Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Soapbox: What do you mean by "American"

Getting up on my soapbox is something I tend to avoid here on Planned Spontaneity. Not because I don't have plenty to bitch about, but more because I generally don't like to ruffle feathers. Live and let live. Most of the time. But even I know that you can't avoid offense at all times, and I've had something eating at me lately that I need to get off my chest. So I'm going to peck this out on my keyboard and then I'm going to go read a book because I've spent an embarrassingly large amount of time online lately and I can feel my brain dying.

When I was in college I knew a guy, named Adam, with a very thick southern accent. I'm talkin' so thick you could stir it with a spoon. He was a fun guy and his accent was just one of his many eccentricities. I had a class with him and one day he said "et too Brute" and I thought I might never recover from the giggles. Think Shakespeare meets Steel Magnolias in basso profundo. I had to put my head down for the rest of the class.

This other guy named Gonzo (yes, Gonzo. Muppets anyone?) told him once that he needed to "Americanize" his accent. Gonzo wasn't southern, in case you hadn't already guessed. I don't remember where he was from, but his accent didn't lean towards a particular geographical region. In other words, he sounded like a news anchor.

I took serious offense to that suggestion. My accent isn't nearly as thick as Adam's, but it's part of who I am. Adam's accent was a big part of what made him so endearing. That and the fact that his dorm room looked like a page out of Southern Living magazine. Suggesting that he should "fix" it in order to make him easier to understand was insulting and down right rude.

To be honest I was more upset than Adam was. He thought it was funny and probably hasn't given it another thought since. But for some reason it stuck with me and I'm often reminded of it.

Sadly this attitude towards southerners is something I encounter much more than I would like. Lately it seems to have gotten worse - or at least I'm coming across these kinds of statements more and more.

In the last month or so I came across a blog written by a husband-wife team. They also live in western NC but in a different county than Andy and I. Part of their blog is devoted to the region and it's varied activities. I like this about their blog. It's helping promote tourism in the area and since they moved here from out of state they're able to give a truly unbiased opinion of the things they participate in. But a larger part of their daily musings center around poking fun at the locals who live in their area.

Now, don't get me wrong. Tourism is great and so is expansion. It's a good thing that so many people are moving to North Carolina. This ongoing influx of transplants means that we have something others want. But doesn't it kind of defeat the purpose if people move here and then attempt to change the area to reflect what they've been used to? Lives differently doesn't equal living wrong.

This topic can go in so many different directions and I'm starting to get a little lost myself. The main point I'm trying to make is that I feel like people who are new to NC (or new to any place) should do their best to embrace not only their new surroundings, but also the people in it. You can't pick and choose what parts of a region you get when you move into it. It's all or nothing. I'm not saying you should erase what is good about the area you moved from. That wouldn't be fair, but is it so hard to not pass judgment on the new neighbors?

I'm not saying that we southerners don't pass judgment. If you ever find yourself in a gaggle of Southern ladies and you hear the words, "bless their heart, but," you can rest assured that judgment is about to be passed. In spades. The point is that everyone is guilty of it. (A few paragraphs ago I passed judgment on Gonzo for being named Gonzo.) My problem is when people judge something that they don't understand and haven't taken the time or put forth the effort to do so.

It boggles my mind that we can travel to different countries and acceptance is a given, but we can't go to a different region in our country without passing some kind of judgment about the way they live and how it's wrong. Why are Americans so hard on other Americans?

And as for "Americanizing" your accent - well, what the hell does that even mean? Let us not forget that America is the original melting pot. Our accents are what they are because of the people that traveled and settled here from all over the world. I think it gives us character; whether it's Southern, Northern, Midwestern or any other kind of accent you can think of. If you were in Italy and came across an Italian who could speak English would you ask them to "Americanize" their accent so that you could understand them better? God I hope not, and if you would then you need to go look in the mirror and say these words, "You are the reason why the rest of the world hates Americans."

That's it. I'm not sure I even made a coherent point, but I feel better now. Tomorrow it's back to rainbows and sunshine on PS, but right now I'm going to go broaden my horizons with Sense and Sensibility.

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