My challenge for writing this piece was fitting in all of my ideas within the word limit. I am one who sometimes can add “fluff” to my writing, tying in background information that doesn’t contribute to the larger concepts discussed in my writing. For this essay in particular, I made sure to keep my ideas structured and start with my overview theme of Ireland and how our accents are seen as differences and not accepted in each other’s culture. Accents can make us feel disconnected from one another, yet it is the theme of the piece to realize we are all the same underneath and our cultural backgrounds make the world a more special place we can all come to appreciate.
The steering wheels are flipped, the sun never shines, there are sheep down every road, and their accents are strange. I grew up with a father who has a Northern Irish accent that when people recognize their eyes light up. They gasp and say: “Oh my gosh, you’re Irish? Is that accent real?!”. I smile back, boasting how I’m ⅞ Irish and I’ve been to Ireland over 8 times. I was different from everyone else. I had a special cultural connection that was all mine.
When I visited Ireland this past summer, I was one of the “American cousins”. One night, my family had a barbeque as a reunion for my dad to see all of his childhood friends. Other teenagers came in and out, always excited to meet me. “This is Emily”, my cousin would tell them. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you”, I would reply politely. As soon as the words fell off of my lips, they would crash against the floor and shatter into a million pieces leaving me covered in the word “American”. A hot, tingly feeling would reach my skin, turning my cheeks the color of a bright pink bubblegum. I remember constantly being asked to say the phrase “how now brown cow”. With my Philadelphia tongue, it rolled off sharp and quick. The Irish kids would laugh, or even tell me it was adorable, like I was a two year old who had just recited the A-B-C’s for the first time. I felt like a child, being pushed to a level of inferiority as soon as I opened my mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Ireland and meeting all of the new people. I fit right in; that is, until I uttered a single sound. By the end of the trip I had gained a little draw in my tone emulating the native speech. I don’t know if this was from exposure to the dialect that it naturally shifted, or if it was my brain subconsciously forcing my tongue to contort until it began to ease into the rhythm of the Irish slang. I was called out for being different. Sure, I was different. I am different. I was raised in a completely contrasting environment. I was already in a foreign society, but being made fully aware of me not fitting in was like being the black sheep in a herd of white. Something that was accepted and normal in my own culture when thrown into a new world made me stand out. Irish culture is one where everyone wants to fit in. The girls had the same shirt from TopShop in varying pastel shades, with the same tight, black high waisted jeans and dirty Adidas sneakers. They all wore thick cat-winged eyeliner and straightened their hair. I wore similar clothes, enough to make me one of the crowd until I would speak. It was all about the tone of my voice that made me a target of cultural shaming.
I was not alone on my expedition of sticking out in a way society deemed as negative. Gloria Anzaldua showcased this idea perfectly in her work of How to Tame a Wild Tongue. She grew up speaking a different language, one that was even varied with the Spanish culture. Even inside of her own community of Spanish speakers, she was outcast. Once she went to college, it wasn’t enough to prove that she was smart enough to be there to be like everyone else. Instead, she had to change who she was to blend in. “At Pan American University,” she writes, “I, and all the other Chicano students were required to take two speech classes. Their purpose: to get rid of our accents.” The college wanted her to change who she was and make her conform to what their standards were of normal and beneficial.
In the modern world, differences are not being accepted. We pick and choose how we allow people to be, especially when it comes to culture and language. Being an outsider as an American in Ireland is a small scale example of global societies feeling the need to point out differences and make them appear as flaws. English and Spanish are taking over the world, destroying smaller languages and populations in its wake. Ancient languages are dying, because the majority speaks English and it’s seen as common and what is expected of everyone to know. We must change this perception and realize that our differences are what make the world such a special place. Travelling to Ireland taught me about a new culture and I got to have new experiences that help shape who I am today. In the end, it isn’t even about the accents, what words you say, or how you talk. It’s about what it says about us, and how we are all individuals who can learn from one another and our individual ideas of literacy.