Monday, June 03, 2013

Assimilation for the nation

I have always been good at getting assimilated. One can never tell for sure, but I expect the affinity for camouflage sprang from some of the circumstances of my childhood.

First, I relocated aged 8 to Middlesbrough, a charming (ahem) town in the north east of England into which few 'outsiders' enter and from which few 'natives' leave. I was clearly a foreigner who needed to rid myself of embarrassing ways. Most notably, nobody in my peer groups spoke like me and difference was mocked, so within weeks I learned to speak with another accent. This being self-consciously done rather than a natural process (along with, I suspect, a certain amount of disdain for the local twang in the homestead) the new voice never took hold: between the ages of 8 and 21 or so, I had two ways of speaking - one for 'boro friends and one for everyone else.

Second, there's something about being the child of a church minister that requires an ability to toe the line. Our home was also a place of work and of refuge for the congregation: its peculiar type of privacy was protected with some angst by the nuclear family. My dad's family was always on show in his 'office'  on  Sunday and his working environment was also his community of at once friends and dependents. There is more to be said about this but I digress .... the point is, I learned to be very sensitive to the ways in which others might react to what I did and therefore to (subconsciously) adapt myself to ensure I never jarred their sensibilities.

Perhaps also I was a little girl among many children and especially girls of my generation who was taught that drawing attention to myself in the wrong ways was the bad thing, while making others happy was the good thing. But again, I digress ...

Having come to it in a very roundabout way, what I wanted to say is that my move to Canada has shown me I still do this assimilation thing. Anticipating without a second thought the blank look I might have got by using the word 'trainer', the first time I referred to that particular article of footwear in Edmonton, I called it a 'sneaker'. My greeting to others since day one has been 'Hey!' rather than 'Hi' or 'Alright?' as I would have said back home. I'll often hesitate to use a phrase or a word in a sentence because I find myself wondering if they have the same term here. I've picked up subtle conversational habits - a tendency to start sentences with 'So, ...' and a greater willingness to talk about daily trivia at length with strangers. Within a matter of weeks.

Not as quick at picking up accents any more though. It'd take quite a while before I could do a convincing Albertan. The best I might manage is something indistinguishable from a standard north American imitation that I can more or less pull off following years of a Hollywood media diet.