frown at my name badge, blatantly confused, “how come your French is so good?”
This time around, my answer is easier.
“I grew up in Morocco” I say with a chuckle.
“Ah, that explains it!”
I smile. Thank you for boiling down a year of struggles, mispronounced words, mockeries, misunderstood questions and lonely lunch breaks spent surrounded by children speaking an alien language to a single “that explains it”.
“So you’re Moroccan?”
The conversation unfolds and seldom varies. Some people seem in awe by the international childhood I’ve had, others seem to live a life based on prejudgements. They draw conclusions from one single piece of information and assume that life is a string of logical events and that if I speak with an American twang, it makes sense that one of my parents must be American.
“We moved to Casablanca when I was 7.”
“Oh how fascinating! Was it your father’s job that took you there?”
“No, my mother’s” I say calmly. Women can work too, did you know?
I keep this reflection to myself.
When I go back home and visit my GP, she greets me with a grin and a “Oh look, it’s the child of the world!” and it makes me smile. Because yes, I am a child of the world.
My Bulgarian friends laugh at very British the way I pronounce “water” while my British boyfriend likes to remind me that “the right way” to spell ‘mum’ is indeed with a ‘u’ and not, as I would spontaneously write it, an ‘o’.
I guess I will always have a little bit of everything in my accent. I will always cause confusion and you know what? I like that.
If this post read a little too angry, it was only the dry, sarcastic British humour I seem to have adopted…