my coworker has started faking a British accent

I’m off today, so here’s an older post from the archives. This was originally published in 2018.

A reader writes:

So this question is … more just truly bizarre than anything. But recently, a coworker of mine has decided she is now British and has been regularly slipping into a thick British accent — very Madonna-esque.

On one hand, I guess live your life. On the other hand, OH MY GOD, WHAT? It’s truly impossible not to notice and has been gradually noticed by hordes of people within the office at this point, yet nobody really knows how to even begin processing this new information. Do we just carry on as normal? Is this what life is now? I suppose it really isn’t harming anyone — but wow is it something.

To expand on this, though we can’t fully unpack what the reasoning behind all of this is — it feels a bit like a personal branding play. Thanks for indulging!

Sit back and enjoy, because this kind of thing is what life is all about. Humans are weird! So weird, in so many different ways. Often that weirdness is hidden and comes out in ways that shock and disappoint you, after the person lulled you into thinking you knew what to expect from them. So it’s lovely when someone wears their weirdness like a peacock’s plumes, right there for all to see from the get-go.

And this is the sort of amazing and wonderful thing that makes work more interesting. You don’t need to worry about determining exactly where it’s coming from or why, although you should also feel free to indulge yourself in private speculation (emphasis on private; do not mock her with others). Does she believe she now sounds more sophisticated? (That was the Madonna theory, right?) Has she been binge watching British TV and picked it up without realizing it? Is she in disguise or possibly on the lam? Was she actually British this whole time and it was the American accent that was the fake? There are so many possibilities, and each one is fascinating.

So my advice to you: ENJOY THIS SPECTACLE. Another one so intriguing may not pass your way again for a while.

{ 332 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamboree*

    Have we never had a followup from this user? OP if you’re out there, I have often wondered about your coworker. Please update!

    1. ferrina*

      YES! Did the accent remain? Did the person ever do the accent to an actual British person?

      1. Couldn't Pick A Username*

        surreal answer: yes the accent remained. the person eventually left for another job but the accent stayed behind floating in the air. every day it randomly inhabits someone else constantly seeking the perfect host. It’s tried me 3 times, took me 5 hours to stop talking cockney last time.

      2. Rainbow*

        I’m British and I used to live in America. It took me literal weeks to figure out that what my fellow student was doing at me was supposed to be a “British accent”…. I just thought he talked weird. Apparently he was using me to practice. He needed it.

    2. KayDeeAye*

      This is one of my all-time favorite letters, and I simply *yearn* to hear what happened. Though if nothing happened – if nobody ever found out why the accent-shift occurred – I guess that wouldn’t be very satisfying either. ::sigh:: Life, she is filled with mysteries.

      1. anonymous maus*

        Personally, I love all of the creative writing answers. I find it much more satisfying to not know, since reality would simply either be “We never got an explanation” or “The accent disappeared one day just as suddenly as it had appeared. No one knows why.”

    3. Accent Adjacent*

      I am not the original letter writer but I worked at the same place and know who it’s about. The person continued using the accent and would occasionally post unsolicited Twitter threads about how they were now using their “real” accent! They eventually left the company and became an influencer. Everyone at the company continues to find it bizarre and amusing.

      1. No Longer Working*

        So they were really British and faking an American accent for some reason?

        1. Jaxel*

          I get the impression by the use of quotations around real that it might have been more that the person wished they were British, rather than actually BEING British. Perhaps I’m wrong, but nothing in the original letter or the update indicates that the accent was terribly accurate or convincing (for instance, describing it as “Madonna-esque.”)

      2. Armchair Analyst*

        but have you seen the original accent-er and Hillaria Baldwin in the same room?

      3. Brain the Brian*

        I had a friend who did this in high school. He stopped when he got to college and realized no one believed him or found it interesting at all.

  2. The Shenanigans*

    This is amazing. I agree with the advice to sit back and be amused. I love stories like this – it’s not sad or scary or bad. It’s just weird.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. As long as they aren’t mimicking to insult – well, people are weird and enjoy the free show.

    2. Writer Claire*

      Confession time: many many years ago, I was part of an amateur drama group. Several of the members were close to professional in experience, and they had money to burn for props, sets, and costumes–for one play, a member loaned us her mink coat–but really our whole goal was to have fun. I won’t even get into the time Paul Newman came to one of the cast parties.

      Anyway. I had a tiny part in our production of Pygmalion. What with the genuine English actors, the voice coaches, and the need for us Yanks to use English accents, I found myself accidentally using a Cockney accent at work more than once. My co-workers were kind and only gave me a little bit of grief.

      1. Ticotac*

        Hey, it happens. I have lived in the UK for years, and sometimes I’ll just randomly go super posh for absolutely no reason whatsoever

        1. By Golly*

          I have a British co-worker (in the US) who threatens/offers to use her “super efficient, posh British accent” on people who are not complying with our needs. I love it so much. She is the picture of efficiency and helpfulness, and her accent just makes it all the better, especially when deployed with extra emphasis for those who need a fire lit under them.

  3. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Obligatory British question: what *part* of Britain? I’d actually be impressed at a decent Maccam or Birmingham accent.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Darn, that’s the easiest to do! Wanna impress me you got to break out from the BBC newsreader voice.

        1. Lanlan*

          I was raised hearing all the Englishes, so it really is an effort to stick to standard American English — when I fail at that, I either default to Northwest England or Australia.

        1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

          Or ‘Love Island’ … depending on when the original letter was written …

          1. Storm in a teacup*

            Omg this made me think of Chris Pratt on Graham Norton a few years ago saying he loved TOWIE and then going into a perfect Essex accent!

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              Some people are just natural mimics (I can physically ‘feel’ where someone is talking or singing from, though my attempts at the singing do not always work out as well. Yes, I’m a mutant).

      1. Pippa K*

        Similarly, thanks to the Bake Off, both my husband and I are incapable of saying “you’ve overworked it” in anything but full Scouse.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Yeah, overworked and banana are two words that have been permanently altered in my brain…

            1. Llama Llama Workplace Drama*

              If you’ve ever watched ‘Lost in the Pond’ on YouTube he mentions oregano a few times in his videos that deal with different pronounciations.

              1. vonlowe!*

                on the flip side the or REG ano sounds wild to me (but that’s the joy of accents!)

        2. Red*

          Omg there’s that one british chef lady. Like I guess the british rachel ray if I had to take a stab in the dark and she pronouces Microwave “mee-cro-wah-vay” and that is now the official pronunciation in my home casue it’s too damn funny.

          1. londonedit*

            That’s Nigella Lawson, and she doesn’t actually pronounce it like that. She said it that way as a bit of a joke and then the internet decided to go mad over it.

      2. Cartographical*

        You can never watch to much Time Team! But, you are correct, this is a legitimate hazard of binge watching. Maybe she was just really into archaeology?

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          My people! (But my internal monologue likes to mimic Tony or Stewart rather than Phil, alas).

        2. Anima*

          Oh, found my people! I watched so much Time Team during the
          panini that I don’t know the German words for certain things anymore – that’s a trowel and that’s it.
          I still watch Time Team (the new episodes are different but I like them), but not that religiously.

          1. RedinSC*

            Is “panini” how we’re referring to pandemic now? If so, I’m totally in! I LOVE THIS. I hope it wasn’t an autocorrect.

            1. Poly Anna*

              ‘Panini’/‘pandemonium’ was used on some platforms because ‘pandemic’ could set off all sorts of content filters.

            2. Nancy*

              People have been referring to it as such since 2020, not to be funny (because it really isn’t), but to get around being censored by filters.

      3. many bells down*

        I had a similar problem after binging Red Dwarf the first time. I don’t think I do a very good Scouse lol

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I’m a Scouser and I can tell you you’re not alone! I’ve only ever heard two non Scousers (who weren’t voice trained actors) pull it off, and both responded to the compliment with “me mum is Scouse”.

      4. Lady Scrub*

        So true – after binging the Great Pottery Throwdown, I was literally dreaming & thinking in an English accent…

        1. Storm in a teacup*

          Do you get the pottery thrown down in the states too? What about the Great British Sewing Bee? That’s prob my favourite out of all of that style of show
          *swoons over Patrick*

        1. Not Australian*

          Joining in, but missing Mick: I can never say ‘cathedral’ in any accent but his.

      1. Panicked*

        My facorite Doctor! Eccleston had so many great lines. I’m partial to “Now I’m going to die in a dungeon…. in *Cardiff.*”

    1. Irish Teacher*

      It might be different in America, but to me, a “British accent” would probably mean RP. Any of the others would probably be described more specifically – a Glasgow accent, Cockney, a Liverpool accent, whatever – but RP…well, to be honest, I think of it as “generic English” ’cause I wouldn’t associate it with Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland, but it’s still the one I’d expect to hear described as a “British accent.”

      1. Bagpuss*

        MR too, but I suspect that just as most of us in the UK couldn’t pick out accents from different states / regions in the USA , most Americans would be less familiar with the different regional accents here .

