Friday, September 03, 2004

Gee, I just looooove your accent

In case you haven't picked this up already from reading my blog, I am American by birth, but moved to Scotland about 10 years ago when I got married to the person who would one day have the distinction of being my ex-husband.

One of the stranger things about living in a different country is that because my accent sets me apart from the native Scots from the minute I open my mouth, I have to do a lot of explaining to do. If only I had a £ for every time I had been asked to explain how I ended up here- well, it'd be enough to pay for a round of IVF! It can be a little disconcerting. See, I was married. Yes, he was/is Scottish. Yes, we decided to live in Scotland, funnily enough. No, I'm no longer married. We got divorced, but I stayed. He re-married, I didn't, but I have a lovely boyfriend partner thingee.

Sometimes, depending on who I am talking to, this is just a little more information than I would otherwise prefer to give away. I try, wherever possible to limit it, but it's hard, because people are naturally nosey, I mean, curious.

The solution to all this of course would be to develop a Scottish accent so authentic that nobody would be able to tell that I am not "from here." Except that I never wanted to become one of those people who walked around pretending really hard all the time, dropping little Scottish-isms like "aye" and "aw right?" into my daily patter. It's too wearing, and frankly, I have better things to do with my time that practicing rolling my RRRRs and gargling out expressions like, "It's a braw brecht moonlit nicht, ye ken?"

It is true that over time, and as you might expect, my accent has changed. The Scottish people think I am Scottish, but maybe lived in America for awhile. The Americans think I am Scottish, or they aren't quite sure what the dealie-o is.

It is a common misconception in other countries, that all Scots sound like something out of Trainspotting, or like Billy Connelly. Or, worse, like Mike Myers. People here have many different types of accents, which is sort of remarkable, given that it is such a small country. You can sometimes tell a lot about a person from their accent, in particular, what part of the country they are from but also where they went to school. It's a generalisation, and not in anyway intended as class snobbery, but quite often I notice that people with more formal education or "upper class" Scots sound much more English, or just have less of an accent. The "working classes" on the other hand tend to have much thicker, much broader accents, laced with dialect expressions like, "Away an bile yer heid ya numpty,ye dinnae ken whit yer talkin aboot."

Translation: shut up, you stupid person. Visiting infertiles, take note, it may come in handy when warding off bouts of assvice from the locals.

That's another thing, nobody here refers to an accent as a "brogue". They don't describe it as "a lilt". Those seem to be peculiarly American inventions. No, here it's framed in terms of being "broad". The broader the accent, the harder it can be to understand. Though I don't usually have any trouble, except when I go to Glasgow. But I don't feel too bad, cause even the Glaswegians can't understand each other.

When I first came here, I did find it quite hard, especially when I worked in noisy bars. I once had a job in a pub that specialised in Scottish malt whiskys. They had the whisky bottles, about a hundred of them, lined up on a shelf above the bar, in alphabetical order. Someone would come in, and ask for a nip of Glenfiddich or Lagavulin or whatever, and you'd race over to that letter of the alphabet and pull down the bottle. Assuming you could work out what that first letter was meant to be. There were some whiskys with spellings quite different to the pronunciation. For example, Bunnahabhain, I always had trouble with that one, especially when the punter in question was slurring.

"I'sh like ah, ah ah. Voonahanone, pleashe".

At which point I would stand there with my thumb up my ass until somebody who spoke Drunken Scot would come along to rescue me. Another time, when I was working in a restaurant, a woman came up to me and said, " Canape?"

Canape, I thought. How odd. You've already eaten. Is this some funny custom whereby you finish off your meal with an additional tasty morsel?

"Canape?" I replied. "Mmm, no, I don't think we serve those."

"No, canape," she repeated.

"Look, I already told you," I sniffed.

"NO!" she shouted at me, "CAN. AH. PAY." This was accompanied by waving money in my face. Oh. Can I pay? Of course you can, thanks. What, no tip?

E. has a beautiful accent. The first time I ever spoke to him was on the phone, and I remember wondering if the person attached to that voice could be as delicious as he sounded. Wasn't I pleased to find out that, yes, this was the case. The funny thing, I am so used to his accent now that I almost don't even hear it anymore.

Except the other night, when we were having dinner with a side dish of infertility chat. You know, I got my period, blah blah, pass the potatoes, blah blah, shall we adopt if I can't get pregnant, blah blah is there any more wine and what is your opinion about donor sperm? At which point he said it. I practically dropped my second helping of meatballs.

"I think a lot about what my baby will be like," he said.

"Wait, say that again," I begged him.

"Which part?"

"My baby. Say "my baby" again."

"My baby?" he repeated.

Gasp, swoon. Utterly delicious. I wish I could capture it for all of you on an MP3 or something. He says it very quickly, and comes out sounding roughly like "ma bee-bee" with equal emphasis on the first and second syllable. Ma bebe. Our bebe.

No matter what the accent, coming out of his mouth, it sounds so beautiful to me.


At 8:01 PM, Blogger Soper said...

See, I sorta figured out you were American, but not until after you let me go on and on comparing our legal systems and customs and such and you made me look like a complete dork. Meanie.

