New York City, Tuesday August 12, 2008. 4:00am.
The setting: a hostel on 103rd and Amsterdam, I believe. I can’t double check to make sure because it was the type of place that was shut down by the time I returned to Manhattan two years later.
I stumbled up the front stairs, a head full of cheap PBR and whiskey from a large night out at a small, dank bar with a large number of Australians. I reached the hostel front desk and managed to stammer out a few mumbled requests.
“Where can I get on the internet?” (Top floor.)
“Do you have a fax for me?” (Yes. Inexplicably, yes.)
“Do you guys have towels?”
“I can’t understand you.”
*judicious of awful American pronunciation*
“Oh, a towel. Right. Top floor.”
Now the scene is set, I’ll say this: contrary to the belief of many Australian (and American) guys I know or have met along my travels, having an Aussie accent in the US isn’t all compliments, curiosity and giggles. Sometimes it’s downright Goddamn hard to be understood.
Over the weekend, a new friend of mine made the point that she wasn’t sure whether she’d be able to decipher all the things I said, due to the accent, which made me think back to my initial visit to Augusta to check the place out back in early December.
My now-editor took me for a bite to eat at my now-favorite haunt, The Liberal Cup, and we talked about all the upsides and potential downsides of me relocating to Maine’s state capital. Most of the cons from her side of the table were pretty small potatoes (or else I wouldn’t be here today, I guess), so she asked me what concerns I had, if any.
And given I rightfully assumed that this city hadn’t seen too much traffic in the way of Australian accents, one of my big worries was: are people gonna be able to understand what the hell I’m saying?
You see, after all these trips to the US since 2008, I’m pretty confident in my command of some basic vocabulary differences that I can modify or steer clear of in my daily travels to make sure I get my message across more clearly.
But I’ve still got one big sticking point, and it’s a weird one. I’m extremely self-conscious about repeating myself, especially when it comes to speaking with service staff or people selling me something. So if there’s even a tiny element of mishearing, and my bartender or waiter needs me to say it again, I immediately go to water. I get tongue-tied, I speak more quietly and I get flustered. This does NOT make me an adorable shy guy with an accent from away. It makes me a 6’2″, 210lb babbling idiot. Oftentimes it also makes me fumble my order as awkwardly change my mind to choose something I know I can pronounce first time around.
I’m happy to report though that – service situations aside – Mainers have been pretty good at figuring out what the hell it is I’m saying. The best part is that there’s enough Boston accents around whose vowels (“cah” instead of “car”, “pahk” instead of “park”, you get the drift) sound like mine then I’m fairly safe.
Just as well, because repeating myself makes me need a cold beeah. Thank God I can just point at the tap if need be.