        (I recall my sister, while working in the States, being told by a co-worker that they loved hearing her voice because when she spoke “It was like Princess Diana never died” . My sister sounded *nothing* like Diana – not even slightly posh or Sloane Ranger …)

        1. kicking-k*

          Yup. I’m from Edinburgh and have the accent described by Wikipedia as “Scottish English”. You don’t hear it much on TV. Unless they know it already, most people from other English-speaking countries find it moderately confusing. They can hear I’m not from the US, and I sound my terminal “r”s so I’m not English or Australian…

          I do have an accidental accent story though. Once, when I was an agency waitress, I got sent on a multi-day corporate hospitality job with a team who were (coincidentally) all Australian but me. It was _very_ catching. I can’t normally mimic accents at all, but by day two, I was doing it whether I wanted to or not, and guests were asking me how long I’d been over.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            My dad was fishing in Canada and a Scotsman came next to him and they began talking. The Scots fellow became very upset–he thought my dad was mocking him, when he was just picking up the accent without thinking about it.

            After a week in BC, we re-entered the US and the customs official spent a lot more time talking to me than my husband–apparently I’d picked a Canadian accent and he wanted to make sure I wasn’t trying to sneak in, despite all the paperwork we had.

    2. Berkeleyfarm*

      I lived in Brum for a year, and could only manage Brum when I had been drinking a lot. (I was at uni so not a lot of people with Brum accents in my orbit.)

      I had a nice line in transatlantic for a while although a lot of the people I was around were northerners which I found easier to pick up (vowels not as exaggerated in some of RP).

      I will tell you that I sounded very odd at a point after I had returned where I dropped a lot of the transatlantic accent but was using a British intonation/word cadence with my California farmgirl twang.

      1. kicking-k*

        My sister (Scottish) spent two years studying in Sheffield. She had to adopt the local Yorkshire cadence for a few things, such as catching the bus: The Moor shopping mall was a frequent destination but if she asked for a ticket to “The Moooorrrr” often the driver didn’t catch it on first pass, whereas “T’Maw” was much clearer…

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Yes, my father-in-law could do an Irish brogue, but only when he was *very* upset with a situation or person. His kids learned that when they heard the Irish that they had better be really quiet and/or good.

  4. Babushka*

    I had a coworker that would start speaking in a fake British or Russian accent when we were at happy hours. She lived in the US her whole life and was a descendant of WASPSs so it’s not like she spent time living in the UK or Russia. If you pointed it out she would say that it’s just something that happened when she was tipsy and she couldn’t help it. People were pretty universally annoyed by her because she was both attention seeking and an elitist and people had no problem telling her that wasn’t a thing and to use her normal voice. lol

    1. londonedit*

      As an actual British person I am cringing because I’m 99% sure this woman’s ‘British’ accent is full-on Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Though props to her if by ‘British accent’ she means Scouse or Geordie or Wolverhampton.

      1. Merci Dee*

        I love the Mary Poppins movie, and I loved the enthusiasm that Dick van Dyke brought to the role of Bert, but wow ….. that accent was something else. I know it’s outrageous and very badly done, but I still find it charming for some reason.

        1. londonedit*

          I think the story is that he only found out he’d got the role at the last minute, and then discovered he was meant to be an East End chimney sweep, to boot – so he did the best he could with barely any time to actually learn the accent or anything. Might be an urban myth but it would at least partly explain it! Either that or he’s just terrible at accents. It is part of what makes the film what it is, I agree, but it’s also set us British people up for a lifetime of ‘Oi, Moiry Paahpunns’ impersonations by Americans who think they’re ‘doing a British accent’ so that’s the other side of the coin!

          1. randref*

            Here’s what he said on an NPR game show (

            VAN DYKE: Oh, I don’t talk to British people because they just make a mess of me.
            SAGAL: Really?
            VAN DYKE: Oh, they tease me to death about it.
            SAGAL: Are they good natured about it at least?
            VAN DYKE: Oh, sure. They just tease me. But I’ll never hear the end of that. But I have a defense.
            SAGAL: What is your defense, sir?
            VAN DYKE: They got me a coach who was Irish. His name was Pat O’Malley and he didn’t do an accent any better than I did.

          2. Luva*

            Dick Van Dyke has said that he got one hour of coaching from an Irish accent coach who also couldn’t do a cockney accent; oops!

          3. Not Australian*

            You should try Josh Hartnett’s ‘Yorkshire’ in ‘Blow Dry’ some time. “It’s Dad! He’s cottin’!”

        2. Ellis Bell*

          I find it charming too. It’s not like the sets or storyline were realistic either! I could possibly feel differently if I were cockney and people really thought that’s what it sounded like.

        3. fhqwhgads*

          It’s because Dick Van Dyke is charming, even when doing a terrible accent. His charm cannot be stopped.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Oh, I was thinking that it will be the opposite– it’ll be one tiny feature that sounds “British” to Americans, but will be *completely imperceptible* to actual British people. :D

        1. londonedit*

          Oh you could be right! Like parents in the US being convinced their children are ‘speaking in a British accent’ because they watch Peppa Pig, when in fact the kids are just saying something slightly more like ‘Mummy’ than ‘Mommy’. My nephew watches a lot of Bluey and will sometimes come out with an Aussie-tinged ‘Nooooo’, but that doesn’t mean he’s ‘picked up an Australian accent’.

          1. Barrie*

            I grew up watching hours of Australian soaps every day and I often have people asking if I’m Australian. I definitely picked up some Aussie twang on certain words- even now 20 years later.

            1. Reetgood*

              We are from Yorkshire, and spent a lot of our 3 weeks in California being asked repeatedly where in Australia we were from. I have no idea why. Perhaps because my partner says ‘mate’ as in ‘cheers, mate’. A lot of problems securing water too.
              ‘Can I have some water please?’
              ‘Some water please?’
              Some wadder?
              ! Certainly

          2. Cheshire Cat*

            My granddaughter watches Peppa Pig and has definitely picked up the British pronunciation of certain words. Not a full British accent, though!

            1. kicking-k*

              My children picked up a lot of American slang words from cartoons, but almost all have now vanished again. Oddly enough they both sound more like their English father than their Scottish mother, despite living and going to school in Scotland. I’m puzzled by that.

          3. Wendy Darling*

            My partner is from a non-US English speaking country but after 15+ years in the US his accent is a whole mess. People in his home country think he sounds American, people in America think he sounds foreign.

            It took him YEARS AND YEARS though.

          4. Not Totally Subclinical*

            I’m American and grew up in the southern US. When I visited the midwestern US as a teen, I had multiple people ask me if I were British because they thought I had a British accent. I still have no idea what made them think I sounded British.

            1. But what to call me?*

              I’m from the lower midwest, have lived in the lower midwest all my life, have parents and grandparents who have lived in the lower midwest all or most of their lives, look very generically lower midwestern, and yet for some reason people are always asking me where I’m from because apparently I sound like I have an accent? No one has ever been able to figure out why.

              1. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

                I had an English teacher in 9th grade ask me where I grew up. I was like, “Um, here?” He said I had an accent. (I think I just apparently pronounced a few words at the end of sentences slightly weirdly?) I just thought “You’re the one from Boston, but *I* have an accent?!” And also, “Thanks for giving me a complex and making it so I will no longer be able to say certain things without thinking about it.”

        2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          I got asked if I was British by a co-worker, right after he’d asked me if my tiny LED light was solar powered. “No, it’s mains,” I’d said. Because saying “It’s electric” would have been completely incoherent, and it wasn’t AC either, it had a DC converter plug. To quote Steve Rogers, it did seem to be powered by some form of electricity, and American English doesn’t seem to specify the unmarked case really well.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I work with a guy who is originally from Ontario but has spent a long time with the engineering crew in Stoke on Trent. Now he has a really interesting accent!

        (Note to anyone not in the know – fake cockney, aka the Mary Poppins, is going to get you some bad looks from the Brits. And for the love of Avalon don’t try it)

        1. So many jobs*

          I used to know a Texan who moved to Yorkshire as a teen. His accent was amazing.

            1. Briefly anon*

              My father speaks perfectly good (in the sense of vocabulary and grammar) Spanish but has no ear for accents at all. He’s from Arkansas. The effect is *amazing*. It can’t really be represented phonetically, but – coe moe es-tawn, y’all?

              1. Corrvin (they/them)*

                I speak French with a great Kentucky accent, so I dig it. (I’m not from Kentucky, but one of my French teachers was!)

                1. Wendy Darling*

                  I had a high school classmate in AP 4th year French who spoke French with a valley girl accent. Her grammar and vocabulary were fine, she just could not do the phonology.

                2. Anna*

                  When I was studying in China, I had a Vietnamese-French classmate who spoke Chinese with a French accent. It sounded so charming!

          1. Sally Forth*

            I have a Glaswegian friend who has lived in Australia for 25 years. It’s not just the accent, but the word usage that cracks me up.

          2. kicking-k*

            I caught an interview once with a graffiti artist, originally from France, who now lives in Dundee (Scotland). French-Dundonian makes a very interesting combo.

