I have a problem. It has been with me for as long as I can remember and over the years it has been the cause of both embarrassment and harassment. Many people would (and have) argued that it only requires some self-control and discipline to prevent it occurring, but I genuinely do feel powerless to stop it from happening.
The condition to which I refer is variously described as FAS (Foreign Accent Syndrome), Extreme Social Empathy or Childish Mockery. It’s usually the latter term that my friends and relatives like to use, but I can only assume that this is because they are insensitive bounders, ignorant to my plight.
You see, to put it bluntly, when I find myself in the company of people with foreign or regional dialects for any amount of time, I feel compelled to mimic their accents and speech patterns. I have “why aye’d” to Geordies, “Have a nice day’d” Americans and even said “How-you-say” to an English-speaking Frenchman. This is usually met with bewilderment, derision, embarrassment and – on at least one occasion – aggression.
Playing to stereotype, the threats of violence were the result of ordering “a wee bit of haggis” from a Scottish chip shop.
However, now I have a powerful ally in my claim to innocence: Science. Several studies have now shown that it is simply human nature to adopt the accents, etiquette or dietary preferences (ok, I lied about the last one) of those around you. The theory is that as a social species, humans have developed the ability to empathise with different types of people, just as we adapt to different environments and surroundings. It’s really nothing more than an evolutionary survival instinct.
So, in some ways, I’m actually a very highly developed example of the human race. Or just an immature man that likes to do silly voices. You decide.
Am I alone in my affliction? What embarrassing social ineptitude are you guilty of?
This was my 9th post for the A-Z Blog Challenge. Follow the blog during April for more writing tips, inspirational life posts, short fiction, film-inspired articles and even some songs with audio recordings. Next post – J is for Jokes. Being funny is no laughing matter.
25 thoughts on “I is for Imitation – the sincerest form of flattery. Honest!”
I can understand this problem. I’ve found myself doing similar. I sometimes comment on blogs from the US and type ‘that was awesome’ but then I delete it and say ‘very good’ instead because that’s the UK way.
Rosalind Adam is Writing in the Rain
Haha – I know what you mean, Rosalind! Yesterday I was commenting on US blog and wrote ‘Mom’ instead of Mum – fortunately I caught it before I hit send.
You’re not alone. I also parrot the accents of people I talk to unless I make a conscious effort not to.
From the A-Z neighborhood,
Dee is for Deecoded
Phew! Thanks Dee – good to know I’m not alone. I feel like I’ve just stood up at my first AA meeting!
We are all mimics – I’m sure of it!
An old sales trick, is to copy the buyer…it makes them feel at ease with you if you use subtle mannerisms copying their own.
If they cross their legs, cross yours, obviously not straight the way, if the rest their hands on the desk, do the same…
Body language is so revealing. 😉
I think you’re right, Maria. Many years ago I had a sales job, and they did indeed suggest this kind of mirroring of body and spoken language.
I also have a way of picking up accents when in someone’s company long enough.
I also pick up other people’s speech cadences.
Not that I complain, though. Makes me really good at languages.
That’s true, actually, Misha. I did used to be good at speaking French – terrible at the written side of things – but could muddle my way through the spoken exam. Sigh, if only I had continued my studies!
This is something that seems to be haunting me lately! I never realised I did this. One of my sisters does it but I always just thought it was her until my mum started talking about it when we were away and says I do it too, and that it is probably why I have always been quite good at languages. Since then, I have noticed myself doing it, and at work the other day a customer (of Indian origin) even asked me whether I was English as I had ‘a very unusual accent’. I was rather embarassed.
There you go – proof that it is an involuntary affliction! Welcome to Humiliation Heights and thanks for sharing your embarrassment!
Social ineptitude? I is for Inane! If I’m in the company of someone I don’t know well, or who is not interested in holding an actual conversation, I’d much rather stay quiet (I is for Introvert…).
Sadly, I find myself blurting out inane bits of small talk that are meaningless and, frankly, make me look a bit of a fool. If people would either ask a question they want a genuine answer to, or just leave me alone…!
I feel for you, Paul. I am not a particularly shy (wow, what a shocker!) but I still get anxious in new social situations, so I can appreciate it must be a nightmare if you are naturally introvert. I have all the more respect for shy people who still overcome their reluctance to put themselves in difficult social situations.
Great post! I’ve always taken on accents To this day I still speak with a broad black country accent when angry.
Thanks, Barbara. Black Country eh? Impressive! I’m sure it makes your outburst that much more confusing and frightening for the person on the end of it!
I adopt accents by accident when meeting new people. I’ll take on an Irish, Russian or southern accent, in particular, while traveling, only to catch myself midway through. The unconscious likes to prod us.
So good to know I don’t have to suffer in silence. I have noticed a trend though . . . Is this perhaps something that particularly affects writers? Maybe this is why writers are good at getting in to the heads of their characters – becoming other people?
I am absolutely hopeless at accents. I’m not sure there is an accent in the country I could get away with in any way, shape or form. I have no ear for it whatsoever. I imagine you get a mixture of reactions with an affliction like that 🙂
You certainly do – but foot-in-mouth disease runs in my family so awkward social situations tend to be the norm!
I always wondered what this should be called. I can feel myself doing it, but can’t stop it. What’s horrible is that clearly I have a good ear but no tongue because they look at me like I’m speaking Chinese when I accidentally mimic them. It’s bad.
I think it’s more just their surprise and confusion that you are trying to copy them! We mean well though, don’t we?!
I have to say that you are not alone, and that this was a very amusing post.
I love haggis!
Embarrasing social ineptitudes? Too many to cover here.. tee hee great post!
Mmm, me too, Lynne – just need to remember not to put on a ridiculous accent when I order it next time!