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Opinions of Friday, 29 October 2010

Columnist: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi

My Cute British Accent Still Wows Canadian Girls

Just to recap: Today is my second North-American Anniversary. Exactly two years ago, I crossed over the Atlantic to Canada as an African immigrant from Britain, where I had lived six uneventful years. As was then my custom, I wrote a two-part-three-page account of my impressions of Canada in my first week- just the first week in snowy October.


I recounted how some Canadian shop assistants at a Mr Big & Tall store had complemented my quintessential British accent. Voluptuous-looking girls with an evenly distributed midsection (not very typical of the average Canadian, though) had walked up to me and asked: “Sir, can we help you get something nice for somebody?” Something for somebody, couldn’t I buy anything for myself? As my 5.7inch frame wandered on the shop floor (actually 5.6, Nicholas Zarkozy being 5.5), another girl asked: “Are you new in Canada?” How did they know that? Had I betrayed anything untoward? I am from England, I said. “You have a cute British accent,” they said. “Oh, so I have a British accent, I pleased myself. Well, I didn’t, as it turned out; the girls had been teasing my 5.7 inch misery in a Mr Big and Tall store. I have since then avoided the store, advisedly.


Accents being what they are, my British accent would let me down again when I went on my first date with my wife. “Say that in English hun,” she would ask me to repeat myself needlessly. “Well, what I said was English alright,” I would forcefully establish. “Because of your accent, sometimes I struggle to understand you”, she moved. ‘Do I have an accent? “Yes, you do. Your African accent sometimes gets in the way.” In whose way? Kofi Annan communicated his way comprehendingly through ten years of service as the world’s top civil servant. “Well, maybe he could pronounce ‘third’ and ‘cucumber’ correctly. Apparently, the laterals (r and l) sometimes let me down. I can’t say ‘thurd’, instead of ‘therd,’ and ‘cucumber’ comes off my fufu tongue as ‘kokumber’.


If my wife makes a Stalin of my accent, Sonnet, my daughter (actually my step) makes a veritable Hitler of it. “Daddy, I don’t like Uncle Richard.” Why don’t you like him? ‘Because he talks just like you.” Well, Uncle Richard is already in a lot of trouble. His students in an American university had given him very low ratings because they complained they couldn’t hear him when he talked in class. They had particularly found problems with his pronunciation of ‘water’. Like me, he had lived in England and pretends to speak good written English. The students are familiar with ‘warer’. He had to write the chemical symbol of water (H2O) on the board before they heard him. Well, they reported him to the authorities all the same, whereupon he was referred to a language school to learn basic pronunciation with Korean and Russian children: A cat, a dog etc.


Incidentally, my wife’s best friend identifies my accent with a very indescribable speech pattern. The other day, she overheard me describe somebody as a ‘twit’, and she said: “That is definitely from England. I haven’t heard that word in like forever.” She also tells me Uncle Richard has a thick accent. What about me? “You are much clearer”, she says. But my wife commends Richard’s as very conversational, while mine is difficult and linguistically inconsistent. As for my son, Will, he is fine with ‘kokumber,’ but he has recently picked a laughable pronunciation of a naughty word, which is worse than cucumber.


Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, Ottawa, Canada



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