        2. Tau*

          Moving around can do wonky things. I lived in the northeastern US as a kid, took mandatory (British) ESL lessons in German high school, then spent ten years living in Scotland and three in southern England. I am pretty sure I have an entirely unique dialect of English by now, and keeping track of all the places people have thought I was from is fun (for some reason Ireland gets mentioned a lot, which I don’t understand at all.)

          1. MendraMarie*

            American in the UK here. I find that Irish gets mentioned when people think “well, it’s not *quite* English, and it’s not *quite* American…. must be Irish!”

            1. Media Monkey*

              my dad (from scotland) lived in texas for 20 years. he never lost his accent but did pick up american words (cellphone, gasoline, mall). people always guessed he was either irish or german.

              1. Irish Teacher*

                That would totally make sense as Irish because the Northern Irish accent sounds to me a lot like the Scottish one, only less strong (I’m guessing to people who are neither Irish nor Scottish, it would sound like a mix of an Irish accent and a Scottish one?), but we use some American terms and some British ones (and sometimes just use random ones of our own, like “mineral” instead of soda or soft drink or whatever). Now, those examples are all ones where we use the British terms, but we do say “pants” rather than “trousers” and “soccer” for “football” and “college” for “uni.”

                Now, it is in the Republic that we use those terms. I think in Northern Ireland, they use “uni” and “college” at least as the British do. Not sure about the others. But I’m not sure I’d expect people in Texas to distinguish between different Irish accents and word usage.

              2. kicking-k*

                Yes, this happens to me every time I’m in the States. Northern Irish? German? Maybe something Scandinavian? No, it’s Edinburgh.

          2. Elitist Semicolon*

            I had a prof in grad school whose dad was Italian, whose mom was Scottish, and who had grown up in South Africa as well as Italy and Scotland. His accent somehow averaged out to Oxbridge.

      4. WheresMyPen*

        Or even Scottish or Welsh! If they’re going to specify that it’s a British accent rather than an English one, I’d hope they’re breaking out Glaswegian or West Wales :D

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Every time I think of a Welsh accent I think of Tracy Pritchard from W1A saying “I’m not the sort of person who gets the coffee in life.”

    2. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I also often find myself doing a very comically bad fake Russian accent when I am lit. Drunk Me just thinks it’s sooooo funny. I wouldn’t call it an accident but also because I am drunk I don’t especially notice myself doing it.

      Your coworker seems weird and the class associations with accents suck, but I am 100% on board with folk who just like to do funny little voices because it’s fun. It’s the TTRPG player in me.

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        Lol drunk me in New York was always trying to fake and American accent to convince people I was actually local – until I realised my British accent got me more freebies ;)

    3. Admin of Sys*

      Eh – I picked up an accidental accent from listening to bbc as a kid and trying to mimic doctor who all the time, and that still occasionally kicks in if i’m not paying attention and am super tired. I’m not saying she wasn’t attention seeking but she may not have actually been doing it on purpose.

    4. Lady_Lessa*

      While I am not doubting your judgement about your co-worker, I do have some interesting tales about involuntary accent changes. I have Irish ancestry and have been known, when playing around with friends to do a fake one. That was/is under strict control. But one time, when in an Irish goods store (in the US), my accent went from slightly Southern to Irish. I could NOT control it and I was so very, very embarrassed by it.

      My college roommate did some missionary activity in the Kentucky mountains, and I could tell when she was talking to someone from down there by how her accent changed to more of a mountain one. She was from north of Chicago, and didn’t have much of an accent to my ears.

      1. Energetic Freesia*

        Accent imitation when speaking with a person who has that actual accent is a well known linguistic phenomenon. It isn’t attention grabbing or mocking or any of the things that people attribute to accent adoption. It’s really a semiconscious effect, not a conscious adoption.
        I was just speaking with someone with a strong English accent, and it took every ounce of self control that I had not to mirror her. OTOH, I’m a transplant to Texas, and when I speak with someone with a noticeable Texas accent, I just let it out bc I live here, too, now.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          When we go back down South (USA) to visit mom’s people, her accent returns. Fair enough. My sister and I also suddenly have Southern accents without having ever lived there. It isn’t a conscious choice, it just happens.

          1. Llama Identity Thief*

            This is my dad with a New England accent. He grew up in Boston, but went the academic route and is able to keep what is in my experience a voice with no regional accents (i.e. pure American accent), I think largely due to academia. But when we’re up around family and friends for more than two days suddenly his Rs are a lot less likely to stay attached to words.

            Meanwhile my mom has lived in the South for 28 years and still sounds like she’s from the heart of Boston.

            1. Kacihall*

              my mom grew up in Queens, moved to Florida for her freshman year of high school. her parents still had an accent, but not much of one – she doesn’t like a new Yorker at all. unless she’s angry, at which point it’s like she never left. I might have annoyed her as a kid just to make her sound funny.

        2. Squirrel Nutkin (the teach, not the admin)*

          Yes, I tend to do this — my accent can have an overlay of anything from New Jersey, New York, California, Michigan, or New England/New Hampshire to British received pronunciation depending on the person with whom I’m speaking. It usually happens with places I’ve lived for a while or where someone I speak with a lot has lived for a while. The worst thing that happened is that once a stranger on a plane started speaking with a slavic accent of some kind that reminded me of the elder Roumanians in my family, and I started getting an overlay of that as we conversed on the plane: I seemed to have accidentally triggered some authority’s suspicion that I was a spy. It was wild.

        3. Audrey Horne*

          I (British) talk to American customers all night long and often have to stop myself talking with an American accent, I don’t mean to imitate but when it’s all you’ve heard in the last 7 hours it’s gonna happen.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            I’ve been binge watching Happy Valley for two days and I now call everyone “Love.” I am helpless to stop it so I will be spending tomorrow finishing off season 3 all alone and hope that it passes…

        4. marvin*

          This is interesting to me because I don’t have this at all–when I’m surrounded by people with a different accent, it just makes me more aware of my own accent.

          1. kicking-k*

            That’s usually how it works for me _except_ with Glasgow or Australian accents. Those I adopt quite involuntarily. I live fear someone will think I’m mocking them.

        5. Quoth the Raven*

          I’m a Spanish native speaker but people always think I’m from the American Midwest when I speak in English because I’ve been in a relationship with a Michigander for ages. I have a good ear for accents, too, so it’s very easy for me to pick them up when I speak to other people without even realising I’m doing it. It can be mortifying sometimes.

        6. Cheshire Cat*

          Ooh, I’ll have to tell my sister about this! We spent a week in England 20 years ago, and went to church on the Sunday we were there. The rest of the congregation was local. Midway through the service, we were reciting a prayer and she started elbowing me and giving me “cut that out” looks. Turns out, I was reading the prayers in a British accent. I had no idea I was doing it!

        7. Wendy Darling*

          It’s also a thing people do to signal that they’re in the same group as you. E.g. when I’m overseas with my partner’s family I pick up their accent in nothing flat because I love them, whereas when I was studying in a different city in the US that I hated I’d never sounded more Californian in my life because I was subconsciously going I’M NOT WITH THEM!!! the whole time.

      2. I edit everything*

        Some people involuntarily start to mimic what they hear. I’ll do it when I go south, and it’s hard to stop. It’s definitely not a conscious choice. But it’s triggered by *hearing* the accent, which doesn’t seem to be happening in the described situations.

    5. H.Regalis*

      That would drive me up a wall XD I’d have to leave if she didn’t stop.

      Unrelated: I run a TTPRG game where the players all use really thick, over-the-top Boston accents for their characters (it makes sense for the characters and the game setting), and one player has a hard time turning it off when the game is done, so they’ll go home and spend the rest of the night talking like that.

    6. Giant Kittie*

      My mom grew up in Texas but moved to California n her teens. By the time us kids were born, she had lost most of her accent, so that most people couldn’t tell unless they were also from Texas, but she did still have quirks like saying “warsh” instead of “wash” or pronouncing “ornery” as “awnry”.

      My dad had lost all of his Midwest accent and spoke like a Californian/generic American accent, so my brother and I grew up speaking like all the people around us.

      Until I got older and started drinking. To my absolute horror, every time I got even tipsy, I started speaking in a distinct Texan twang that I had unconsciously picked up from what was left of it in my mother’s speech. Not only did I have no control over it, had to make a concentrated effort to overcome it any time I drank.

      I did not want to sound that way on purpose and I sure AF was not trying to “get attention” by talking like a cowgirl, LMAO.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        My mom is from New Jersey and moved to California when she was in her mid twenties (against her parents’ wishes!) She doesn’t really have an accent except on the word “frog” (frag) and the name Doris (Daaris). We used to tease her mercilessly about it. We were horrible children!

    1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

      I had to scroll way too far for this because this was absolutely the first thing that came to mind.

    1. Empress Penguin*

      I live in Yorkshire… you could cut some of my colleagues’ accents with a knife!

      1. bamcheeks*

        I also live in Yorkshire and I notice stronger and lighter Yorkshire accents (and obviously the differences between accents within Yorkshire), but I always think “thick” is such a weird way to describe accents.

