As is inevitable when everyone around you is reflecting back on the decade, I've been doing a little myself. I started in 2000 when I was 16 and have gotten stuck there, my mind refusing to budge forward from that sweet, sweet time. Still a fairly new transplant to Canada, I found that turning on my Kiwi accent was an excellent way to garner attention, particularly from the male sex. Neither of my two accents had availed themselves to me so favourably before but when I was 16, I used my adopted "foreign" accent to charm a handsome member of the football team and a university student who should have known better.
I don't recall whether it was ever a conscious decision, but from my first day at primary school in New Zealand, my five year-old self was acutely aware that I was not speaking the same language as the bare-footed children running around me. I don't personally remember the bare-footed part but have adopted this memory as my own after hearing my mom (mum if you will) recollect the mild horror she experienced seeing all the primary school children running around bare-foot in winter. We weren't in Kansas anymore, Toto.
The first time I had to consciously turn on my Kiwi accent was on Canadian soil, where I knew if I didn't concentrate, I would effortlessly slip into my generic North American one. Growing up it was a different story, at school I went native Kiwi and at home I used the same accent as my parents and it was only when they pointed out that they couldn't recognize my voice at a public-speaking event at school, did I become fully aware of my accent schizophrenia. I still don't know where I'm from.
For all the years spent unconsciously polishing my accent like the good silver, it didn't take long to give it up when I was no longer around people who don't pronounce "r" at the end of words. I dabbled in my Kiwi accent during the first year in Canada, but gave it up for good shortly after my sixteenth birthday. I don't know if that's what charmed the university student six years my senior and home on winter break, if I was just sooo cute with my quaint little accent from the South Pacific, but I never went out with him more than once. Either way, with the exception of probably very few, you must question the third-year college student who is interested in a 16 year-old high schooler.
It was easier to drop the accent, which had become a vestigial appendage in my new high school with lockers, no uniforms and lunches off school premises ("like in the movies" my girlfriends in NZ would say). I met my high school sweetheart and there was no need for a trendy foreign accent, we were so tangled up in each other.
I don't know if I would use ironic to describe my current situation, but speaking almost exclusively to my partner in a language not my own is certainly something. Fill in the blank. I do my best to not speak Japanese with a North American accent, but I highly doubt the beau finds my "foreign" accent sexy. There is nothing sexy about me speaking Japanese, for tell me, what does sexy in Japanese look like for members of the fairer sex? High pitched squeals? Certain Japanese men are damn sexy when they talk (have I mentioned my penchant for rolled r's??), but what about when they are speaking English? English spoken with an Asian accent is generally not romanticized by us in the West (it is the stuff of badly played stereotypes). Think about references to sexy foreign accents in film, books and conversations. The Europeans, British, Kiwis and Aussies have a monopoly on it!
Can you picture your friend saying, "his sexy Japanese accent made me swoon"? Her broken English may be cute, but do you think it's sexy? (Don't answer if you are turned on by the phrase "me love you long time".) In becoming accustomed to speaking another language, it is so easy to forget that you very well may have a foreign accent, dashing or not. While the beau's English is charmingly brokedown, I don't think of him as him on the rare occasion he attempts English; he becomes another person, with a new tone of voice and the dynamic of our relationship experiences a power switch as I become the language authority. This took me a while to figure out and in making this discovery, realized that while I can hold a conversation with him in Japanese, I'm the one speaking a second language, I'm the one making grammatical errors and sometimes butchering words. How can the beau stand this? I will be sure to ask him one day soon, for I don't know how tolerant I would be if the situation was reversed and it was the beau with the foreign accent. I'd like to think I would be patient and kind, but if I am honest with myself, I quite possibly wouldn't get involved with someone who loses part of their humor, intelligence and sexiness by simply speaking a language not their own.
While I have gained another foreign accent in recent years, it is with more trepidation that I consider it, for I will never be able to truly gauge just how much of me is being lost by living in Japanese with the beau, a compartment of my life where it is arguably the most important to be yourself. I am confident that most of me translates, if not through words then through non-verbal means, but I worry that I lose my funny quips in Japanese and my maturity, and that the beau will never be able to know the part that doesn't translate. On bad days, it feels quite tragic.