It takes me a little while to hop on the bandwagon. By the time I do, everyone else has jumped off and hopped onto the next bandwagon. It is this way with food (broccoli rabe), fashion (ballet flats), technology (iphone: idon’t have one) and popular culture. My hot new singer is on his third album and other music lovers have moved along to someone who genuinely is at the dawn of a career.
So it is perhaps no surprise that I am only just now getting around to Downton Abbey. Julie, Rose and I had a catch-up marathon recently, during which we watched all of Seasons One and Two. Originally skeptical of the show’s power to fascinate, we are now rabid fans of the Crawleys and their platoon of servants. Never mind that it is a glorified and gussied-up soap opera! We love Lady Mary and her Matthew (upstairs), Mr. Bates and his Anna (downstairs), etc.
Most of all we love those British accents. They make the speakers sound intelligent and witty, no matter the content of their conversation. To my mind, anyone from the U.K. can recite the phone book (remember them?) and be positively spellbinding. I am a total sucker for foreign accents of any kind. I hear “oui” or “ciao” and I immediately think: mysterious and fascinating, a Person with a Capital P Past. Never mind that that Past may have included a snooze-worthy job and ho-hum family life…for me, speak with an exotic flair and you are a superstar, or a superspy—super something, anyway.
I may be wrong, but somehow I don’t believe our various American dialects have the same romantic appeal overseas. For example, I am a native “New Yawkuh,” and Steve hails from Indiana, where “pin” and “pen” sound exactly the same. As actors, Steve and I worked hard to rid ourselves of all vocal traces of the lower East Side of Manhattan and Bradbury St. in Indianapolis. We achieved only partial success, and still lapse into the not-so-mellifluous sounds of our youth. Some accents are charming. Our accents are just kind of annoying. The South is a hotbed of various speech patterns, from flat (Arkansas) to the Gone with the Wind drawl (Georgia), but again, I just don’t think “y’all” evokes intrigue; rather, it evokes an image of grits and gravy. My brother-in-law Rob is from “Minnesohda,” and when I listen to him I’m smack dab in the middle of A Prairie Home Companion. His is a sturdy and stoic parlance typical of one who used to shovel several tons of snow out of his driveway annually.
Perhaps familiarity breeds boredom. It may well be that Jacques in Paris finds parler en Français très dull, but he would delight in a good ol’ Texas twang. Maybe Elly Mae Clampett would have a full dance card if she ventured across the pond. I rather doubt it.
I’m proud to be an American. I just wish we sounded cooler. Ah well. C’est la vie!