        1. Empress Penguin*

          It makes sense to me in an almost synaesthetic way – like their accents are so strong that their mouths are full with it. I think only some accents can be described as thick – Yorkshire, Bristolian, Brumby, Glaswegian all spring to mind. No one is calling my flat Midlands monotone thick, that’s for sure!

        2. Random Dice*

          The accent of the old man in Hot Fuzz sounds very thick to me! The one who everyone has to translate for Nicholas Angle.

      2. londonedit*

        I’d really love it if the accent in question was Yorkshire. Or Bristolian. Or heck, a Glasgow or Welsh Valleys or broad Belfast seeing as they’re also British.

          1. UKgreen*

            Arr, ow am yer? Black Country ere ay I? Yow cud cut mar dad’s vaice wi’ a blunt knife an still yow wo know worrees sayin bab.

        1. Llama Identity Thief*

          If I ever pick up a fake British accent, it’s almost guaranteed to be Yorkshire, but I’m pretty sure my boyfriend from Darlington is gonna whack me over the head if I even try.

          1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

            Yorkshire is a huge (in English terms) county, with a variety of accents. [And though you already know it, I feel obliged to punt it that Darlington is actually in Durham, not Yorkshire]. Some years after the original film of The Full Monty came out, I caught it scrolling through channels one night, and realised, having been living in Sheffield myself for a couple of years, that most of the accents weren’t actually Sheffield. But the most convincing accent was from the Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, whose accent wasn’t just Sheffield but North Sheffield – very impressive.

            1. Jill Swinburne*

              Britain is incredible like that. When the Yorkshire Ripper was active in the 80s, there was a hoaxer making calls in an accent they managed to trace to a specific SUBURB of Sunderland. It wasted a lot of police time since the actual Ripper was from Bradford.

            2. londonedit*

              My part of the south-west also has many different variations of accent within the same county – I’m sure it’s the same for most places! The way my grandparents from the south of the county spoke was completely different from the way someone in the north of the county would speak. I can fairly reliably narrow it down to a particular town/location within the county itself.

        2. JB*

          My attempt at a Welsh accent comes out cod Indian. Must be something Torchwood did, bloody Torchwood.

          1. Deejay*

            That’s actually quite common. I’ve heard it said that attempts to do a Welsh accent often fall into the “Turns Indian after five seconds” trap.

      3. Tina*

        She is me, I am her; I do this regularly just because I can. I work in customer service and anything to liven up the day. I have several accents I feel I’m quite good at. It doesn’t hurt anyone so why get your underwear in a bunch. Lol.

  5. nope*

    I had a classmate who would only speak in a British accent. I thought it was her normal accent until I saw her at work and she was speaking in a regular American accent. Turns out she just liked Harry Potter but her boss told her to cut it out.

  6. Dovasary Balitang*

    Is it possible she’s code switching and has English family? Or was born in the UK?

  7. HCW*

    One of the many reasons speculation should be private is that some of the explanations could be medical. I knew someone with MS who would slip into what sounded like a fake accent, but it was just their version of slurring. Brains are weird. They were pretty open about it, but not everyone is going to be candid about their health.

    1. Neil*

      Yes, there’s Foreign Accent Syndrome, for one, which can be caused by a traumatic brain injury.

      1. NOT The BEES!*

        omg I thought you were being dry and sarcastic until I saw a similar response below!

      2. The Shenanigans*

        Yeah but that’s not really likely, is it? I mean there are like 60 cases of that. Total. Worldwide.

        What is VERY common is people doing silly things to get attention.

        1. Victoria Everglot*

          From what I’ve seen in on PBS documentaries, the “accent” they get doesn’t really sound like any actual regional accent.

        2. Melissa*

          Agreed— let’s assume the far, far likelier case, which is a weird affectation. Rather than “she had a stroke that none of us know about and it didn’t affect her in any way whatsoever other than a sudden accent.”

    2. Kat Em*

      Yep, I had a neighbor who had a stroke and then slipped back into their childhood accent, which they hadn’t had in years. It was so strange to witness, but apparently not unusual!

    3. Garblesnark*

      Yeah, I have a family member with partial facial paralysis and British accents are easier for her. Her native accent is hard to understand due to the paralysis unfortunately.

  8. Bluebird*

    I pick up accents and ways of speech when I’m around others and while I realize it, I can’t really help it. I do wonder if she’s been reading/watching something British or has new neighbors/etc. and doesn’t even know she’s doing it.

    1. really*

      I knew someone in college who after three days would sound like all those around her. So her accent changed every time she moved.

    2. Lacey*

      I do too! I had childhood friends who spoke in a way I found slightly annoying.
      Even though I disliked it, if I stayed overnight at their house I’d always find myself slipping into their pronunciation of things.

    3. lilsheba*

      I do that too sometimes, and the easiest ones to pick up are british and southern US.

    4. Celeste*

      I do this too! I feel like I could never move to the UK or else people would mock me for my “fake” accent! It just happens. I had a friend from Canada in college, and picked up her accent on certain words. Now I couldn’t even do it if I tried.

      1. Admin of Sys*

        Heh – I do this, but the few times I’ve interacted with non-american folks, they just assume I’m from somewhere in Europe. I had someone debate with me once about where my accent was from, he didn’t believe me when I told him I was just an American with weird influences.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      Same – not a full blown new accent, but certain local speech mannerisms find their way into my brain. Up until I hit 30 I moved around a lot (US + other countries) so that’s a lot of locals. I would say I don’t have an identifiable regional accent – it’s a generic American accent – but then again Canadians think I sound like a native of the PNW, which may be true by now.

      Binge-watching Downton Abbey and Midsomer Murders did some crazy things to my internal narrative voice, but not so much to my speech!

    6. Energetic Freesia*

      This is common. It’s called linguistic convergence or, more colloquially, the chameleon effect

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I remember meeting a lad at university who had a standard RP accent. On asking where he was from, he replied Liverpool. It transpired that all the other people living on his floor in the hall of residence came from the Home Counties (i.e. around London). Seeing him after the holidays, his Liverpool accent had returned.

    7. Boolie*

      Yes, I watched The Chase Australia on YouTube for a while and it was contagious! I’m sure Aussies would have a fit hearing me but it was amusing.

  9. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I love Allison’s creative, thoughtful, and immensely kind response and reframing.

    1. Energetic Freesia*

      I don’t care for the framing of watching the spectacle. I would have preferred a less “watch the animal in the zoo” response. The David Attenborough approach works well as a form of self-care around a coworker who is doing something toxic that nobody will address, but that’s not what this situation is.

      1. DrSalty*

        What would be better? This is not something OP needs to discuss with the coworker as it’s harmless and not impacting their work. If it’s personally irritating then reframing can work wonders for managing it.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Literally what is wrong with being quietly entertained by the people around you?

        1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          We’d never be able to enjoy a Jane Austen novel, if being quietly amused by the foibles of others were forbidden.

  10. J*

    I remember this letter! Like others, I wished for an update.

    I’m one who unconsciously picks up a bit of British accent and phrasing when I’m around people who speak that way. Not full on by any means, and doesn’t occur with any other accent. It’s not intentional at all. I had a British boss for a couple of years and (much) later a close friend where this happened. So I did have empathy for some of the celebrities who seemed to adopt a British accent when they lived in the UK for some time.

    When I was young, we were stationed with a mix of American and British military staff but I never lived in the UK. So I don’t know if that has a bearing. I’m no good at TRYING to replicate accents or people’s speech, so not like someone who is entertaining as a mimic.

    And there is an actual disorder called Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) associated with a stroke or brain injury. It causes change to speech so that a native speaker seems to speak with a foreign accent.

    1. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Yeah, my accent definitely slips in a similar way. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but I went on a trip a few years ago that was mostly Brits and was told that at the start of the trip I sounded clearly American, but by the end I sounded like a Brit who had been educated abroad. (Or, my personal favourite, when my Welsh ex came to visit me in the US and heard me talk to other Americans for the first time and said, “Baby! You sound so AMERICAN!” in front of my entire work team.)
      It can just happen, but that’s different than the LW’s coworker’s whole “I love Downton Abbey and now I’m one of them” thing she had going on.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I unconsciously adopt accents if I talk extensively with someone from another country – I have to work really hard at NOT adopting their accent.

      1. Natalie*

        I think picking up accents and mannerisms really quickly is supposed to be a sign of high empathy, so maybe you’re just a really nice person! :)

      2. Random Dice*

        Me too. I somehow picked up a Canadian accent when I moved somewhere that’s not at all Canada.

    3. celestial seasonings*

      Yep, there was a guy at our office who had a vaguely Australian accent despite being US-born and raised. He’d been in a motorcycle accident and had developed FAS.

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      Thank you for bringing up FAS. There was a fascinating story on NPR about a woman who spoke with a French accent after an injury and the only time she could sound like she used to was when she sang.

