Where is that accent from?

England’s fascination with foreign accents and the mistrust in national dialects

Clara Zoellner
3 min readApr 26, 2022
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Explosions everywhere, children are crying. I swoop in with my super powers and lift the car of the endangered family, saving their lifes and hope for a future. I yell: “Come on, get out of here, it’s not safe!”

Everyone pauses.

And then… “Oh, where is that accent from?”

Danger is forgotten, nothing is more captivating than figuring out where I come from, and why I sound the way I do.

Superman is one lucky bugger, fitting right in with the American accent.

Whereas I struggle everywhere I go, my words stand out more than any superpowers. Constantly trying to explain my accent, to the real estate agent, the bar tenders, people in the streets overhearing and approaching me. Whilst a few are genuinely curious and the topic is dropped quickly, or just used as a conversation starter more often than not, I get confronted with weirdly intrusive questions or slightly insulting stereotypes about the places I come from. I guess I shouldn’t take it personal, the whole nation seemingly an accent / dialect obsessed body ready to assess anyone in the first moment of contact.

Even when the accent origin has been established, the probing continues in ways my British peers don’t seem to get. “So you lived overseas? What do your parents do? What school did you go to?”. But then the answers don’t really tell them anything either because you can’t translate cultures as well as languages. Yet they still attempt to categorise me in a way they do with other British accents. I’m not sure if it is a power assessment or an ego boost: “Ah I stand higher in the social hierarchy because my accent is a bit posher”.

But you also get the opposite: Cotswold kids now trying to hide their upbringing by assuring that they too drank hooch in the park at 14 years old and snorted questionable substances of a stranger’s fist last Saturday. At university a friend of mine was made fun of because he received an Apple watch for Christmas and one evening admitted to his sins of “Yes, I attended a horse race before”. The savageness of our working class friends made me feel relieved they couldn’t categorise me.

How are we supposed to welcome foreigners into our society when we can’t even accept our course peers, flatmates or work colleagues?

Then again I was never bullied for my accent down South and pushing probing questions and weird Nazi references aside, treated very kindly with respect and interest. Whereas my Northern friends get yelled at in Spoons or get remarks like “I hate that accent”. It’s a difficult discussion. Especially with topics like this, we like to hide behind the excuses of “wow sorry for wondering” or “I was just joking, of course I don’t care where you’re from”.

Instead of opening up the conversation and explore the human need of placing others into boxes.

It’s fascinating that we can hate something we know, like the accent from up North, more than something unknown, like the accent from overseas. Maybe it hits too close to home, too many personal experiences are connected with the familiar. Maybe the way forward is to be the undercover spy with the unidentifiable accent — forever exchanging anonymity with interrogations.



Clara Zoellner

3rd culture kid currently exploring the wonders of the UK