The shelf life of experiences is shrinking as fast as that of an electronic device. And so the trials and tribulations of an Indian on “phoren” shores also keep getting obsolete and need to be updated from time to time. Today Indians landing in the U.S. are well informed and up-to-date with what the Kardashians wore in their last show to the possible release date of Apple’s nth version of iPhone. But the one thing that most people are ill equipped to deal with is the elusive American accent.
My proposed theory is that accent is like cheese. You have good cheese and imitation cheese. Corollary: You also have desi ghee and unsalted butter. When I stepped into the U.S. for the first time, I could see Indians speaking with a totally alien accent. And as stupid as it might sound, in a jingoistic mood, I promised myself never to follow suit. Until I had to explain how I wanted a vegetarian footlong to the guy at Subway. After his “come again” expression, I joined the queue of “trying to get the accent right”.
Everything went on smoothly till, one evening, my Indian friend and I went out for a coffee. Watching him explain his order to the waitress at Starbucks, I admired his rolling ‘R’s and gestures till I realised that he was getting the same look I got at Subway. I was utterly confused. If that wasn’t the closest to the American accent I had heard, I had no clue what to do. Fast forward to a day that summer. I was reading the story of Bambi to my four-year-old niece and pronounced Faline as Fah-Lyne trying to put my newfound accent to work. She giggled and said, “It’s not Fah-Lyne; it’s Fa-Leeen” and followed it up with an explanation of phonetic pronunciation. My English never felt more naked than this.
What’s your accent?
So this is where the cheese-ghee theory comes in. The American accent is like Swiss cheese in comparison to the false ones (imitation cheeses). What we speak back home is desi ghee and it has its own phonetic touch. I love the pure desi ghee accent as it is my own and I admire the American cheese accent, which I can never call my own. But I have never managed to figure out where the imitation cheese accents fit in the scheme of things.
Each culture has it own phonetics and the solution is to concentrate on the phonetics rather than the accent. There are many with no accent but who manage to communicate their ideas. I called them unsalted butter. Recognised by both worlds we refer to. Converting butter to ghee is a culinary task but not in the accent world. Either way, my point is either stay with the ghee or be born as cheese. If not, stick to butter and don’t be an imitation cheese.
Girish works as electrical design engineer for Intel Corporation in the U.S., and has had first-hand experience of all the cheese, ghee and butter mentioned above.
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