    5. Ey-not-Cy*

      Military kid here, we moved almost every year for most of my childhood, (born overseas, then moved back to the States.) I’m pretty sure I’ve adopted every accent from each part of the country where we lived shortly after being there only a few weeks. I think I’ve heard: “you sound so southern! or east coast, or did you come from Jersey?” Yes, and yes, also pacific northwest, midwest, and a few in-between. It’s a conscious effort to not slip into someone’s accent when talking with someone. I don’t want them to think I’m mocking them–I’m not–I think that was just my way of fitting in and finding my friend group quickly when I was younger. Some habits are ingrained, when you move in the middle of the school year, ten times before graduation. Fortunately my last few years of high school were stable. Dad retired.

      1. workswitholdstuff*

        Army Brat here (UK).

        The moves that affected my accent (Germany at 9 months doesn’t count), were London, Berkshire and then when Dad retired, up to my birthplace of Nottingham.

        3 years at uni in Wales, Welsh and Scottish family, and now 14 years in Yorkshire, it’s a right mix (vaguely midlands to southern, unless I’m echoing someone elses accents, which I def do!)

    6. Cheshire Cat*

      I knee someone in college who spoke with a British accent. My roommate knew her from high school and told me it was an affectation. Supposedly when she got mad she’d revert to her Philadelphia accent.

  11. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Maybe the coworker had a side hustle as a voice actor and was preparing for a role. I just love when the world gives you harmless but odd things that you can speculate about without guilt. (When the speculation is private or at least private via anonymity.)

  12. Rebekah*

    My brother does this except it’s been a long term thing, at least since he was a young teenager. I believe it started with an obsession with Hugh Laurie in Jeeves and Wooster and kinda spiralled from there. It really took hold when he became a waiter and discovered he got much better tips with a British accent. Now it’s a full time thing and just the way he talks. The thing is though, he’s really good at it. British people are constantly trying to pin down which region he comes from.

    I don’t think his co-workers knew it was fake until our sister (with a pure Canadian accent, like a normal Canadian person) got a job at the same place and people were like, “No, you can’t be siblings. Okay maybe siblings but you aren’t like full siblings who were raised together, right??!!” Yes. Yes they were.

    1. Texas Teacher*

      Accents are so interesting! I have a family member whose kids have different accents, despite being raised in the same household. One has what I would call a neutral American accent and the other a pronounced Boston one (where they live). They are teenagers now and I haven’t seen them in years so I don’t know if the accents have held.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’ve seen that in the UK as well. Met a family in the west midlands. Mum & dad had the strong regional accent, as did one sibling who worked in auto sales. The other two were working in a bank and had consciously trained themselves to use a more posh accent. very interesting to hear the third brother slip into it too, and he pointed out he worked to stay regional because it relaxed his customers.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      “I believe it started with an obsession with Hugh Laurie in Jeeves and Wooster”

      I mean, there are worse things.

      1. JB*

        Hugh Laurie’s attempt at an American accent the Blackadder Christmas Carol special is hilarious.

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          I haven’t seen Blackadder, but Laurie sounded like a Midwesterner in “House.”

          1. D'Arcy*

            He sounds authentic and ‘normal’ enough in House that a *lot* of people honestly didn’t realize he wasn’t an American actor.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’d swoon if Stephen Fry rocked up and started speaking to me, no word of a lie.

    3. BubbleTea*

      I have friends who are siblings, from a non-English speaking country. One learned English at school from an American teacher. The other learned English online from British friends on a computer game. They are both fluent with completely different accents.

      1. WS*

        My dad and his sister have different accents – they were both born in Scotland, grew up in Zimbabwe, and moved to Australia in their teens, but my dad was still in high school and was bullied so much he acquired an Australian accent in a matter of weeks. His sister had finished school and has a nice mix of Scottish/South African/Australian, with each getting stronger if she speaks to a person with that accent. My dad sounds entirely Australian, unless he’s speaking to someone from the Aberdeen area specifically. They’ve been here over 50 years by now!

    4. Timothy (TRiG)*

      I’m the oldest of three children. My parents are English, but moved to Ireland before I was born. My two younger siblings sound Irish, but I sound English, though I’ve lived in Ireland all my life. I tend to blame BBC Radio 4.

    5. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Adding to the list another family with different accents: my friend was 12 when they immigrated from Europe to North America, and his siblings were all a few years younger. My friend kept his accent, while his sibs all lost theirs and sound fully PNW-ish to me, except for a few different word choices. I learned later that 11-12 is about the age where your brain cements your first language accent – so neat!

      1. allathian*

        Yes, can confirm.

        We lived in the UK for a year when I was 12-13 and my sister was 10-11. We had only rudimentary English when we went there, but learned very fast because we had to. We went there in summer so we could start school at the start of the school year, by Christmas my English was good enough that I no longer needed a student tutor in class. When we left, my vocabulary was somewhat larger than hers, but her accent sounded more local than mine. When I speak English now, I have a vaguely foreign accent with British overtones (but definitely not the typical Finnish accent that you can hear when Finnish athletes are interviewed in English), but the West Country accent that I heard when I first learned English remains the most homey one to me. I’m just sad that you very rarely hear this on British TV shows (I’d love to see a crime show set in Devon). This in spite of switching to American English online nearly 30 years ago.

  13. Prospect Gone Bad*

    This story is funny but I hate when people overanalyze accents. As many places, we have a strong local accent, a generic American accent, and some younger people have a weaker local accent. I’ve lived in many places and have been called out for “faking an accent” when I 100% do not hear what the other person is claiming. It annoyed me to no end, I was always like, I was just in Texas or wherever for six months, give me five minutes to acclimate back. I think people forget that it can also be hard to upkeep a strong local accent if you literally never hear it but hear words pronounced different way 100X since the last time you spoke to anyone from your hometown.

    While Madonna may be elitist for other reasons, I don’t fault her for not upkeeping a strong (NY?) accent when you are constantly barraged with other accents for months on end with little break. Also many Americans abroad speak with the generic American accent, or you may not even be around Americans at all

    1. Melissa*

      I understand your concern. But the problem in this person’s workplace is that the co-worker’s accent suddenly changed! I understand being annoyed generally– I’m from Alabama and I hear a lot of “But you don’t sound Southern!” But if I walked into my office next week and *suddenly* sounded like Dolly Parton, I would expect people to be a little baffled by that.

    2. A person*

      I’ve lived in several Midwest states over my lifetime and all of them have a distinct accent. I usually pick it up after a little bit, but if I spend a bunch of time with family or friends from a previous state, I’ll fall back into some of the pronunciations and vernacular from other places I’ve lived and I don’t always realize it unless someone points it out.

      I’m not saying it’s necessary for anyone to point this out to the person, just that for some people it’s typical to fall quickly into speech patterns of those you’re around.

      A random British accent is probably not as likely to be this (slight variations on a regional accent), but I agree with others that if she’s been watching a bunch of British tv in her off-time there’s a slight chance.

    3. Joron Twiner*

      Nobody faults Madonna for not upkeeping her local accent. It’s her weird affected Britishy accent that she puts on to try to sound more elegant and elite to American ears.

  14. bflatlocrian*

    I actually did this, temporarily, but I told everyone why: I was working at a grocery store while I was a theatre major in college, taking a dialects class. I only did it around coworkers, who I’d explained to, so as to avoid any customers thinking I was mocking them/someone. Drove one manager crazy for a few days, but I passed that unit exam!

  15. Molly*

    I remember this one, and I too would love a follow-up.
    Both my parents and all but one of my grandparents are solidly upstate NY (and the upstate “a” slips out just enough to prove it. However, one branch of my family had, by education, what I always called a finishing school accent, not unlike a faint upper class British accent, along with some of the phrasing. And my entire family has always said “to-mah-to”. Not sure why, but all of us at least through my generation say this. When I am speaking to people from the UK, I start unconsciously mirroring their accent. I try to control it, but give me a glass of wine and it comes out full force!
    And then, my grandfather was from the south. He didn’t have a noticeable accent, but his sisters sure did. So when I’m speaking to people with southern accents, I tend to mirror that. I do it so well that I’ve actually had to show ID to prove I’m a Yankee.
    But, this mirroring only occurs when I’m talking to people with these accents!

    1. Fun facts*

      Oh yeah, mirroring is absolutely a well-documented thing in sociolinguistics – it has to do with liking people and wanting people to like you, among other things.

      1. Professor Plum*

        If you Google search “WNY accent” you’ll find explanations and samples.

    2. Prospect Gone Bad*

      The Southern one is VERY easy to mirror without even realizing it. IMO it’s just very natural to lapse into

    3. Elitist Semicolon*

      Oh man, that Upstate NY “a”! My mother’s is very, very pronounced. I worked to drop mine but it will come back if I’m home too long. My Dad grew up in Canada so depending on who I’m talking to at any given moment, there’s a 50-50 split as to whether I’ll sound Upstater or Canadian.

  16. dorothy zbornak*

    Just watched an episode of Parks & Rec yesterday where Tom fakes a British accent to impress a woman who is way out of his league LOL.

  17. Rage*

    I do accents occasionally, just for fun, but I don’t, like, pretend it’s my actual accent. British and Russian are my favorites.

