Friday, April 30, 2010

Lost in Translation

Please welcome special guest blogger Maria Grazia Swan! Take it away, Maria...

After 30 years in the States, I still have an Italian accent. When I go back to Italy the family tells me I have an American accent. Go figure. Even before the coming of caller ID, I couldn’t make anonymous phone calls. I would barely say “Hello,” and the person on the other end would say; “Oh, hi Maria, how are you?” And being a bit slow on the uptake, I would ask; “How did you know it was me?” Accents can be tricky because it’s easy to forget you have one.

When you meet new people, they will either love or hate your accent. It has nothing to do with you personally; it is strictly related to the understanding factor. If they understand you, they like the accent, if they don’t, well, they don’t.
Years ago, someone from my “English as a Second Language” class, told me that the only state you can pronounce without anyone guessing your accent is “Ohio.” So for months, while waiting in line at the DMV, or standing alone in the elevator, or sitting in public bathrooms, I would practice, “Ohio, Ohio.” Why, you ask? I have no idea. Maybe, you know, just in case I was on a plane being hijacked and I needed to convince a terrorist that I’m really American?

When my kids where in high school, on rainy days, if they had nothing to do, they’d haul home some of their friends and ask me to pronounce difficult words for their entertainment. Their favorites were “hurt” and “hearth,” and “beach” and…that word that rhymes with “witch.”

Just when I begin to think that I’m getting control of the accent thing, my computer provider outsources the technical help to India. The person I reach, who says his name is Brandon-yeah, like that’s his real name-can’t understand me and vice versa. So, in desperation, we are spelling. Here is how it goes:

“Swan, my last name is Swan, S as in Sam, w as in wedding, a as in apple, and n as in Nancy.”

Brandon says: “Okay I got that. S as in serpent, w as in wasabi, a as in alligator, n as in Nairobi.”

Somehow I don’t think Brandon is from sunny California.

Like I said, I’m so used to my own accent it hardly bothers me at all, unless I’m with some of my friends or family who came to America after me and yet have no accent at all. They make fun of me! The other day. I was grocery shopping with my grandson and I ran into my friend Joe, who has the distinctive Italian habit of expressing himself with his hands, but no verbal accent. I said to my grandson, “Why don’t you run and get me a cart instead of playing around.” He takes off, and I wait by the frozen food aisle and talk to Joe about his wife’s health. Time goes by. I’m getting very chilly. My lips are turning blue, and, my feet are falling asleep, and still the kid isn’t back. I’m about to go looking for him when he shows up, but he has no cart. He hands me a pack of playing cards with a big smile on his face. “Here Nonna, Boy, it was hard to find them!”
Joe’s roaring laughter cooled the atmosphere in the frozen food aisle by another few degrees.

I admit, I haven’t tried very hard to lose my accent: I haven’t tried to Americanize my speech-in fact, I wouldn’t even try to say the word “Americanize.” An accent is a great conversation starter, even if during the conversation I have to spell out the occasional word and a few ideas are lost in translation.

~Maria Grazia Swan

Maria Grazia Swan is an author and motivational speaker who shares relationship advice and guidance for women re-entering the social/dating scene. Maria empowers and encourages single women to be bold, fearless, and sexy in their pursuit of life and love after age 45. An award recipient from the Women’s National Book Association, Swan is the author of Boomer Babes: True Tales of Love and Lust in the Later Years (Leisure Books). Visit


catslady said...

I would understand you, Maria. All my grandparents came from Sicily lol. what I hated is when they spoke Italian so we didn't know what they were talking about. My grandparents are gone now and my mom has no one to speak it with anymore and I really miss it lol. I can understand most European accents (and love them) but not Asian or Indian.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I grew up in southern Louisiana and had a mild southern accent when I moved to Ohio for graduate school. People always remarked upon my accent and it made me feel self conscious. It didn't take long for my accent to disappear and now I miss it :(

Maria G. Swan said...

I'm not sure how to rid myself of the accent, I'm guessing it's here to stay