An Accent on Perspective

In September of 2007, I was selected as part of the support team sent to London to handle the publicity events promoting the launch of High School Musical 2 in Europe. The week of press events led up to a “blue carpet” premiere screening at the O2 Arena. During this event, I was stationed next to the stanchion and rope holding back the throng of British teens and tweens hoping to see Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens walk down the carpet. Just before the cast was scheduled to arrive, I was handed a stash of posters to hand out to the fans. I started to pass them out, occasionally waving a poster and calling out, “I have posters for you. Get a poster here!” Suddenly, I heard a plaintive admiring cry from the back of the crowd, “Oh! He’s American!” As if on cue, a young lass looked up at me and said with a sweet English inflection, “I just love your accent.” Maintaining my composure, I politely thanked the young woman for her compliment and continued to hand out posters. However, inside, I was floored.

I had grown up in Jacksonville, Florida, but my parents were from upstate New York and we lived in a suburb next to a naval air station, so my speech never picked up a distinctive Southern drawl. It blended to match closer to a Midwestern tone that later fit in perfectly with my fellow classmates at UCLA. I did not consider myself to be much of a speaker or conversationalist and felt my voice and speaking style was somewhat bland. The way I saw it, my voice did not carry the interesting proper tone of the British Isles, the romantic flair of Paris or the playful lilt of the Italian peninsula. It was just a straightforward work-a-day way of speaking. Yet here I was in front of a group of English teens who were enraptured by my American accent. What was it that enthralled them?

Perhaps the standard American accent presents an egalitarian confidence, presenting information in a uncomplicated classless manner. Of course, maybe this is how I expect the rest of the world to hear and admire the American accent. Perhaps the unique tones of my American accent conjured up images of a foreign land separated from these girls by a major ocean, but seen often on television and publications as a country sharing a common mother tongue and a connected history. It is possible my voice identified me as a person who has personally experienced the skyscrapers of New York, the beaches of Southern California or the ability to drive a car for days over a vast landscape without crossing an international border. These are wonderfully wild conjectures on my part, but there is one thing I now know for sure – everyone who speaks on this Earth has an accent that someone else in this world will find fascinating, if only the world gets small enough for them to meet.