    One time, years ago, I had a boss who used to call me Rachel-ooski on occasion. I didn’t mind, it was just a weird thing he did. One time he did it in front of about 70 HR professionals at a seminar we were hosting. His name was Gordon.

    “Isn’t that Right, Rachel-ooski?” He said.

    Without missing a beat, I put on my best Russian accent and replied, “Dat iss right, Gordechov.”

    1. Enai*

      Don’t leave us hanging – how did the joke land? Did the two of you present the entire rest of the talk in fake Russian accents? Or was everybody very boring and polite about it and ignored the banter?

      1. Rage*

        I got a round of laughs out of a room full of HR people. So I think it landed well. But TBH I think “Gordechov” missed the joke entirely. Nice guy, but totally clueless.

        What was a lot more fun was my first job, while I was in high school, working at Burger King. On Halloween, I was running the drive thru and started taking orders with a Dracula/Sesame Street Count accent.

        “Good evening. Velcome to Burger King AH-AH-AH.”

        “That’s VUN VOPPER VITH CHEESE AH-AH-AH. Vould you like fries vith dat?”

        1. Squirrel Nutkin (the teach, not the admin)*

          OMG, the Count accent! I’ll bet you made everyone’s night with that. : ) (Of course, if you counted the individual french fries, it could take a while.)

        2. flchen1*

          Oh my goodness! That is stellar, @Rage–I would have VERY much enjoyed going through your line on Halloween. AH-AH-AH!

          1. Rage*

            I ended up with about half the other staff on shift responding in kind (VUN VOPPER VITH CHEESE UP AH-AH-AH). The shift managers watched for a few minutes and just shook their heads. We were a crop of loons, no doubt about it.

  18. NeedRain47*

    I watch lots of British shows and listen to British radio every day… have for 20 years….. still no accent. In fact I’m much more conscious of the fact that there are multiple accents (and can pick out a few).

    What I *do* do sometimes is use vocabulary that’s more British than American. Like “fit” for good looking or “trainers” for sneakers. People understand it but it’s less common phrasing here.

    1. Rage*

      I picked up a bit when I visited Great Britain some years ago. But, then, I pick up accents fairly quickly. I live in the Midwest, but my folks are in south Georgia. You can always tell if I’ve been visiting them, because the “y’all’s” and “bless-your-hearts” come out in full-force.

      Then I go see my dad’s family in Minnesota and sound like I was an extra in the movie Fargo.

    2. Boolie*

      I love saying someone is well fit xx. We also say bollocks around the house in our natural American accents LOL (That’s BS = that’s total bollocks). It’s just second nature at this point.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I use a lot of the American terms which tend to be the ones you use when speaking to people in a global space (like here), and gosh some British people are so precious about that, even if the context I’m discussing is an American one. They know what I mean because a huge proportion of our films and TV is American; they just don’t like it. I don’t see how it’s any different from French or German borrowings – just use the best word for the situation regardless of origin. Lots of my students are starting to say to-may-to and my pearls remain unclutched. Language changes and travels.

    4. Salad Daisy*

      I worked for 2 British companies for a total of almost 20 years and although I don’t have the accent, I did pick up the vocabulary.

    5. Kate*

      I also have a very British vocabulary, thanks to my English husband. My daughter (5) codeswitches well, although when she was younger she’d occasionally correct my pronunciation if I was sounding too American. (“Mummy, it’s yoghurt, not yogurt.” And yes, she calls me Mummy, courtesy of my husband referring to me that way.)

      I once almost lost it at work when someone told me they’d put the filing I was working on in the bin. It was a long few seconds before I realized they meant the FedEx bin and not the trash can (which is a rubbish bin in my house). And I once confused a grocery store worker after they’d reorganized when I asked where I could find the tinned fruit. I went a bit Western New York when I asked for a can of pineapple instead and that did the trick.

  19. Wow*

    I don’t think Americans realize how annoying it is when they try to imitate a British accent. And the accent is usually wrong most of the time.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        This seems unnecessarily snarky. People have a right to feel like they’re being mocked, or fetishized, or simply annoyed by fakery. Especially bad fakery.

        1. NeedRain47*

          It seems unnecessarily snarky for someone to come on here and be like YOU PEOPLE ARE ESPECIALLY ANNOYING. I don’t think the british have a monopoly on being irritated by bad fake accents or are exempt from doing them, either.

    1. AMH*

      I think it’s hard for some to hear a mangling of your accent regardless of who is doing it (look, I love Benedict Cumberbatch but man, his Boston accent in Black Mass was not great — which is the case for most people attempting one). This really isn’t an Americans vs the world thing.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        As a British person who lived in the US for a long time, I haaaaaaate hearing British actors do bad American accents. (Yeah, Dominic West, that means you.) My ears can pick out every single British-sounding syllable and it annoys me no end.

        As a general rule, the easiest accent to do is the one that’s furthest away from your own, which is why so many British actors tend to do great Southern accents. Standard American is SO difficult if you have a British accent.

        When I was living in the US, hearing Americans do British accents didn’t bother me and I usually found it sort of endearing!

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          As a Southerner, they actually often do *not* do great Southern accents. They usually do pretty great stereotypes of Southern accents, though. But anyone not from the South probably can’t tell how the accent is off.

          You know who generally do great American accents, including Southern(ish) accents? Australians. I don’t know what that it is, but I’ve definitely noticed a pattern.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            Yeah, it can often be the super-clichéd version of a Southern accent. I think it’s because British actors doing a Southern accent will often use other British actors who’ve done Southern accents as their model and not the actual accent. Interesting about Australians doing it better, though I think Australian actors generally do better American accents than British actors, presumably because the standard American and Australian accents are further apart.

            American actors who do British regional accents often do them badly just because they’re less used to hearing our accents than we are to hearing theirs. Anne Hathaway trying to do Yorkshire in One Day was not good. She does a standard English accent just fine, but Yorkshire was her accent nemesis.

      2. metadata minion*

        Yeah, it’s been oddly useful for me to hear terrible American accents on British TV and go “ooo…Americans doing British accents are probably equally as bad, aren’t they?”

    2. Portia*

      If an English person visiting America started speaking with an American accent — or their best approximation of it — the most likely response would be delight.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        That has not been my personal reaction to it, but I’m sure some Americans would find it amusing.

      2. Victoria Everglot*

        If an English person went to Georgia and started doing an obnoxious southern drawl y’allllll, I don’t think people would be that delighted.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        When Daphne was doing an American accent on Frasier, she sounded like women do when we’re doing a man’s voice, so I wonder if that’s how British people do an American accent generally?

    3. Boolie*

      Jimmy McNulty does a terrible job at an American accent and he gets paid for it! I don’t think it’s really a big deal. We know we’re not impressing anyone.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I think that’s everyone who hears their accent being mangled (as a Scouser, hardly anyone can do my accent). I don’t think it has anything to do with Americans or Britain particularly.

    5. Melissa*

      I mean, sure, it’s always annoying to hear your own accent mocked or mangled. I’m from the Southern US and I get it. But, like, that’s universal. It’s not specific to “people from America who are imitating people from the UK.”

    6. bunniferous*

      Probably it’s the way I feel when someone tries to fake a Southern American accent. Southern accents do have regional slight differences, btw. But more than once I have wanted to throw something at the tv when some actor is attempting the accent and sounding fakety-fake.

    7. Anonymous 75*

      I’m guessing it’s about as annoying as when a British person attempts a Southern US accent????

    8. Resigned*

      I mean, sure it’s probably annoying but all of my friends studying abroad in London found they got much better customer service with a fake British accent than an American accent. People (especially phone customer service reps) were much ruder to them when they used their normal American accents. Might be a thing to think about, OP?

    9. Yeah*

      Agreed. And it works the other way, too. I just had to nope out of a Radio 4 podcast because it was entirely British people doing American accents. (It was about Anna Delvey and partly dramatised)

    1. Rage*

      You know, this is a good point, because I would totally do this if I was prepping for a role. (However, I would probably tell people I was doing it – since they would probably ask – and I know it would come across as weird otherwise.)

  20. Single Parent Barbie*

    I was raised in the midwest and mid atlantic by New Englanders and have very little accent. Over 20 years ago, I was waiting tables in the DEEP south, and a lovely couple wanted to know what part of England I was from as i sounded just like their neighbor’s crisp British Nanny. Sometimes an accent is in the ear of the beholder.

    1. Boolie*

      Lol I like that story. There is a parallel between New Englanders and some “Old” Englanders in that they add an R where there isn’t one and vice versa.

      Car = Cah
      Amelia = Amelier

      1. Former Lawn Guylander0*

        That’s part of the classic New Yawkah accent: conservation of Rs. For example, the Jawge Warshington Bridge.

      2. Timothy (TRiG)*

        What you’re probably hearing there is the intrusive r of a non-rhotic accent. Rs will generally not be pronounced at the end of syllables, but an r may be inserted between a word which ends with a vowel and one which begins with one. I have a non-rhotic accent myself, which is unusual in Ireland.

