By the look in your eye I can tell you’re gonna cry.
Is it over me?
If it is, save your tears
for I’m not worth it, you see.
For I’m the type of boy who is always on the roam,
wherever I lay my hat that’s my home,
I’m telling you that’s my home.
(Marvin Gaye – but I prefer the Paul Young version)
Where are you from?
A question most of us get asked at one time or another. Generally, though, it means, ‘You’re not from round here, are you?’ The question may be one of genuine interest or it may be a case of mild, or not so mild xenophobia. So what’s the answer?
Occasionally the question might be asked because you look different to the natives. If that’s the case, you are likely in a dangerous place. Listen carefully. Do you hear banjos? Better high tail it out of there before it’s time for you to squeal like a pig. For most of us, outside the backcountry of Georgia, the question usually means you sound different. Yes, I know, you don’t have an accent. But you do here.
Wherever you spend your formative years, chances are the local accent is within you regardless of how long you spend away from your native land. Once you reach your early 20’s that accent is within you, and it will emerge when you least expect it, just like the broken falsetto of a teenage boy.
Coming from middle England (not Middle-Earth, that would make me a hobbit) I speak the Queen’s English, that which the North American colonists have systematically butchered over the last 400 years. So my accent makes me stick out like a sore thumb, here on the east coast of Canada. I only have to say ‘hello’ and I’m being asked where I’m from.
Makes no difference if I’m here 7 years or 27, this accent ain’t going nowhere chum, so it’s a question I typically hear around once a week. However the question gets answered, it invariably comes out that I’m of English origin (or Australian, strangely – I never thought an English accent sounded Aussie, but there you go, mate). And so the naturally amiable East Coasters (or is that nosy?) then get into conversation, and they want to know what I’m doing here. This is not an easy one to answer. Trust me, I’ve tried to create an honest elevator speech for this. Just like Bill Murray trying to bed Andi MacDowell in Groundhog Day, I’ve had lots of opportunity to practice.
So, given the frequency of the question, and the complexity of the answer, I’ve been getting creative with my response.
“Oh, your English. Do you like it here?”
“Hate it – can’t wait to move to Nebraska”
“For the summer month, it can be quite delightful”
“It’s only been 7 years, I’ve not yet decided”
Or, my favourite to lead them on a merry dance would be this:
“Well, to be honest, I didn’t really have much choice but to come here”
Now, with this answer there’s a wealth of possibility, depending on how much I want to engage this particular colonist, and if they are flirt-worthy, gullible or someone I might actually like.
For the more flirt-worthy questioners, I like these:
Speaking in a subdued tone, and leaning closer to the lady, I murmer, “I can’t say too much without putting you at risk. I’m with the British Government – ‘special assignment’, if you get my drift”. Options from here are complete shut down, ice broken or deeper subterfuge.
Or alternatively, the witness protection line / my hero line:
“I broke a drug cartel when the bastards tried to use my niece as a drug mule coming through Thailand during her gap year. I did a Liam Neeson on a couple of the dealers and got a lead on the big guys. Turned them over to Scotland Yard in return for a new life over here”.
More believable, and possibly the most successful choice would be:
“With the lottery win I had freedom to go anywhere. I took the first flight out of Heathrow and this is where is took me. Good place to get away from life for a while, figure out how I want to spend my money”.
Ms Gullible might like these ones:
“Things were getting a bit hot for me after my first wife disappeared, so I wanted to get away from things for a while. Since she ‘turned up’ I can’t go back”.
“The company offered me a promotion if I went to Halifax. I thought they meant Yorkshire”.
“You’ve heard of Ronnie Biggs and the Great Train Robbery? – similar story”.
So what do I tell the person I might actually like?
Well it’s a long story. Let me tell you about it over dinner.