Living as an immigrant in a foreign country and learning to adapt to different customs, perhaps even a new language, can be hard. But when you are the object of attention due to your foreign accent, it can be even harder to handle the comments of others. Should you be offended when someone comments on your foreign accent?
I first moved to the USA when I got married. At the time, my husband was on active duty in the US Air Force. I expected that life in my new home in North Carolina would be vastly different to the UK, where I was born and raised. But what I did not expect was the constant interest in my British accent, my roots, whether or not I had met the Queen (I’ve never met Her Majesty The Queen!) and many other issues related to my nationality.
I must admit that during the time I lived in North Carolina and then later on in California, that I found it very difficult to handle the attention. I did not appreciate being told to repeat what I had just said; nor did I like having to ask my husband to translate for me when ordering a meal! After a time, I was almost afraid to open my mouth because I knew that the moment I did so a store worker, bank teller or even someone off the street would stop me to comment on my accent and ask me where I was from.
Most Interest is Not Malicious
It is easy to become offended when you are the constant focus of interest everywhere you go due to your foreign accent. However, it is important to bear in mind that most interest is not intended to be malicious. If you have moved to an area where there are no other Britons, Poles or Germans, many in the local community will simply be curious about where you are from.
Most of the interest I encountered was friendly and kind. I recall waiting outside a convenience store for my husband on one occasion when a man noticed our affiliation with the local military community. When I told him I was British, he proceeded to welcome me to his country, which moved me. Other than the welcome I had received by immigration officials upon entering the country, I had not been welcomed to the USA by anyone else.
Learn to Laugh!
When I realized that I would never escape the attention of being a foreigner while I was living in the USA, I learned to laugh at some of the comments and to even have a joke with people. Sometimes when people asked me where I was from I would tell them I was a “North Atlantic Islander.” I would then watch their expression changed, as they tried to work out just which “North Atlantic” island I was referring to!
If you take yourself too seriously and see an insult where none is intended you will end up feeling resentful and even bitter towards your hosts. Keep in mind that most interest in foreign accents is not meant to be malicious. Accept the compliment, smile a little and lighten up!
More from this contributor:
An Expatriate’s Guide on How to Preserve Their Accent
“I Love Your Accent” – Why Some British Expatriates Dislike This Compliment
What to Do when You Can’t Understand Someone’s Accent