My British accent is an asset in the US, or so people tell me. My ‘merican husband swears it lets me get away with things I shouldn’t. I think that most folks here are curious and friendly and I think my accent might inspire more of that. But isn’t curiosity and friendliness the human condition anyway?
What’s rarely understood is a British accent is a barrier in some contexts here. I maintain that it can stop communication dead. Try going into the Philadelphia Parking Authority to buy a residents’ parking permit with a British accent and you’ll see eyes glaze over as soon as you open your mouth. You can almost hear the clerk thinking: ‘I’m not going to understand you – I need to stall you and send you away’. So when they tell you to go home to get more documents that you know you don’t need, you ask, ‘But do you understand?’. They shake their head.
Something that happened today: I’m applying for medical insurance from a company called Blue Cross and they wanted my last three blood pressure readings. As a patient, I’m entitled to this information but Blue Cross is not. So I needed to contact my doctor’s surgery. I filled in a consent form. I sent them a cheque. I called (many times) and waited on the phone (often being cut off). I needed to come into the surgery, they couldn’t tell me over the phone, they didn’t have the records, it would take two weeks, they’d mail me (sometime) …
Today Betsy from Blue Cross kindly agreed to conference call them with me. She had no right to the information but Betsy has a lovely midwest accent. She only got cut off once before we got put through. And then she just had to ask for the readings and they told her right away. Ha! I couldn’t believe my ears!
I think there might have been an element of collegiality operating here – one health care professional talking to another. But I also think her accent was crucial. Betsy sounded familiar and trustworthy. I want an accent like Betsy’s!
And all this has been a rather long introduction to a video on Americans’ views of British accents. (Thanks for passing it along Sabrina – So glad to see your excellent blog ) expanding. More! more!
So any thoughts on what British accents mean to Americans – or vice versa?