Why We Talk

Keep your accent

Most language learning programs boast of their ability to help you speak like a native. They can (for a moderate price) shorten your vowels, soften your B’s, erase the habits of your heathen tongue. Bloggers build massive audiences teaching expats and tourists to dress like a local, eat like a local, queue like a local. We learn that the biggest mistake a visitor to a country can make is standing out in any way. The perfect traveler knows the customs, speaks the slang, orders the right drinks (but not too early), dances at the right clubs (but not too late).

For hip travelers, anonymity is the highest virtue, an expression of social mastery.

This is a bizarre reversal of our ambitions at home.

When we order a medium coffee at the local cafe on our way to work, we are completely unremarkable to the barista. And vice versa. Odds are you don’t remember the names or faces of the last five strangers you interacted with. It’s unusual (and often marvelous) when we make an impression on anybody at all in our day to day life. We remember people because of their accents, not in spite of them.  The waiter might have an amusing habit of pluralizing single nouns. Our visitors from the foreign office pepper us with questions we’d never considered. Our friend’s cousin seems to think our surname is both lovely-sounding and absurd. Everything that is wonderful and memorable and powerful in our daily conversations emerges from new perspectives, skewed priorities, happy ignorance, and funny hats.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger can attest, the slyest move you will ever make is to keep your accent.

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