Memoirs of a Young Traveler: The British Accent

Ask any American girl what they think of men with British accents, and overwhelmingly the response will be… “hot.” American girls, of all ages, have an infatuation with British accents, especially from the male gender. Our infatuation stems so far that if the ugliest male on the planet were to step up to us, we would fail to notice he was unattractive simply because he had a British accent. When the British accent is donned, crooked teeth, beady eyes, ape like features, all fade away; the only thing we notice is the beautiful voice stemming from the male’s mouth. American girls wear “British-accent-goggles.”

For some of us the infatuation is so deep that we ourselves actually wish we had British accents. There are days we wake up and think to ourselves, wouldn’t it just be so cool if I had a British accent, I’d sound like Elizabeth Bennett!   Or maybe if I simply married a British man, I could raise my children in the UK and they’d have British accents! Of course this is all a bit illogical, but we can dream. (I know Brits everywhere are squirming about the fact that there is no such thing as a “British accent” because there are different types of British accents: Yorkish, Cornish, etc. Unfortunately, my American friends would have little understanding if I were to distinguish, so I will simply say British to save people from confusion).

You can imagine then that I was excited to go to England and be surrounded by British accents. Men saying “hello” and little girls saying “daddy” and “mum.” It was going to be a dream come true.

London should have a disclaimer on it. On the tickets you buy. At the airport. On taxi cabs. In the museums. It would read something like “PLEASE BEWARE: GUESTS WISHING TO HEAR BRITISH ACCENTS MAY EXPERIENCE DISAPPOINTMENT.”

London by all accounts is an international city. Every ethnicity you can think of jam-packed into it. So I stepped off the plane thinking I was going to be surrounded by soothing British accents, instead I was surrounded by all varieties of accents, some so thick I could barely understand, and all varieties of languages, some I’m sure I have never even heard of before. Of course this immediate roadblock was caused by the customs line, where you are inevitably going to hear all different sorts of languages and see all sorts of different people. But, it didn’t stop once I was out in the city.  Everywhere I turned there was a different language.

Despite not getting my instant British accent fix, it put me in awe of the city. It’s culturally diverse. Which, coming from someone who grew up in one of the whitest communities you could live-in, diversity is a breath of fresh air. It also, as an added bonus, creates some of the most interesting communities, and of course an extremely wide range of ethnic restaurants (you name it, London’s got it).

The sad truth of it is, what makes London so diverse, is its imperialistic history. The very thing that makes it such a great city today is the very thing that causes so many to pause and frown at the English. Imperialism. Colonization. The British Empire’s colonization of the world, from India to Africa to the United States, brought those peoples to England just as much as it brought the English to them. Part of colonization was “civilizing” the native people of a country and region. What better way to civilize them, to beat their culture out of them, than to rip them from their homes, take them to England and teach them in English schools. It’s a horrible thought.

And yet, it’s that same horrible thought, those same horrible, imperialistic actions, made London, London, the epicenter of the British Empire, this amazing culturally diverse place that it is. The cultural diversity, like in any city, doesn’t stop any of the prejudice and discrimination that floats between different ethnic and racial groups. It’s still there. It will be there for a while. But, it is almost refreshing to know that similar discrimination years ago, actually added up creating a city that thrives on the interlacing of different communities. It’s a scary thought. I should pause here to say, lest someone is gathering the wrong impression, that imperialism and discrimination are all bad things and that it many cases in places across the world, similar circumstances have not produced similar results. But, in London’s case, years of world problems and invasions has led to a beautifully diverse place, a diversity that has in fact defined the city. (Even if it did cut down on my ability to listen to the beautiful British accent).

So, while I was in London, I took in a different aspect than I was expecting, and I postponed my British accent listening for my time in the countryside (where the accent would have me melting at every corner I turned).

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