I have covered this before in my blog about the Yemenite Question.
It happened again yesterday.
In the outdoor shop, in Tickhill.
I was buying a humane mousetrap; he was looking for some poison.
‘Where you from?’
Note – not, ‘Where are you from,’ without the ‘are’ – this is significant; it reflects the questioner as not a native speaker of English; it is also informal, as if, something you drop into communication without the standard, ‘Hello, my name is, etc.’ It speaks of a familiarity based on ancestry.
I gave this guy, who to me appeared to be of Greek or Turkish origin himself (with the assumption that I would answer him, ‘From Ankara…’) the response I used last week when a patient asked me the same thing, ‘Where are you from?’
Which is of course true.
I was born at Rottenrow Hospital. (The story being my mum, fell-over when heavily pregnant with me, knocked her bump on the pavement, and, the rest is history.)
It wasn’t what people were looking for; they wanted more detail.
And, what should I reply?
Are they looking for my family history, the story of the Jewish People since 586 BCE? This taking me to Babylon, which is closer to the geographical location about which they are asking.
They never expect Israeli; for I am one, as that tends to go with an accent and a certain steely-eyed grit (which I do not possess). Mostly they don’t believe Glasgow, a little bit like the response I sometimes get when I ask a person of Indian origin, with, say a Brummie accent, where they are from; the intent of my question being an identification with their Brumminess, not a searching for where their parents were born and all the racial stereotyping that goes with it.
This is also compounded by my doctor accent.
To my mind, three types of doctor accents.
Those living in the country of their birth with clear, clipped, not-too regional accents; not the Queen’s English, but a derivative thereof. They don’t have to do anything, just talk.
Then, there are people who either have serious regional accents from somewhere in the UK – think caricatures of Glasgow (Rab C Nesbitt), Newcastle (Jimmy Nail) or Liverpool (Cilla Black) , who have accents that take time to tune-in to, with some not managing at all, ‘I visited Glasgow last year… Couldn’t understand a word anyone said.’ kind of thing, or, those born overseas who have strong accents – I won’t pick on any country in particular. (There are of course those born abroad who have been brought-up with the Queen’s English, they can transition flawlessly, like Reactolite). This group, the ‘natives’ see no problem, don’t adapt their accents and carry-on; much to the confusion of older patients/colleagues who are very regional themselves and also sometimes hard of hearing.
Then there is me and those like me.
I never had a very strong Glaswegian accent to start, although over the years I have watered it down, elongated vowels and accentuated certain consonants, that kind of thing. I haven’t gone the whole Zelig, there is still something going-on, but this was an intentional shift to make myself understood; even with this there are times when I have to ask a nurse or other local to translate, usually for my hard-of-hearing older patients.
If you have kept-up with this meander into accents, you will have worked out that do not match my Glaswegian response.
You could say, (this is my take, anyway), I look Jewish and, (depending on the season), slightly Mediterranean but with a mixed Scottish, Yorkshire, Irish accent.
No idea where the Irish came from.
What should I say the next time I am asked?
Bearing in mind that time is short.
Perhaps I will start carrying around slips of paper with the website address of my blog, with the words, ‘Read this if you are interested…’