I was surprised to learn I had an accent. I didn’t grow up with one, at least one that was mentioned. Now I suddenly realize that, except for when I was a child, wherever I lived, I have always had an accent. I was always considered a foreigner.
In some respects, having an accent is like having a sign on your back. It doesn’t say kick me. But people do notice. Some ask. Some don’t. Some care. I can’t say, though, that I was always made to feel like an outcast. I probably did that to myself at times. Anyway, that’s how I would hear my accent, somewhere in my head as I imagined how others heard it. Maybe that is another reason why I didn’t talk so much. I didn’t enjoy the sound of my own voice. It sounded too foreign. Who knows? I can’t be certain.
The irony is that this thought never occurred to me before this moment. I have always thought that everyone else had an accent. From my point of view, I always remained the center of my world. I was the same. Everyone else was different. I still believe that today. Perhaps I am a little self-centered. I suspect most of us are a bit that way.
As a child, my language was German, with a distinctive East Prussian twist. To understand the difference, think of the way the same words can be pronounced in different parts of America. Even now, after nearly sixty years in the United States, I still have trouble understanding some people when they speak. I suppose they say the same about me. My daughter-in-law dislikes it when people tell her she has a cute southern accent. I completely understand how she feels. Too many people make assumptions about those who speak differently than they do. Being a foreigner does not make one an alien, at least not the kind from outer space. Rather than make assumptions, perhaps these people should listen to what is being said and not so much to how it is spoken.
I was born in October, 1922, in Preussisch Holland in the German state of East Prussia. The town name derives from early settlers from Holland centuries earlier. To simplify, Preussisch can be shortened to its abbreviation, and most refer to it as Pr. Holland. That’s what I do. It certainly is easier to think of it that way.