Hanging out with a lot of Americans recently, my Australian accent is going through a weird renaissance.
Living in Europe and Northern Africa, it became buried under an array of other influences: the beautifully intoned English of non-native speaking French, Portuguese, Dutch and Moroccan. It also eroded due to the subconscious act of subduing my accent in order to be understood.
Over the years, it wore away.
But spending time surrounded by Americans, in the United States, has caused my accent to return with a vengeance. There is an unprecedented level of Aussie lingo that exits my mouth.
Even when I lived in Australia I did not speak this level of Strayan (that’s phonetically how Strayans pronounce ‘Australian’). Sometimes the twang in my “g’day mate” is so strong I even shock myself.
Having reflected on this weird development briefly, I realized that this sudden shift comes down to my desire to delineate my identity as Aussie – to differentiate myself from those around me. It’s a little smoke sign to indicate:
I’m not from here,
don’t make any assumptions about what or who I know,
I’m from a faraway place, faraway in time,
feel free to infer clichéd Australian characteristics – yes, I am a relaxed larrikin who likes to laugh, travel, surf and drink beer (but not the ugly ones, please, I’m not an ignorant racist misogynist bogan).
Though I also have Dutch nationality and adore the Netherlands with a fierce passion, my accent is not Dutch. No one ever asks if I’m Dutch or assumes I’m European. I have to explain that context, whereas speaking Strayan is an immediate sign: I come from a Land Down Under (and not, say, Mississippi).
We do many things to express our identity – what we wear, how we style our hair, the ways we choose to spend money, the people we choose hang out with.
How we speak is another way of saying to the world, ‘this is who I am’. And while I’m more about the internal than the external, it is an interesting thing to observe: how do we want to be seen? Because ultimately the external expression of who we are has a big impact on our internal experiences.
In the years since I quit, many people have told me that they cannot imagine I was ever a corporate finance lawyer. My identity changed from that of a high-powered career woman to a yoga teacher and traveler, now to a life coach and life lover. No doubt it will continue to evolve.
How do you express who you are to the world? What is your current identity – and are you proud of it? Does it truly reflect who you are?
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