    2. Claire*

      I was born and raised in New York, and have lived in Boston the past 25 years. Last month I was in Virginia and a local guy I had struck up a conversation with asked me which part of Europe I’m from.

  21. Lucien Nova*

    I’m another one of those who ends up unconsciously mimicking accents – Midwest born and raised, no real accent to speak of when talking normally, but get me around say a Kiwi or a Texan or a Scot and whoop, off I go without realising it…my parents were extremely baffled in the early aughts when I spent three days in Texas and came back with a drawl you could have spread on bread it was so thick.

    (This does not explain why I livestream with a New Zealand accent, however. *That* was a dare and people found it charming so it stuck.)

    That said, I don’t think that was the case here, and I’m wont to agree with “if it doesn’t harm anyone and is just silly what’s the problem?” The worst that could happen is she embarrasses herself really.

  22. Indie*

    Fun story. I emigrated from Eastern Europe to Quebec about 20 years ago. At the beginning I was speaking with a HEAVY Russian – reminiscent accent (think rolling RRR, replacing L with W etc) , stopping frequently to mentally look for the right words and completely messing up common idioms. After working with American customers for about 10 years, at some point picked up a mixture of Canadian and New York pronunciation with the proper expressions to go with it. After that started working for a francophone company, Quebec-based customers in a predominantly French team (like from actual France). After a year I could very fluently swear like a real Quebecoise with a weirdly French accent. Now, when I meet new people they start to speculate what kind of accent I have. In French and English my old accent is almost completely gone, instead replaced by this not-quite almost native. I still slip into the heavy one when tired or relatively inebriated.

    1. Lizcase*

      my brother-in-law was born in the UK and lived there for his first 10 years, then moved to Canada (Ontario) for the next 10, then spent 2 years speaking French in the Ivory Coast. When we first met, I had a hell of a time trying to figure out his accent. He also had the same issue with mine, since I actually have a speech impediment instead of an accent. That was super annoying when I was younger because so many people were convinced I had to be from elsewhere. We’ve both mellowed into a more typical southern Ontario accent.

      I had a customer ask if I’d recently travelled – I’d been working in Germany for a few weeks and had picked up just enough accent to be noticeable.

    2. Tbear*

      Hah! The wild thing is that a lot of Canucks learned Parisian French accents and vocabulary growing up, or at least did while I was still in school, so everyone just wound up extra confused!

      I lived in Quebec for 10 years and spent the last 5 (and the 15 since) working for a company owned in France but the majority of studios are in Quebec. It’s not unusual to have a major studio update meeting with a presenter with a French-Canadian accent followed immediately by a France-French accent and it can take some mental gymnastics before your brain switches comprehension gears.

      “Aychpeereegenn? What in the world is Aychpeereeg– OH ‘HP REGEN’ right got it we’re talking about Gameplay” XD

      I still go back and forth for work, and I know my brain has properly flipped languages once I start dreaming in it.

      My favourite movie of all time is Bon Cop, Bad Cop, especially for the “how to swear” lessons.

      (regarding the letter, I met someone who listed as their hobby ‘learning to speak with an Irish accent’ so I mean, whatever makes people happy!)

  23. Enn Pee*

    I had a coworker from England whose accent was sort of a lower-class London accent (not quite Cockney) that had been diluted by his being in the US for about twenty years.
    Another coworker, who had grown up in France after leaving her country of origin, would forever complain about how his accent was “obviously fake” because she’d never heard an accent like his before…

    1. Observer*

      This is the thing that puzzles me, both about your story and the OP’s question. Why does anyone care so much. Why would you coworker “complain” about it? And why does the OP need to “process” this?

      Very odd to me, and another good example of the tapestry of human weirdness.

      1. Enn Pee*

        Well, she was an odd one; I couldn’t for the life of me understand why this was a battle worth thinking about, never mind fighting!

  24. GythaOgden*

    I mean, I’d find it funny and entertaining so long as it didn’t cross into outright disrespect of the people she’s imitating. Obviously it’s not a directly oppressive thing to do it to the British, and the power dynamics aren’t that bad, but there’s a point where it could become offensive in terms of what else she has up her sleeve to chase this with. And regardless of power dynamics, people don’t like being made fun of or getting the impression that others are making fun of them and it’s just a bit nicer if you don’t do that outside of obvious satire or the fair game targets.

    I personally try to err on the side of not giving intentional offence to others whatever the power dynamics between us, but I have been called out for it myself (imitating a German accent when telling a story about an encounter on the London Underground, where the butt of the joke was another Englishwoman surprising a German tourist next to me with her rudeness). I was pretty mortified, because in my mind I was only re-enacting an encounter and it wasn’t the German guy I was making fun of, but yeah, it was a hard lesson to learn, and because of my autism it was harder to know when to do something and when not to, so I had to be told exactly where the boundary was — because I can do something amongst direct friends but not really amongst people I assume to be friends but that I’ve only just met.

    And for writers of fiction, it’s generally agreed that using too much distinct dialect in writing calls unnecessary attention to it and makes the singled-out character into a figure of fun, even if, again, it’s unintentional. I did it once with a story and it was obvious what was happening even in my first draft, and it made the character sound stupid rather than just marking her out as a foreigner. So that hit the circular file quickly as well.

    So in itself it wouldn’t bother me even as a Brit. But it is a slippery slope and it might be best to watch for any signs she might be slipping into something more and more offensive or begin to target others, and start to play faster and looser with power dynamics as well.

    1. Observer*

      I think a good example of this is the letter we had from someone who’s coworker was being utterly obnoxious to someone with a British accent. That OP was really bothered by the (mis)behavior and wanted to know who, if anyone had standing to put a stop to it.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yeah, I remember that one as well (well, ok, I’ve only been reading AAM for 18 months but I’ve ploughed through most of the archive already — my job is just that dull). That was abhorrent. I know I made a mistake as I said above (I try hard not to be hypocritical but am only human and thus fallible), but to knowingly and intentionally make fun of someone for having a different accent is …beyond comprehension as to how anyone could actively do that to hurt someone.

    2. Giant Kittie*

      I’m autistic too, and maybe I also need an explanation, because I really don’t understand why it would be offensive to relate a story like yours and imitate the accents or speech patterns of the people involved, when you are NOT mocking the person with the accent or making them the butt of the joke.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        The person taking offense was probably not directly affected. They probably were oblivious to the context, and jumped to the conclusion that it was mockery.

        There are people who seem to derive some pleasure from being offended and policing other people’s otherwise harmless behavior. There isn’t a “right” way to respond to someone like that to satisfy them.

      2. metadata minion*

        Speaking in an exaggerated accent is a common way to mock people from other regions/countries, emphasizing whatever regional stereotype you’re trying to demonstrate. It can be hard to distinguish whether someone is using an intentionally-mocking exaggerated accent, making a good-faith attempt to match the person’s actual accent and failing, or actually doing a correct accent that you’re not familiar with.

  25. Peep*

    I had a grad school classmate who faked (BADLY, I promise) a British accent, but half our classmates somehow couldn’t tell and had the whole “wow, she’s British!” starry eyes. She worked at my work study job just before I did, and told our boss that she was heavily influenced as an elementary school by her “British” teacher, Miss [whatever]. …except our boss also had Miss [whatever] as her teacher, and she was definitely not British. The project was rehousing boxes of papers in a silverfish- and spider-infested / cat hair cloudy / dirt-strewn outbuilding, and she insisted on wearing 50s dresses, tea aprons, and high heels to work. They told her not to use those colorful triangular plasti-klips to bundle papers, but I ended up recovering an entire red solo cup of them during my work study time. :P Definitely a character…

  26. Dual citizen*

    To be honest, I don’t see this as completely harmless. I’m dual national British/American and grew up in the States with one British parent and one American. I have various atypical linguistic styles because of it, e.g. I sometimes ask questions in “down-speak” instead of up-speak, which is more common in my mother’s variety of British. I also have a smattering of words that I consistently speak British-style and others that I switch randomly and subconsciously, e.g. “yaw-gurt” instead of “yo-gurt”, and I pronounce the word “banana” differently depending on whether it’s a whole or a half.

    As a British national, I would get annoyed if a coworker adopted a fake British accent around me…perhaps especially so because I sometimes feel like a fake about my own Britishisms.

    1. Pippa K*

      I’m in a similar position, and there are some individual words I say only in a particular American way and some only in a particular English way, because those specific words were only ever said to me by people with those accents. Language is so interestingly contextual.

      1. GythaOgden*

        There are some words I use in an effort to preserve, and you can pry the short ‘o’ out of my cold dead hands when using it in a name like Santos or Marcos that then sound like they’re spelled Santose or Marcose (the Spanish pronunciation is somewhere between British and American pronunciation; also, why is it ‘Los’ with a short O but not in other words of Spanish origin?). You won’t ever take away my -t verb suffixes like ‘I burnt my toast’ or ‘I spelt it with an s’. Or ‘harp on about it’ or ‘different to’. Or talking about lorries or skips or rubbish or lifts or flats. Or leftenants or shedules or lee-ver or root (on a map) or the extra u in colour and the extra me on the end of programme. I do recognise that ‘veteran’ encompasses more nuance than ‘ex-serviceman’ but my grandparents would still turn in their graves nonetheless.

