10/07/2013
My so-called American accent

"I have an American accent," Jeany said.

"Of course," I answered. "You're American."

It's been a while since we talked - take note, not chatted, but talked. We sort of agreed to talk on FaceTime. That hasn't happened in a while because we live twelve time zones apart, even if her sleeping patterns are technically out of whack -she's awake when I'm awake. Also, when she tries to actually call me, I'm at work doing something.

Yesterday, her timing was a bit off, but then again, we just sort of agreed to talk, meaning there was no set time or anything. I just got a notification on my phone and I found myself begging off for five minutes or so. I was listening, believe it or not, to Miley Cyrus.

Anyway, back to the conversation.

"I can do a British accent," she said.

She's proud of that little ability, and on the surface it's impressive, if not for the fact that she does a half-impression of a Cockney accent, and in the end, she actually looks more American when she does just that. But then again, she's been to London a few times. She's been there for the record stores and the intimate gigs and the feeling of liberation, that feeling she gets in London, and to an extent Los Angeles, but never in New York. At least she has that for herself. She's been to London.

"Why do you have an American accent?" one of my bosses asked me a few weeks back.

We were having drinks - by now you know I still can't drink alcohol and, therefore, had to settle with mango juice, not that it's shattered me - and I was already having a relatively long conversation with two bosses about, well, stuff. One commented that nothing's changed in NAIA in the thirteen years between his last visit to Manila and this one, save for the welcome band no longer being there. The other accused us of hoarding all the good, spotless Philippine mangoes in Singapore - jokingly, of course, although I ended up thinking about the mangoes I've had and how none of them are spotless anymore.

So, "why do you have an American accent?" one of my bosses - tall guy, European, guess where - asked me.

"I don't know," I said.

"I thought you studied in America."

"No. I haven't even been to America."

And all I did was talk in English like I normally would. Since my radio dreams were, well, shattered - by the fact that you need an American accent and a model's face to make it - I sort of stopped trying to sound like I can do good English when I talk to people in straight English. Not necessarily to foreigners. I met Nia last week - she flew in from Cebu to watch the Killers - and, well, we talked exclusively in English, and there I was, sounding fine, my mind automatically trying not to sound like English is not my second language (to be fair, it isn't hers either, I think) and ending up slurring because I talk fast and I feel like a reporter and my voice is fainter than usual because I lack the conviction, not to mention the confidence.

I never really saw myself as a guy having an American accent, but I guess it counts for something that, when I talked to Jeany yesterday afternoon, I found myself mispronouncing something - well, more of pronouncing something the way folks from the province - and silently catching myself, and reprimanding yourself, like, Niko, you do not say "cheap" as "chepp". All I do is take a magazine and read the longer articles out loud, like I'm narrating some video clip for those foreign news channels. Also, I watch those foreign news channels. And end up imitating what I hear, or at least some of it.

They do say we Filipinos are good at imitating things. Not necessarily in the context of counterfeit bags, mind. Unlike our neighbors in other countries, for one - and I've seen this many times - when we speak English, we tend to sound like we've been speaking it for a while. That explains call centers.

"I thought call centers were in India," Jeany told me yesterday.

"They are, too," I answered. "But listen closely and you'll still hear a hint of Indian when they speak."

Rainy works in a call center and I've never heard her speak in an American accent. She wouldn't let me hear it live, although she has a recording of herself doing just that - I don't know why - and I haven't gotten around to listening to it because her phone's constantly on the fritters now.

Her constantly being in Singapore when she was younger also mean she has, somehow, adopted a Singaporean accent. The first time I heard her speak, well, she'd later tell me that she was consciously trying to suppress her Singaporean accent, feeling awkward about it. Now we're a couple and she still won't let me hear it.

All those thoughts, they go to me, in that split-second when I catch myself saying something the wrong way, and that's almost always - at least lately - followed by that question. "Why do you have an American accent?" And I think of why I never became a radio DJ - I don't have the looks nor the personality nor the looks - and then I continue talking anyway.

"You haven't sent me the CDs yet," I told Jeany. "It's been a year!"

"Oh, sorry about that," she answered. "It must be in one of my storage boxes somewhere."

And your responses...

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