I’m Worldly Enough to be Able to Identify Exactly Two Accents

At my current hostel, you need to leave your key at reception whenever you leave and pick it up when you get back. It’s kind of a hassle, but it’s pretty routine at this point and I don’t much notice it. I came back to my hostel after lunch yesterday and there was a guy working reception who was probably about 20. I asked, “¿Podría tener mi llave? [Can I have my key?]” He looked a little worried and stood up and started searching around the desk. I heard him mutter to himself, “Okay… okay.” Peruvians use the word “okay” but I don’t hear it much, so I was wondering if this guy was Peruvian. He definitely looked South American. Or maybe like a tan Asian person. I’ve been surprised at how hard it is to distinguish between the two.

“Okay, you can do this,” he whispered to himself. Alright, that was definitely English. And he must be new because the task of getting my room key was apparently really stressing him out. I’ve been at this hostel about a week and everyone on the staff I’d met was Peruvian, so hearing him speak English threw me a bit.

“Are you speaking English?” I asked him.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”

Except he didn’t say “sorry.” He said “soary.” Canadian! I had to confirm.

“Are you Canadian?”
“Oh… Yeah.”
“Ah. I caught your ‘soary’.”
“Oh, um. That’s okay.”

He was still a little frazzled from my heart attack-inducing “can I have my key” request, so he misunderstood what I said. He thought I was apologizing to him for something I had done. Instead of questioning it, he decided to just roll with it and accept my apology. Definitely Canadian.

“No, I mean I could tell you were Canadian because you said ‘soary’.”
“Oh, yeah. The politeness thing. Yeah.”

No! Not the politeness thing! It’s because you talk funny, Canada. Why does this always seem to be news to you?

So I can positively identify a Canadian accent if they’re from the right area and I hear any of the giveaway words (“sorry,” “about,” etc.). But I realized that’s about it. I still can’t distinguish most other accents. I confuse New Zealand for Australia, Australia for England, England for Ireland. I can’t distinguish between a Dane and a German. All of the Eastern European accents sound pretty similar to me. Ditto for all of Scandinavia. I can’t even definitively spot another American because it could just be a sneaky Canadian that hasn’t blown his cover yet. I suppose I could identify an American with a distinctly American accent, like from the Deep South or something, but to date, I have met zero travelers from the Deep South.

The one other accent I have been able to positively identify is Argentina. It’s pretty easy because they replace a lot of “ya” sounds with “sha” sounds so it’s “pla-sha” instead of “pla-ya” (beach). They also use weird Spanish expressions that nobody else uses, like, “¿De donde sus? [Where are you from?]” whereas everyone else would say, “¿De donde eres?”

So there you have it. My secret, never before revealed techniques for identifying (some) people from two countries. Use your new powers responsibly.

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2 Responses to I’m Worldly Enough to be Able to Identify Exactly Two Accents

  1. There are some words that we Canadians have trouble “Americanizing”. When I lived down south I probably started to get a southern accent mixed with “soary” and “aboot”. Most of us don’t hear it in ourselves, however, I met someone from Saskatchewan and they had a much thicker accent – full of “aboot”s and “eh”s.

    Great blog Mike!

  2. Carolyn Wakefield Carolyn Wakefield says:
    Mike, I think you should attempt to confuse the native speaking population wherever you are by using Blanche DuBois’ line from Tennessee Williams’ play, “A Streetcar Named Desire” : ‘I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers.’ in a really overdone southern accent when the opportunity presents itself for you.

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