Thursday, October 11, 2012

Accentuate the positive

Everyone wants to be Irish, right? Everyone, it seems, except the Irish.

America has given us many great things – Chevy Chase, HBO, rap music, Halle Berry – but it has also provided us with its fair share of less desirable exports. McDonald’s, Coors Light, Paris Hilton, George Dubya...I could go on all day. The influence of the ‘greatest nation on the planet’ is bound to be felt in countries like Ireland, we look at those Stateside and imagine them to be so much more refined than us thick eejits on this rainy outpost in the middle of the Atlantic.

And this fascination with all things American has, for years, seen us adopt many of their more catchy phrases and idioms. Without even realising it we began to pepper our conversations with these unfamiliar sound bytes, “Hey dude, how’s it hangin’”, “That’s fuckin awesome man”, “”? This is an acceptable part of cross-culturalism and given the sheer amount of American TV shows, films and music that Irish people consume it is hardly surprising that we choose to utilise some of the lingo.

But in recent years a more worrying trend has emerged. A trend which should it continue will either see our nation completely lose its identity or, more likely, result in a mass killing spree orchestrated by my good self. Sociologists have rather kindly referred to this phenomenon as the “Mid-Atlantic Accent”, but I have a different name for it; “stupid, pretentious, little cunts trying to sound like Americans”.

I can still vividly recall my first experience of this bizarre, new craze, it happened about five years ago and it shook me to my core. Suffering from a touch of man-flu I dragged my weary body to the nearest Centra in search of salvation. And after a rather pleasant transaction with the well-mannered, young lady behind the counter I pocketed my box of Lemsip and made for home, but not before my new acquaintance offered some parting words of advice. “Feel better”, she hollered as I exited the shop; what? Was this is a question? A warning? What the fuck was she on about?

I subsequently learned that what she had actually meant was “I hope you feel better soon”, but instead of behaving like a normal member of Centra’s staff she had chosen to envisage herself behind the counter of Wal-Mart or some other dastardly American conglomerate. ‘Feel better’. Is this now the way of things? Delivering two word sentences in a horrifically cheerful manner instead of actually taking the time to wish someone all the best as they recuperate from a touch of the sniffles?

 In the aftermath of this traumatic encounter I vowed to track all those who conversed in this vile manner and give them my most steely of glares; but not before I felt better of course. And the sad thing was, this girl wasn’t alone. There were hundreds of others just like her, all telling one another to feel better and high-fiving themselves as they did so. I’m loath to make rampant generalisations about any class of people but there did appear to be a specific demographic of offenders: white, middle-class youths in their teens or early twenties.

It didn’t matter whether they were Goths, skaters, hip-hop headz or sporty types, they were all at it. I should point out at this juncture that I wasn’t surreptitiously following groups of teens around in the manner of an urban David Attenborough, it just so happens that I’m the observant type. It got to the point where I’d physically bristle anytime I encountered a mob of potential suspects, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They’d greet one another with elaborate handshakes lifted straight from The Wire and some of the boys would even hug, that’s right hug! I have mates that I’ve known for twenty years who I wouldn’t even dream of touching, unless it was for a manly handshake of course. Hugging!!! They’d probably only seen one another a few hours previous. Fucking hell.

But the physical contact is only a small part of it. It’s the accent I’m really interested in. And attending a university full of my test subjects has offered insight beyond my wildest dreams. Thankfully my young classmates are far too discerning to even attempt a faux New Yorker accent and they pepper the air with indecipherable Kerry-speak, Cork langerisms and pure, uncut Limerick lingo on a daily basis. However UL is a big place and it is inevitable that you will encounter someone hailing from Clare by way of Chicago at some point during your day.

The bus is probably the best –or the worst depending on which way you look at it – place to listen to them unhindered though. Unlike the university campus I can sit and listen to other people’s conversations without feeling like an FBI agent. And my how they talk! “Yah”,”Mom”,”Supah”,”I knooow”, “Haw, haw, haw”, and so on and so on. During a recent journey I had the misfortune to be sitting behind a young couple discussing the previous night’s frivolities, “Sooo whut did you get up to last noight then”? Asked the female, “Not all that much”, replied her paramour in his Pennsylvanian patter, “just a bunch of beers with the guys and then crashed for the night”.

I’m not making this up, I wish I was! And I know for a fact these people weren’t foreign exchange students from the US, one look at the big thick Mayo heads on em told me that. In the real world this is how their conversation would have went, “So boy wha dye do last nigh then”? “Ah twas a quiet wan girl, just skulled a couple a slabs with the lads and woke up on the couch covered in fag butts”. Nothing wrong with that, a fine example of the Irish dialect if you ask me. Call it inverted snobbery, class disgust or whatever you wish; but what’s wrong with speaking in the same manner that your parents, and their parents before them, spoke?  

So we’ve established that a lot of people in this country no longer wish to sound Irish, but what I want to know is why? Are they ashamed of their accent? Is it a peer pressure thing? Do they believe that talking in this way makes them appear superior to others? There are certain Irish accents that do pierce your skull if listened to for extended periods, but is that reason enough to adopt a pseudo Cincinnati speech? Of course one listen to any Irish radio station or one viewing of a home-grown television programme (apart from Fair City) will tell you all you need to know. The airwaves are rife with Mid-Atlantic morons, all speaking in that same familiar tongue. Where are these people from? Nobody knows. RTÉ probably clone them up in Donnybrook.

And the irony is that once you make it big in this country (which, let’s face it, isn’t very big) you are obliged to adopt this accent. A few have slipped through the net – Hector, Daíthi O’Sé, Dustin – but our burgeoning celebrity culture has ensured that failure to comply with this unspoken rule will see you sink without trace. Did anyone happen to watch the Irish Celebrity Come Dine with me last year? There was a tall, blonde non-entity on it that went by the name of Rosanna Purcell. No, not Pursel as it is phonetically pronounced but Purr-Cell, as if it were a mysterious French moniker handed down by Napoleon himself. Is this what we have become reduced to? Making up fancy names for ourselves in an attempt to appear suave?

You’d actually wonder what Americans think when they come here and encounter real Irish people for the first time. Having spent years listening to Bono’s intangible drawl they must automatically assume that we speak like them, after all Bono is our one and only saviour is he not? He must be the perfect representation of all things Irish! Mustn’t he? As yet another stream of Stateside septuagenarians meander down O’Connell Street and find themselves in need of assistance they do what any tourist does; ask a local for directions. Luckily they approach a true son of Éire, a gruff, red-cheeked Dub on his way to sink the first of many afternoon pints of stout. The following conversation resembles Columbus’s first encounter with the Native Americans , lots of gesticulations and slowly, mouthed words, but by the end neither party are any the wiser. “I thought they spoke American here”, remarks one silver-haired Texan as the Yanks walk away scratching their heads.

Aside from the fact that it is terribly annoying there is also a more serious side to this outbreak of pomposity. I’m not a particularly patriotic Irishman and wasn’t even born in this country but I can see the potential damage of having an entire generation conversing in this way. Already our sovereignty is under threat from our paymasters in Germany and now we wish to throw away one of the things that makes us unique: our lovable Irish brogue. But more than that, it’s about our identity. I only live a hundred miles or so from the place I call home, but every now and again I encounter someone local to this region that, after a few minutes of chatting, can’t help but ask, “Where you from then, I can’t quite place your accent”? “Kilkenny”, I tell them. Not Kansas, not Cleveland, not even Kentucky, just Kilkenny, thank you very much.