Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The American accent

Trying to get around the American voice-recognition system to book 'uilities' was a bit of a nightmare. I tried talking in an American accent. That didn't work. I tried talking in my normal accent. That didn't work. The guys here told me later the fastest way to get around it is to swear at it, but I didn't think that was an option I wanted to pursue. Eventually, after going round and round the menus, (and calling back three times!) I heard what I thought was a computer - until I suddenly realised it was a normal person. She thought I was from Australia, but was very sweet and called me "honey" lots. She also thought 1.5 mbps in DSL broadband was super-fast. I didn't like to point out that our NZ ISP, (NZ being the home of the telecommunications company considered to be holding back broadband in NZ to speeds far below the rest of the world,) offered us 3 mbps. I very foolishly temporarily signed up for it too, having no idea of why it was so slow. Although the high prices did have one good deal - NZ international calling. For $5/month, I could call NZ for 8c per minute. Without the deal, I could call NZ for... wait for it... $5.13 per minute!

I think in general our accent is unusual for them. They find it hard to understand, and we are acutely aware of it. The girl in the leasing office called it 'cute'. I don't think Brendan appreciated that.

Other things we have been called are South African and, for Brendan, German. At the IBM SVL where he works there are a lot of German interns, so all the Chinese interns assume Brendan's German cos he is white but has an accent.

But in general - everyone thinks we are English. Kathy (who lives in Washington) did warn me of that, but I never thought I had a particularly polished accent. I always thought it was very typically Kiwi, and that Brendan was the one who was thought to have an accent, even within NZ.

Here, "What part of England are you from?" is what I hear a LOT. Although the taxi driver when we were taking our computers back, said that he had heard other NZ accents and mine wasn't like them - it was more clear. I tried to do a Maori accent and explain that it was the other type of "accent" in NZ and he said, "yeah that's it". Also, I often have to stop and think about making a really big effort to be easy to understand here, such as talking slower and clearer.

Sometimes people just hear our accent and don't even try to listen. It's quite frustrating. They immediately think, "oh that person has a weird accent" and get stuck. Which happened to me while I was at the doctors' - I went to the "drugstore" to ask them where the ATM was, and the woman couldn't understand me. Eventually I showed her the ATM card, and she still didn;t understand what I wanted. It made me very upset because I thought I couldn't communicate - and I place quite a high value on good interpersonal communication, being a PR person. My already high respect for the international students who come to another country where they don't know the language much, increased a lot more.


Geoffrey said...

fish and chips

Tina said...

don't you mean, "fush und chups?"

Lina said...

Awww, I so know how you feel! Must be really frustrating though if your mothertongue actually is English (and a more English English than theirs as well) and people don't realize...

Tina said...

Thanks, Lina. *sniffs* - It was! Especially as my normal job is supposed to be communicating and helping others communicate!