What’s with the accent, dude?

When I arrived in India about eight years ago, I was pretty typical for my age. I was your ordinary, garden-variety, pimply, scrawny teenager complete with the standard hormone-induced craziness.

It was a bit weird adjusting to the new school life, but one school and two years later, I was pretty much in my own private Valhalla. Things started going well. My marks improved. My sports participation became better. I joined the debating club. I learnt to play cricket. And then, there were the GIRLS. THAT was something which had never happened before. They looked at me. They talked to me. They were INTO me. Even a grunt like me could see that.
And I had no idea why. I may have been good at math, but I wasn’t a Rockstar by any stretch of imagination. I didn’t think I was that handsome. I wasn’t even the Cricket captain, for god’s sake. There was something weird about it, alright, but I didn’t care that much. I was too busy enjoying my new and improved Casanova persona. My parents chuckled at my experiments and gave me the usual reminders about setting limits etc etc. Life was good.

By the time I was halfway through Ninth grade, I had a steady girlfriend. Everything became cooler. The sky was a deeper blue. The evenings were mellow and sweet. I don’t think we had that much in common and I had no idea why she even liked me, but the experience was amazing. And, like most things which are that awesome, it didn’t last.

One afternoon, during dinner, I had the following convo with my elder sister.

“Hey, N, are you DATING that Niharika girl from your class?”, my sister said through a mouthful of rice.

I raised my eyebrows. “Um, yeah. So?”

She laughed at that for some reason, which, of course, irritated my teenage self.

“What’s your problem, S?”

More laughter

“God, you’re such an idiot! Can’t you SEE?”

“See what?”

“She doesn’t even like you! She’s just showing you off. One-upping her friends. I overheard her on the bus today.”

I stared at her like she was crazy.

“One-upping? Why would she do that? Why me?”

“Because you’re the… I dunno… hotshot NRI with the American accent and the ‘growing up in DC’ stories. Makes you popular”

“Oh, come on!”

She shrugged

“It’s the truth. Take it or leave it”

It turned out to be true, of course. I found out for myself soon enough and that was the end of it.

The funny thing is, I’ve seen that kind of behavior even from adults in India. They’re enthralled by the accent. They’re enthralled by the American-isms. Completely star-struck. Many of them pay lip-service to the “America is evil” school of thought, but their attitude doesn’t reflect that. I’ve recieved preferential service at posh cafes and restaurants for that reason. I’ve even seen people who’ve never been out of the country for any extended period, don faux accents, and consistently use the typical North American *kh* and *r* (“kharrrot”) or speak in an almost perfect RP. It’s cool to speak as though you were a foreigner and apparently, kind of attractive too. Makes you seem more intersting, it appears. Damned if I know why.


15 thoughts on “What’s with the accent, dude?

  1. Ive seen NRIs get preferential treatment too ! Its damn irritating I tell you and these β€œforen returns” sometime do know how to milk the situation to their benefit I must say ! πŸ˜›
    And like you say – this fascination for NRIs – damn if I know why !

    • Lol.
      Believe me, it’s even more irritating to get the preferential treatment when you did NOT demand it. The glares you get from the other people sitting around you are more than enough motivation to make you try and smooth the “foren” accent in the future. πŸ˜€

  2. That’s interesting to know! Some of my relatives were astonished as to how I did not develop the American accent, others were very proud of me. (It was only because I came to the US when I was 22.) It was considered as a proof of my patriotism or something. My parents took ‘She hasn’t changed at all’ as a great compliment πŸ˜€

    • Guess it varies from person to person. I’ve been trying pretty hard these days to keep the edge off the eccentricities of speech. Kind of smooth them down.

      My own family is a medley of all sorts of accents, varying from various kinds of Punjabi, to a sweet Bengali, posh Brit, and even a touch of a Southern US. Makes family reunions a whole lot more interesting. πŸ˜€

  3. Hmmm never been attracted to accents myself though I catch them quickly. However, I hate people with fake accents.
    But yes the so called NRIs and ABCDs do get preferential treatment mostly everywhere.

    • I dunno. Rationally, I don’t think there’s any point actually hating people with fake accents.
      Sure it’s a bit pretentious but they’re just being human, really. Humans like to show off in order to fit in, in order to create a sort of niche for themselves. It’s no worse than wearing fake Armani sunglasses, for instance, and if you’ve been in South Asia, you’ll know how common that is.

      In practice though, I confess that it puts me off, and despite efforts to the contrary, I tend to lose respect for such people. That’s me being human.

  4. The reason why you (or anyone with an accent) gets preferential treatment at cafes/restaurants/ shops is actually quite simple– the accent tells them that you have lived abroad long enough to have picked it, and that can only mean one thing–you have got loads of money. So by giving you better service, they hope to please you enough to want to pay them a second visit soon!

    Your girlfriend probably had similar reasons for befriending you. This guy says he grew up in DC,he must be rich and if if he likes me enough,maybe I can get him to, I dunno, gift me that latest Chanel perfume I’ve been wanting to buy ? Sick!!!

    People who fake accents probably do so to get this same preferential treatment( most of them do a pretty lousy job at faking it, so I don’t know whether it gets them the desired results!)and are indeed a big put-off.

    • You may be right, but if so, I’d say that their attitudes are outdated by a couple of decades .

      India is no longer some kind of completely poverty-stricken, starving nation, you know. I’ve seen local rich guys in Delhi or Mumbai, or whatever, who can very easily give the wealthiest NRIs a run for their money. And in any case, living abroad is no guarantee of being loaded.

      If they just paused to think for a bit, they might begin to wonder if someone doing that well at one place would ever be too likely to move to another country at all. πŸ˜‰

  5. What I find even more hilarious is some people who’ve lived for 25+ years in India and then “magically” get a fake amercian accent! It’s not even a real accent – just a mish mash of what they think it should be like πŸ˜€

    But the true accent comes out in moments of stress. Interesting no?

    • Ah yes.
      Sometimes, just for kicks, I tell them that their accent sounds kind of Southern to me, and follow it up with an innocent sounding query about when and where they might’ve stayed in the US south. I then try to suppress my laughter as they hastily change the subject, or even better, make up a “recent trip to Texas” on the spot.

  6. You have landed in a country where one of its top film stars (read Salman Khan) speaks in an American accent after living all his life in Mumbai! πŸ˜€ What can you expect? πŸ˜›

    • It’s funny how people go after the American accent.

      I mean, seriously. If I had to pick a fake accent, I’d go for a Brit RP/posh accent anyday. In my opinion, it’s WAY cooler than a generic North American. Makes you sound like Shakespeare even when you’re churning out complete rubbish.

      Never liked Salman Khan too much myself.

      • Your post reminds me of one of my colleagues who went all the way to America…………and came back with a British accent instead πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€
        I think he got the country confused!!! πŸ˜†

      • That makes two of us (who are not enamoured of Salman Khan)
        I loved the label someone gave him (“Shirtless wonder”)

        Speaking of foreign accents, it cuts both ways.
        May be you get to impress people in Malls and Waiters in posh restaurants.
        But in Bangalore where I live, a foreign accent is an invitation to being fleeced by Autorickshaw drivers, hawkers and the like.
        You are a sitting duck for them.


        • Oh, there are lots of disadvantages. While getting fleeced is avoidable if you’re aware of the “correct” fares or insist on a meter fare, what CANNOT be avoided is a subtle sense of exclusion from the mainstream. That exclusion can be liberating at times, butt it also tends to make things a bit lonely, even if one is surrounded by people.

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