I faked a British accent for two years – it's come back to bite me

I hadn’t planned on doing it.

I was on a flight to Atlanta, age 22, on my way to the US to do a Master’s degree. I was bumped up to Business Class because I was flying with my dad’s air miles.

When the flight attendant offered me champagne, I panicked. Afraid she would ask for ID if she heard my American accent, and only having a British passport on me, I replied to her in my poshest English voice.

When she heard me speak, she was so lovely to me.

I was so relieved, I almost gave a salute. After that, the accent stuck – for two years. 

In my defence, I am technically British. It’s just that I lost my English accent years ago.

I was born to an Irish father and a Zimbabwean mother and my accent is a product of all the places I’ve lived: Blackpool, Darlington, Athens, Orlando, Rome, Madrid, Atlanta and now London. 

These days, it fluctuates depending on who I’m talking to, which I think is a way of bonding with someone, but could also make me seem patronising.

Somewhere between my early life in Darlington and going to international school in Greece, high school in Florida and an international university in Italy, my accent morphed from Northern English to sitcom American.

My whole life I’ve had to explain to people why I sound American even though I’m not and starting a Master’s degree in Georgia, far away from anyone I knew, felt like an opportunity to be someone else for once.

Once I got to Atlanta, I was triggered by memories of being a nervous new kid in Florida with my weird accent – by 22, it had morphed from Lancastrian to American-ish with a Greek twang, after six years at a Greek international school.

As a teen, the kids at my Orlando high school sounded like something straight out of a TV show and I wanted to fit in, not stand out with my weird voice. 

I listened, mimicked and evolved – in five years, I went from Foreign Girl to Gossip Girl. 

I had soon completed my metamorphosis to all-American and went from eating lunches alone to hanging with the cool crowd. 

When I started my Master’s, I decided I wasn’t going to deal with that again. I figured speaking in an English accent would make my life easier. It meant I wouldn’t have to explain my complicated backstory and I liked the way I was treated when I spoke with one.  

So, I kept the English accent I had used on the plane and at immigration for the next two years.

At university, the accent I spoke in was British neutral – definitely not my original Northern accent – but no one seemed to question the dialect even when I told people my family lived in Yorkshire. There were other international students there, but thankfully, no one from the UK.

If I went to buy alcohol, I had to use my passport as ID. People at the tills would get so excited and immediately start telling me how much they loved the Queen and Princess Diana. 

I remember one woman at the supermarket asking me in the most lovely Southern American accent if I was watching ‘Wimpleton’? I knew she meant Wimbledon but I loved how she said it. 

Bouncers at bars loved me too. Atlanta has a large Black community and many of the men working the doors were excited to meet a woman of colour who had an English accent. 

Was it exhausting living like that for so long? Absolutely. Did I really think it through? Not really. Halfway through my studies I debated transitioning back to my original voice but I was in too deep. 

The official term for someone like me apparently is Third Culture Kid (TCK). TCK’s are people who were raised in countries other than where they were born or that of their parents.

I think the acronym is misleading. Third Culture Kid? More like Too Much Culture Kid or Identity Crisis Kid.

While I’m grateful for the upbringing I’ve had and experiencing different cultures, it does make it hard to feel like I belong anywhere. I’m incredibly close to my three siblings, I think because they’re the ones who get it. Being with them is when I feel most at home.

I’m 37 now and still cringe at that time in my life. But while it might sound psychopathic to adopt a whole new identity for two years, for me I just wanted to experience sounding like where I was technically from without having to explain my life to everyone.

When I graduated, I flew right back to England, sure I’d never have to come clean – then, on a work trip to New York years after my Master’s, I bumped into one of my classmates. I was back to speaking with my American accent, which she noticed immediately.

‘What happened to your accent?’ she asked.

My face went hot. I joked that it must be from working with an American company and hurried off. Not my finest moment.

I thought it would be easy to put those two years firmly in my past – how did I know that I would end up becoming a comedian and having to post videos online?

If anyone is thinking of faking an accent to fit in or avoid questions, I caution you to really think it through. Or you’ll have to become an entertainer to process it.

And as a rule, maybe just embrace who you really are. No matter what you sound like.

Bronwyn Sweeney brings her highly-anticipated debut show ‘Off-Brand’ to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, performing at 3.20pm at Pleasance Courtyard Bunker 3 from 2nd to 28th Aug (excluding 14th). Tickets here.

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