Gringo Thoughts: Mocking Accents
After the 100th Time, It’s Not that Funny
Why Are You Speaking to Me in English?
Sometimes people in Chile (and other Latin American countries) will simply try to speak to yo in English. This can be really accommodating if your traveling and your speaking levels are low. For someone like myself who has lived here for years, it’s annoying. To me that says one of three things:
- I heard you speak to me in Spanish, but it was so bad that I’m just going to try to speak to you in English, or
- I’m going to show off by speaking English to you despite your fluency in Spanish after I picked up on your accent, or
- I want to practice, and I’m taking advantage of every chance I get!
Despite being irked by this, I don’t mind it too much, unless their English is worse than my Spanish which is most often the case. It just leads to bad communication and loss of precious time attempting to communicate and decipher what someone is saying in broken English.
Learning a New Language
It took me a long time to finally push myself to speak Spanish. I’m a heritage speaker, meaning I grew up with Spanish spoken around me, I have always understood it, and when I was young I used to speak it, later ”lost it”, and in college studied Spanish, studied abroad, and now I speak it fluently with a slight carryover accent when I lack confidence. I should speak it better than I do, but I don’t have a ”gringo accent”. People know I’m a foreigner in Chile, and I’ve been asked if I’m Colombian, Peruvian, Mexican, etc..
This isn’t about me personally; I couldn’t care less about whether I have an accent or if I make mistakes because I consciously try to correct them and see it as a way of improving my Spanish and my accent may never sound like a native Chilean. I get that, BUT I can’t see how it’s funny to make fun of or imitate people in their face about their accent or their mistakes.
The worst part is that it usually comes from monolingual people. Maybe this shows something about them as well. Sometimes I feel like challenging people to speak English and return the favor. Fortunately I’m not that mala onda, and I know that language is an acquired skill that takes a lot of practice to master.
You’re Not One of Us
But aside from mocking accents or mistakes, it’s the constant reminder saying, ”Hey, you’re different!” I realize that, I’ve gotten over it, why are you reminding me and why is this important to you? I have the same feeling when in the US, my own country, people ask me where I’m from. My answer is usually California, but I know what they really mean, I’m always interested in how people phrase the following question, like: “No, where are you really from?” or ”What is your ethnicity/race/heritage/background?” or, my personal favorite, ”What are you?”. I’m not bothered by the fact that someone is curious and would like to know my ethnic background, but the fact that I’m asked ”where I’m from” as if I were a foreigner in my own country – ”Hey, you’re different!”. Well, who isn’t? That’s just boring.
Chilean Culture and Humor
I’ve wondered if this is considered “OK” to chide foreigners or if it’s a ”cultural” thing because, comparatively, there are fewer foreigners speaking Spanish here than foreigners who speak English abroad. Part of it has to do with experience with other cultures and language groups. In the States, you come across a diverse group of people, and unsurprisingly some of them will have accents as they carryover their native language’s phonology and intonation. I hear non-native English speakers make mistakes or pronounce things in a way that would have never occurred to me, but it generally doesn’t phase me – they’re non-native speakers! I would be more surprised if they spoke perfectly.
To put things into perspective, I don’t assume all Chileans are intentionally trying to poke fun or mock foreigners, and there is just one reason that comes to mind that breaks all of the above down: Chilean humor. They love to joke and even make fun of each other all the time. It’s nothing new to hear jokes about someone being overweight, their new haircut, every and anything someone says, etc. It’s almost like a bonding experience, and if you can keep up with a group of Chileans with their quick jovial comments and comebacks, you’ll be that much closer to them. Maybe I’m being sensitive, or Chileans are less politically correct than we are in the States, but I know one thing for sure: Los Chilenos son buenos pa’ leciar! / Chileans love to joke around!