“Are you British?”
This question has followed me through my years on this planet even though I was born in Philadelphia and lived there for all of my life and only went outside of the country twice. I never noticed the voice myself, at least until, if I remember correctly, people who I have known for years starting asking me “Are you, like, British?”
(Insert sassiest deep voice) “Yes because I’ve been British all along and I’m revealing it to all you now so I can have a coup to overthrow the United States government and reclaim the colonies for our Mother England.”
While I might not have exactly thought that; it was a bit of an annoyance. But even after I seemed to explain to everyone of my fellow students in Middle School/ elementary school (it was a shared school) it seemed to follow me everywhere I went.
South Carolina: “Are you British?”
Harrisburg: “Are you British?”
Karate class: “Are you British?”,
People to People: “Are you British?”,
Britain: “Are you British?”
Ok, I’m not sure they asked me that everywhere but it sure did feel like it. I’m not entirely sure when it began although my guess would be somewhere between the 4th and 6th grade. Mostly because I remember an experience in the fourth grade but I think I started getting asked it more frequently in the 6th grade and onwards.
So why is it British? I’ve never even been to Britain until last summer, if anything I might chalk it up to my watching of British programming like “Doctor Who”, “Miss Marple”, “Inspector Poirot” any number of old movies and eventually “Sherlock”, “Being Human” and many more. It could have a sort of similar effect of the Key and Peele skit and how when we are around a similar group of people we start- either unknowingly or consciously sounding like them (Key). It also could be the fault of the infamous and world known voice changer known as puberty. Yes, thank you puberty for all your delights, including- but not limited to- the inescapable red mountains on our faces, awkwardness to seemly every situation- particularly social and the constant asking about any perceived “what is my life” even if the question makes no sense at all. Even then I ask what is a “British voice” within the whole of Great Britain there are multiple countries- including England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales- who each have various accents on their own that people can narrow down and identify to a single town.
So where does this notion of a single “British” accent come from? Well for starters I believe that when they say “British”- rather than having be some odd daunting mixture of Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish accents together are some type of super accent- I think that they mean an English accent. And when they say English, I would guess it was the same deep and sophisticated voice that people like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, The Royal Family or any of the like. Not to make myself a gloater or anything like that- I just imagine that when Americans or other cultures think of the ‘standard’ accent from England thats what’s comes to mind. I wonder why I seem to make such an impression though, its not like I ask somebody about their accent every single time they talk.
I can roughly remember a time when I first started to become aware of my change of voice. I think it was in fourth or sixth grade and my father was in a parent teacher conference. I attended the conference- not because of bad scores or anything of the sort, students could just come to the conference. So at one point I think the teacher had acknowledged the apparent ‘fact’ of my British accent. This took my father aback for in all his years as my parent he never saw my voice as British- it was just his son’s natural voice. And the fact of the matter is that despite all first impressions I’m not ‘impersonating anything or anyone’ I just talk in the same voice I have since the beginning of my life. And if someone was to ask if I could do a ‘normal’ accent then what am I supposed to do. I am talking normally and I always have been. My mother didn’t even notice until a restaurant waitress asked about my voice about three to five years ago.
I think I can remember another event which was when I first met my advisory at the Science Leadership Academy. It was mid May 2012 and the weather fitted the time of month. Never the less I dressed in my black suit with a grey shirt and tie to give off a good first impression. We all entered the library and sat around in a circle to all meet, greet and see each other. As we all introduced ourselves, if I remember correctly, when I first presented I had actually surprised people when I first spoke. Most likely not due to my introduction; if that was the case I’d very much like to know what in the seven hells I said that shocked everyone in that room. I suspect it was due more to my apparent accent if anything. I’ll bet their minds were racing think “Yooooo, we got a British kid!, That’s what’s up!, Turn up!” or whatever is the way in bloody hell 8th grade students process information.
So at this point I’m sure you're wondering “Does he even want this voice?” well the truth is- I do. I’ve always thought that the English had a very nice, very eloquent and sophisticated voice. It normally comes off well and to be thought having a similar voice is quite a privilege and its lovely when people give me compliments about it. Besides it might even open me up to career opportunities perhaps. For example, just the other day a former student at our school, who works as a DJ offered me a rather large sum of money if I was able to speak at a event and say a few things like “turn it up”. I was quite flabbergasted, I didn’t believe him at first (even now I’m still a bit hesitant of the believability) but he assured me that he earns six times more than what offered me at a single event. I sat there in my white suit for picture day, perplexed at what just transpired. Here I was using the voice that I have had all my life and suddenly I was offered the opportunity at a financial bonus. Naturally, like any reasonable human I told him I was interested but at this time I have not heard further details about it but when I do I shall try my best to make it.
I may not be British born, if I have a voice that people are willing to pay me for then by golly I'll wear a Union Jack tie. And I don’t find it particularly degrading to do that, I think it’d be rather fun to be honest. I am a person that likes to entertain others, in fact I think I’d like to go into the entertainment industry anyway to become an actor. (As well as other things like writer and possibly director, but for now lets talk about acting.) Additionally it seems that would work in my benefit as it appears every actor and actress and their mother are some way foreign. While I might be American, I’ve found in my life that it doesn’t really matter in the world of first impressions- if you talk it- for all people know, you are it. So if my voice is going to be a career booster in any way then I’ll English-it-up more if need be. While it could be potentially annoying to constantly clear up the fact I am not British, it's certainly a bit of an honor and potentially fortuatius to be thought as one. In the end I wouldn’t change my voice for an “American”, but if I did change my voice in anyway, I would probably make it deeper- that way it comes off as even more English.
Key, Keegan-Michael, dir. Key & Peele: Phone Call. Dir. Peele Jordan. Comedy Central, 2011. Film. 1 Nov 2013. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzprLDmdRlc>.