We’ve landed, and this is what I scream-whisper before we’ve even left the plane.  My girlfriend does not find this hilarious the first, second, or really any of the times that I say it.  Unfortunately for her, I find it MORE hilarious each time. So I just try repeating it until the hilarity sinks in.  Ultimately I am shushed.  It doesn’t matter. I am in England! I’m Traveling! Well. Not just yet. First I have to go through customs.

For the one friend of mine that doesn’t know, the customs gate is where you kinda state your business, your intent, show your password and basically say “Hey I’m not here to do illegal shit.” You can learn a lot about a country by their customs intake process.   In America, you can go through customs faster if you pay $100.  England allows you to go through customs faster if you’re English.  England has two lines, one for UK/EU passports, and one for everyone else.  They assign about 15 agents to the UK line and two to the Others line. After the UK line is processed they open up the bonus agents but that takes a while.  But it’s okay because… well because of a million tiny reasons:

The restroom doesn’t say restroom it says toilet!

The outlets have different prongs!

The shops have different symbols. No $, just £, How do you TYPE that? Is their Shift-4 – £?

Everything is slightly different, and I love it. I’m in England,  and the coolest thing about this nearly entirely new world is that nearly everyone in the entire world is English. The customs agent. The gate agent. The police.  The old guy who bumps into me and says “Excuse me, pardon me, terribly sorry.” He apologizes three times in six words.  I haven’t heard three apologies in America in my life, cumulatively. It’s so British that it makes me want to run up to every single person I can and engage them in meaningless conversation just so they can… talk to me.  They all have an English accent! And somehow this is enough to make me feel as excited as a kid. Yes, I know everyone loves English accents but I’m a little nuts about them. You could comfortably say I was raised on them. One, actually.

 There’s an audiocassette of me as a baby, only months, (maybe weeks?) old. I’m subvocalizing, just talking nonsense, pretty much the way I am now.  Happy, gurgling, and completely filled with energy. Too much energy, it seems, because Baby Me hasn’t been sleeping.   

Then on the tape another voice pops up.  A young woman, she’s laughing, a bit giddy maybe from lack of sleep, but maybe just giddily enjoying… no, loving her new role as a mom.  My Mom.

My Mom asks “Why won’t you just go to sleep Philip?  Just sleep a little bit,” then giggling at her next thought she jokes, “What would make you sleep? Do you want some alcohol?” However when she says it, it’s hard to understand her.  (Because she’s totally blitzed and now here’s 2000 words about my Mom the alcoholic.  just kidding, just kidding)  The truth is, you can’t understand what she says because she’s speaking with a very thick English accent.

My Mom was born in Jamaica, but at the time Jamaica was still a British colony so around the age of two her family moved to England, where she lived her entire life before meeting my Dad.   As such, while she’s capable of doing a jamaican patois, her natural accent is English. Is this a big deal? It is to me.

My world, before I could even understand words, was filled with her voice, and her accent.   The maternal voice that nurtured me when I was sad, encouraged me when I wanted to give up,  the voice that talked to me in the womb in the secret one-sided conversations that Moms have with their unborn children when no ones around (that turn into secret one-sided conversations when we’re grown) — that voice was an English one. I’m not a psychologist, but chances are Mary Ainsworth would say that this is a very big deal.

*[I say all of these things in past tense. This encouraging and baby nurturing still goes on to this day. Kind of a high maintenance grown man-baby that needs so much fucking encouragement and nurturing that my Mom should’ve held on to the receipt and traded me in for another kid or maybe a pony or something.]

Due to her, and her side of the family, my life was filled with Monty Python, Douglas Adams, Beano comics, Smarties, Danger Mouse (not the DJ, the cartoon), Faulty Towers.  My godmothers who sent me british pounds, birthday cards read “Many happy returns!” Do you have any idea how great Winnie The Pooh sounds when read to you with an English accent? I told a friend about my Mom’s English background and she said “Oh. That makes sense. You seem like you have an English Mum.” I took it as a compliment…?

In my early childhood it wasn’t an accent, that’s just how my Mom talked. If asked I probably would’ve said that’s just how all Moms talk. (Oooh what a cool and crazy world it would be in if that was just the Mom accent? Like, if Childbirth was so intense that it by the time the contractions ended you were all  “Listen dahling I rather think you should consider a few things…”)

In my later childhood I realized that my Mom had an accent, mostly because of the way entire world flipped out whenever she opened her mouth.


*(We lived in Macon, Georgia for a while.)

One of my earliest memories is in Macon, actually.  I’m at daycare and some of us are throwing rocks over a fence. It’s the kind of thing that I guess is fun if the world is only 5 years old.  The other kids cleared the fence easily.  Toddler Me, showing the early signs of athleticism that would define most of my life, well Toddler Me didn’t clear the fence at all. In fact the rock just came back down and hit me directly on the top of the head.   It wasn’t a massive injury, but it definitely hurt.  Later that night my Mom noticed me gingerly touching my head and asked me “What’s wrong darling?” and I looked at her and said


The word head has one syllable.

I pronounced it with two and my Mom pronounced that maybe she didn’t want her kids growing up in Macon, Georgia so we moved.  My shot at my birthright (a bad ass lady killing English accent) wasn’t going to happen but there’s no way my parents were going to let me have a southern accent.  Man. I digress. This was supposed to be about customs.

I should just start over.



2 thoughts on “Travel #5: On Accents

  1. I may have found this a month late and this may be irrelevant now, but I come bearing information.

    Our shift-4 is still $ but our shift-3 is £, we get an extra key next to the enter key with # and ~ on it.

  2. Welcome to England, old chap! A cuppa awaits anytime you’re passing Fordingbridge, where “head” always has one syllable but sometimes no h.

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