The English Elaine
The English Elaine

I have an English accent, but I was born in Philadelphia. My dad is from Italy, not the UK. My mom is from New York state. So why do I sound like I'm from Liverpool?

My family always watched public TV, including the British Broadcasting Company, when I was growing up. Dr. Who, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Benny Hill were favorite shows in my house. (Although I think my brother Matt watched Benny Hill more for the half-naked women than the humor.) Maybe it's natural that I picked up an English accent. Or maybe I was just a weird little pale kid with poor social skills.

The sad part about running around poorly imitating a Cockneyed accent and driving everyone crazy on the one hand is actually having it stick most of the rest of the time when I DON'T want to use it (on the other hand).

Once while babysitting two little girls I'd sat with before, I brought out my accent for their amusement. They seemed awfully reserved and hardly spoke to me all night long. The next day my sister Amy babysat in my place. When she returned home, she informed me the girls had asked about her sister. Maitri? asked Amy. No, her other sister, Maitri's twin, the one with the accent.

Often when I meet people for the first time, they ask where I'm from, or mistakenly assume I'm from another country. Because I have an awful habit of breaking into my accent slightly when meeting people for the first time, when the situation is formal or important, or when I'm nervous. Or any combination of the three.

After a particularly good cross-country race in high school, I was approached by the coach of the opposing team. He squished across the field towards me in the falling drizzle. "Great race you had today," he bellowed, slapping me on the back, "The weather must've had a lot to do with it - probably reminds you of being back home." Hunh? "You know, England, where you're from." I'd never even spoken to the man - he must've overheard me talking to my teammates!

Masquerading as another person and acting like I was from another country must have been fun for me, because I often took advantage of people who made those assumptions for me. As a first-semester freshman, I was often asked if I was a transferred sophomore. I figured I could improve my social rank, so I'd answer, Yes, I am! Others would wonder if I was from England, and I'd say, Right-o!, and lead 'em on for a while. Soon the questions became repetitive, so I'd just combine everything and say I was a transferred sophomore from England. Kill two bird with one stone.

Just recently a professor working in the same building as me asked me that very question. I had a hard time convincing him I was not from another country. The funny thing is he was from another country and my accent is never convincing to international individuals - they just know better. So convinced was he that he turned to another professor who'd joined us. "Listen to her," and then he turned to me: "Say something!" Uh, duh - like what do you say when someone says "Say something!"?!? "I feel like an idiot," was what ran through my mind, but something more mundane emerged instead. Then, Mr. Professor to Ms. Professor: "Now doesn't she sound like she's from another country?" Ms Professor: "No."

Whenever Mr. Professor sees me he calls me his "favorite English person" anyway.

More personally embarassing to me is the fact that now whenever I meet an international individual, I imitate their accent. Unintentionally. Hispanic, Asian, Indian, it doesn't matter. I pick up certain sounds and pronounciations and it all get jumbled in my brain and pours out my hole somehow. But I have to admit in my profession where I work with a lot of international students, it's handy having had an experience learning another accent. Because I can understand even the worst broken- and mispronounced English.

So why the "English Elaine?" The thought came to me the other day when I contemplated dressing up as Elaine from Seinfeld for April Fool's Day. I look just like her. With my curly brown hair, and my new tiny oval glasses, people often point out my resemblance to her. So I thought, why not? I'll wear my long skirt and my big clunky shoes with rolled-down socks, my specs, and go to work as Elaine. But when I passed that idea to Bob, my husband, he was silent, indicating his belief that I was a crazy lunatic. So I didn't.

So with my Elaine looks, and my penchant/talent/curse of an accent, I thought I'd be a good British version (that's "version" and not "virgin" to you pundits!) of Elaine.

Then again, maybe I am a lunatic.

My Stories
Art of Being Human