It’s late and I can’t sleep. My insomnia’s gorging on late night Discovery Channel. The crowd pleasing programming has retired for the night, leaving me with their less talented cousins. Tonight it’s “Moonshiners”, which as the name would suggest follows the ups and mostly downs of down-n-out hillbillies trying to make money through the production of illicit alcohol.
It isn’t entertaining, but I watch anyway, hoping the fumes from its dullness will carry me away like anti-smelling salts.
I watch in a near vegetive state, wondering which had the strongest influence on their current career choice: Their lack of employment opportunities, or their accents. I half doze and imagine a fully qualified ‘Jim Bob’ going for an interview in the corporate hospitality sector – cursing his decision to conclude his Powerpoint presentation with the line “…and y’all be shurda come back again, ya hear!”
Back in the UK I befriended a work colleague. He already had a masters and was studying further to become a fully qualified pharmacist. He told me about his background. His family is higher middle class. His father is a well respected doctor and his brother an executive banker. Their opulent home in its affluent location has staff and he generally has no reason to lift a thing. His family, their home and wealth are all back in Pakistan – unredeemable status currencies in the UK.
His English wasn’t great; coloured by his strong Pakistani accent. It was precisely that accent that lead less educated colleagues to talk to him as though he were ever so slightly stupid. Not in an overtly disrespectful way, but in that nuanced, polite faced manner. The sort of prejudice you can’t quite quantify in a tribunal; smart prejudice.
For some, it seems a bad accent and limited vocabulary equates to stupidity. It troubled me then, but here in Denmark, as a foreigner it’s become even more concerning.
I wonder whether my Danish accent will sound ever so slightly Jim-Bobish. I wonder whether my future children will find embarrassment in their father who sounds like a Danish Borat. I worry that a fear of sounding stupid will render me paralysed from the mouth; only able to reply in my occasionally half eloquent English.
Back in the UK I believed all immigrants should learn the language of the land. Not in a colonial, culturally irradiating way, but simply in order to promote integration. I fear now with my tables well and truly turned, I may be less willing to take my own advice.
My three years of FREE Danish language tuition (high taxes aren’t all bad) are starting soon, so I guess we’ll find out.