“You have an accent, where are you from?” a seemingly harmless and even a kind sentence, one might say. But one would be incorrect! Perhaps if I encountered this question once or twice a year, it wouldn’t annoy me so much. However, I am asked this very question countless times, day after day from pizza delivery guys to the clerk at the bank, from almost all my patients to random people at a park, from a sales person at a department store to a stranger at a meeting. So it has become an annoying problem, a repetitive harassment! Believe me I tried changing my accent but I can’t. I also can not help my irritation and annoyance when asked this question.
Pointing out someone’s difference, be it in appearance, color, clothing or accent is not polite. The same way it isn’t polite to point out someone’s handicap i.e asking someone with a limp “hey you walk different, why is that?” That is rude and I am sure everyone agrees. But somehow it has become acceptable to point out difference of accent in every day conversation especially when it is completely irrelevant. I don’t think the sales person at the department store really cares where I am from or would remember it for that matter. Perhaps this has become a way to have a conversation or to demonstrate interest in another human being but it shouldn’t be.
As an immigrant of this country, the initial thought of being a foreigner soon disappeared and I did not have the sense of not belonging here until it was pointed out to me, repeatedly that I had an accent and that my accent was, exotic, a novelty, something unusual. It was even mentioned how remarkably well I spoke English! It pointed out to me that I was viewed as “different”, no matter how much education I had, how I dressed or acted, and that I was indeed different.
There maybe instances when one strives to be different and to stand out, say if it is a costume party or a beauty contest. One may decide they want to stand out and be extraordinary, but that is their choice. That choice is not given to me when my difference is so blatantly pointed out as a topic of conversation. I don’t want to be different on my day-to-day affairs and I most certainly don’t want to stand out. I just want to be a regular human being and be treated as such.
But I wonder if I am overly sensitive and reactive. Whatever the reason maybe, I am very much annoyed by this question and I don’t’ want to ignore it any longer. I want to take action, to make my views on this topic clear, and I want to chose when and where I discuss my accent or my country of origin.
To conclude, “ Thanks for noticing my accent”, “Yes I have an accent”, and “No I don’t want to talk about it”!