My family is of primarily Scottish descent, especially my Dad's. My grandmother (his mom) was a Graham, and she says certain words with a very Scottish, er, NON-lilt. Like "warter" for water, "fer" for for, etc. And she has these really weird sayings that I finally figured out are bastardizations of Scottish sayings. Do Scots say "figure" a lot? I can't figure out where we get that one from...

At 8:02 PM, Blogger Soper said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in the South for a few years and it was like living in a whole 'nother country. I hd to learn a whole new dialect, such as "J'eet?" which means, "Did you eat?"

I like the sound of that...Baybee :)


At 10:14 PM, Blogger Orodemniades said...



Ah, someone who understands! So you sound Scottish, eh? Are you sure you just don't sound Canadian? Cuz people think I'm Canadian. Even the Canadians.

But, yeah, that Glaswegian accent - what a hoot! Sometimes we get Glaswegians in the store and they speak to us, and we just nod and go 'uh huh', because honestly, we don't have a clue as to what they're saying. Gotta love this country.

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Julianna said...

I moved from the South to Los Angeles when I was in my 20's. "J'eet" is only minor compared to what came out of my mouth. I had to learn REAL fast to not wave at everyone who passed by and say "Hey!" with a great big smile on my face. In South Carolina, you put hash on top of rice. It is delicious and made from pork. "I LOVE hash!" I would say. People thought I was a druggie.

My husband is from Boston. THICK, thick accent. He went to South Carolina and was hunting for the first time last Thanksgiving. My uncle owns the property that the hunting club uses so he got first dibs on the hunting stands and told everyone M. got second dibs. He was out there all day. Redneck hunters kept asking him the same question over and over. "yukentuhymn"? He kept saying "what?? what??" matter how many times they asked and repeated, he just couldn't understand. He said he just sat in the pick up truck and smiled.

First thing he did when he saw me was ask what in the hell "yukentuhymn" meant. I laughed. They are asking if you are kin to him. If you are related to Uncle Thomas.

sorry for the long response.

"canope" was hilarious
but "my baybee" was delightful sounding

Good luck to you.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger Toni said...

I have no funny story to tell you. My family has been around these parts for a long one really moves.

BUT I like the ending to your entry today - it's very sweet and loving. I like that!

At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in England for a while and desperately wanted to develop an English accent.

This was a lovely post, especially the end--you seem to be very good at endings of posts. May he say "my baby" over and over, and may it come true.

Karen/naked ovary

At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love a Scottish accent. Especially on the men. God, makes my knees weak. I lived in St. Andrews as a child.... so all Scots and Scotland have a special place in my heart. Must be one of the reasons I dig you so much!

At 5:00 AM, Blogger Jen P said...

I loved this post! Because I could nod and nod and understand exactly how it is, replacing Scottish with Kiwi. We need an Ex-pat Barren Bitches club!

And I'm with the Candian thing. They all ask if I'm Candian. When I try to explain I'm not I get asked if I'm English who worked in Canada before coming to NZ. Which is weird. So I go with Canadian now because really, some of the more rural Kiwis speak their own damn language and it's easier just to nod my head. I'm sure you know some Scots like that.

I wish you guys all the best in your journey and may he say baby all the more!

At 1:47 PM, Blogger sherry said...

You mean all scottish men don't sound like Sean Connery? DAMN!

My husband moved here from Canada and he has a slight accent. He also has to explain his whole story to those who don't know him. It's ridiculous!!

At 4:52 PM, Blogger lobster girl said...

"My bay-bee." Beautiful.

My husband doesn't have an accent really, but he does have this kinda funny lilt to his voice that I thought was divine when I first met him. When we were first dating, I would swoon just hearing his voice on his answering machine's outgoing message. Like you, we've been together long enough that I really don't hear the specialness in his voice anymore. But I do remember that feeling, that catch in the throat, at hearing him say certain things in his funny, halting, soft way.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Anotherjen said...

good post.
Where i work there is one lady from Scotland. I don't see her often, but i try to be in the general area whenever she comes up. I love listening to her.
I have a pronounciation question for you that i hope isn't ignorant. I'm reading a book right now with some scotish characters and there is a lot of "ye ken". I get that it means 'you know', but i don't quite get how it's said- what it sounds like. help?

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Barren Mare said...


Good question- you're right in thinking it means "you know", and it is pronounced more or less like it is spelled. Ye= Yeh, Ken=like Barbie's ex-boyfriend, Ken. A lot of people drop the ye and just say ken. So for example- ken what I mean? Or, I was walking down the street, ken, and I saw a big dog.


At 5:28 PM, Blogger Anotherjen said...

thanks mare!
i think it would proabaly sound better not comming out of my western canadian mouth!

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Mrs Reeves said...

me never been to anywhere else... except malaysia and australia. lol! can't imagine what scottish accent is... hehe... but i totally love reading this entry... lol! it's so funny... Hmmm, quite a difficult about the meaning of their words, eh? lol! i read some in the books... :D

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Meh said...

Ah, warm feeling for what E said.

At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Phia said...

I want a scottish boyfriend now after your post, hmm, though the irish accent is pretty damn fine too though.


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