        But I recognise I’m in the minority here. And I certainly wouldn’t fake it to the point where people weren’t sure I was acting in good faith.

    2. Random Dice*

      My BFF nannied for an Irish family and ended up asking questions in that distinctive way – not ending on a straight up note like American, but down-up-down-up. It’s complex but I also started doing it for a bit.

    3. NeedRain47*

      It’s pretty odd and IMO borderline offensive to adopt someone elses’ accent full time. It offends my sense of “don’t be a fake”.

      That said, I love knowing that your banana is different for a whole and a half! Language is delightful.

      1. Dual citizen*

        I know, the banana thing is so strange! It’s because my British mother would often eat them in halves, whereas growing up I rarely heard Americans say “half a banana”. Even weirder is that the “half” in that phrase is American but the banana is British. Language is bizarre!

        And yes, I think that’s why it raises my hackles a bit. I wouldn’t fake a Bristish accent even though I have at least some legitimate claim to it. If it was, for example, a Chinese-speaker’s accent, it would be very clearly offensive and racist. Obviously that’s not the same as this scenario – faking a British accent seems more “rude and a bit offensive” rather than outright racist.

  27. PickingUpSurroundingAccents*

    I tend to pick up the accents and speaking patterns of the people I spend time around. If, for instance, I got a new roommate or partner who was British, I might start speaking with their accent myself. It sometimes happens just from listening to music or watching a play/movie. As I’ve gotten older it happens less often and less quickly, but when I was younger it would involuntarily happen within minutes.

  28. the Viking Diva*

    I’d lob the link in if it wouldn’t get me blocked: search youtube for “Meryl Streep accents” and enjoy her versatility.

  29. pcake*

    Sounds like a wacky co-worker, but it did get me to thinking.

    Years ago, I ended up with 2 Canadian roommates, one after another. After the first one moved in, people started asking me what part of Canada I was from. I’m from Los Angeles, and my parents are from Chicago and New York, so you can imagine I’d never been asked that before. But until over a month after the second roommate moved out, I apparently had a Canadian accent of some kind.

    1. Random Dice*

      I’ll be talking to someone and suddenly hear the “abot” or “shedule” and am like, hey, sneak Canadian!

  30. Forrest Gumption*

    In Madonna’s defense, she was married to a British man (Guy Ritchie) and lived in the UK for years. When I (also an American) was in the same situation, my accent became more British too. It wasn’t necessarily conscious – I just absorbed what I was hearing around me every day, and my speech patterns just followed I guess. That does not explain why an American who’s never been to Russia suddenly starts speaking with a Russian accent – but most people who live in English speaking countries where the accent is different from their native one do assimilate to a greater or lesser extent.

    1. Speechways are interesting*

      I live in a part of the US that has a strong regional accent with distinctive speechways. When I first moved here and began hearing it, I really liked it, but I consciously refrained from imitating it because I saw that local folks did not appreciate hearing non-locals speaking like them. It probably sounds fake (since it’s not 100% right) and maybe also condescending as this is a rural sort of accent. After many years here I still have my original rather vanilla US accent, but I have picked up some local expressions and grammatical usages.

      This is sometimes a thing at work where most of the time a majority of my colleagues are local and speak like it, and I stand out as not a local. One boss in particular clearly didn’t appreciate my non-local-ness and the accent was part of it. But I think she would have disliked me even more strongly if I had tried to speak more like she did.

      1. allathian*

        This applies to adults, but not kids. Kids in general pick up accents much more quickly and convincingly than adults do. They also have the best possible motivation to do so, to fit in.

        A British family friend moved to Texas for a few years when his kids were 8 and 10. The adults of the family continued to speak with their own regional accent (Sheffield, he sounded like Sean Bean speaking in his own accent), but the kids learned quickly to code switch. Especially the older kid had trouble making friends at school until he changed his accent so he sounded like he was born and bred in Austin. The kids are long since grown, but AFAIK both of them can still switch accents at will.

  31. Just me*

    If there is a renaissance festival nearby and she is or has been a participant (cast member, salesperson, etc) the fake British accent or word usage could become second nature and just come out at random.
    Amusing anecdote from a friend of my daughter. This guy is a Dublin Ireland native. His first weekend working at the festival several of his coworkers negatively critiqued his accent. After work they went out somewhere socializing and the question of where everyone was from came up in conversation. When they found out he was actually really speaking with an accurate Irish accent there was good laugh all around.

  32. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    Australian here – many years ago I had a friend from New Zealand who had a strong accent AND a stutter. He eventually went to Japan to teach English to non-English speakers.
    Although I have never heard a Japanese tourist speaking English with a New Zealand accent and a stutter, I have lived in hope that I might, so that I could say Hey! My friend taught you English!

  33. DJ Abbott*

    I’m reminded of the episode of Burn Notice where Fiona‘s brother believes Michael is Scottish and says his American accent is dodgy.
    First thing I thought, she was British all along and faking being an American. The question is, why? :)

  34. Never The Twain*

    To be fair to the colleague in the original post, they are far outnumbered by Brits to come back from a two-week holiday in the US or Canada and insist on addressing everyone as “Y’all” or something similar and then explaining with faux embarrassment that ‘It just seems more natural for me.’ Or English visitors to Scotland who spend the next twelve months referring to the ‘wee bairns’.
    As a Brit myself, the most impressive accent work I’ve seen was Ms Paltrow in Emma, with an honourable mention for Neil Flynn in Scrubs once. From the other side, I can’t judge, but Hugh Laurie’s accent in House seemed pretty convincing. Apparently he maintained it between takes, but switched to an English accent when he was giving direction in the episodes he directed. Must have been pretty confusing for everyone.

  35. I sound like Croc Dundee IRL*

    My favourite thing about this thread is all the people who claim that *they* don’t have a strong accent :)

    Surely, (as they say) accents are like arseholes in that we’ve all got one!

  36. Industry Behemoth*

    In the movie Don’t Worry Darling, Harry Styles’s character Jack was an American who adopted a fake British persona in the virtual world of Victory. Jack wanted to be someone else in Victory because his IRL existence was miserable.

  37. I should be working*

    I appreciate the comments about people who do ‘accent mirroring’. I’m wondering if there are others (like me) who do the opposite!
    I grew up in a large city in Canada, and live in a smaller town now. The ‘rural Canadian’ accent is most definitely a thing (saying “eh” “oot and aboot” etc.). I find that if I’m talking to a customer at work from a different part of the world (UK, some places in the US etc.) I will start sounding *more Canadian* as a contrast. Does this happen to anyone else?

  38. Emma*

    Maybe she’s practicing for a voice acting project! I’m doing some voice acting in an accent quite different from my own, and do like to play around with it sometimes at work (my colleagues know, though!)

  39. Mystic Jane*

    oh wow, I wish I knew where the OP was from, this could easily be a former roommate of mine. She went to school for 6mo (?) in England and came home to the USA and started doing this. She started a new job and decided soon after she needed to do the accent at work because it was “more natural”. she still spoke in her US accent at home, and I only found out about this behavior because she was having people from work over and she warned me not to “act weird” about her speaking with the accent.

  40. OfOtherWorlds*

    I think that if someone in the office was actually British, they would have standing to ask the affected American to cut it out, and to go to the boss or HR if they refused?

  41. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

    This is one of my favorite questions and answers of all time. Also, just want I say how happy I am for Alison that her mom is doing so well-that’s great!

  42. Jolie*

    OP2 – long shot, but do you happen to have a coworker who likes/would have the capacity to give presentations? You could train them one on one to deliver training using your materials.

  43. Youngin*

    My old manager and me frequently joked around during slow hours at work (this was a restaurant). He was generally really goofy, and a great manager. He was a “Golden Retriever” kind of guy. He would frequently talk in silly accents when no one was around. German, Irish, Scottish, British, the occasional Patois. One day, him and I are just talking back and forth about work and eventually he is speaking to me in a silly British accent. I joined. We were easily speaking like that for hours, up alone at the hostess stand. Finally, someone walks in. He says our typical greeting (which was Italian bc we were in an Italian restaurant) only he forgot to switch back to our normal accent. So he jumbled out this terrible Italian in an even more terrible British accent. He is MORTIFIED by himself, but I was 19 and not at all mature so I also kept my ‘accent’ thinking we were both in on the joke, offering them a place inside or outside.

    Well the joke was on us, because they were actually British. When they opened their mouth I almost couldn’t contain my laughter, because honestly what were the odds. They excitedly asked about where we were from bc they had just moved to the area. We both said random places that we thought might be British. They became regulars. He quit before I did, but for years I had to keep up his charade when they came in and they were none the wiser. They became my favorite regulars, just utterly kind people. I saw them after i had given my 2 weeks and, extremely embarrassingly, confessed that I was from State. I just dropped the accent watched them react. I have never seen 2 people piss themselves with laughter so hard in my life. They wished me well, told me my accent was pretty good, and that was that. I think of them often

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