In December of 2006 I had a chance to meet up for lunch in Victoria with my friend John. It was John, his lovely wife Joy and my lovely wife Wendy. It was so nice to finally be breaking bread together.
What made it especially pleasant was that I hadn’t seen John since the late 1980s. For it as at that time he and Joy decamped for Australia. Joy was already from there and had been teaching school in Canada for a number of years when she and John met. John was actually born Down Under but came to Canada when he was six or seven. So, when I knew him he was a regular old Canadian.
I’ve known John since he and I were about 12 and we were just a couple of Canadian teenagers in the years that followed; you know, running after girls we fancied, buying junky old cars that should never have been on the road what with terrible brakes and dodgy steering, but they were and we survived. I recall once that we junior drivers were so broke that we had one serviceable battery that we shared amongst three different cars owned by three different young louts. Oh, and we used to also get illicitly drunk in the days when drinking age was 21, and we also used to get ‘not laid’ in the era of ‘nice girls.’
Anyway, good times with my longest duration male friendship. But, when we linked up, something had changed. Not our friendship. It’s one of those kinds of friendship in which you pick up conversation almost as if you had left off the week previously. What had changed though was John’s talk. He had an Aussie accent. Not a profound one, but certainly a noticeable one to my Canadian ear. I pointed it out to him, but he denied it immediately. But, I know he denied it because we don’t really ‘hear’ ourselves when we speak. I recall how when I lived in England in 1980 and ’81, for just a year that accents grew meaningless to me. I’d be watching TV and find that past a certain point the commentators no longer seemed to have English accents. My ear had become inured to dialect differences. Then when I got home to Canada people mentioned to me how I had acquired a bit of a UK accent. I denied this was so, but I confess I have a kind of sluttish ear when it comes to opening myself up to the speech patterns of those around me.
Give me a week in Ireland and I end up with a patter that sounds a bit like I was raised in Killarney, bedad. Living as I did in Norfolk, England, a flat-bottomed enclave that has the most difficult dialect to master – known as Broad Norfolk – I found I was at a loss to understand what was being said when first I heard it. Yet by the end of my stay it sounded as normal as the utterances of my next-door neighbor here in Canada.
Actually John’s accent was a bit disconcerting to me because he no longer sounded like the guy I grew up with, but I also know that if I were to spend a bit of time down there I’d no longer notice and would probably end up sounding a bit like the guy with the fake ‘Oz’ accent who advertises Outback Steak House.