DEAR ABBY: You gave a sensible answer to "Sean" regarding the people he has asked about their foreign accents. I would like to offer some advice of my own regarding people he may meet in the future.
I grew up in a diverse metropolitan area. I quickly learned that if people want to share their accent's origin, they will after I offer a compliment (without an inquiry). I have said things like, "What a beautiful accent!" or, "Your accent makes English sound like music." In response, some people will volunteer where it is from. Others simply accept the compliment.
I think you touched on a valid reason why some people are reluctant to reply. People are more likely to tell you about their past if they are proud of it. However, others also may feel that their relationship is not one that warrants volunteering personal information. When you work with dozens or hundreds of people a day, people may not want their last name known, let alone more private information. -- JENNY IN BROCKTON, MASS.
DEAR JENNY: There can be many reasons why people are reluctant to answer the question. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: It gets very tiring to be asked the same question time after time, especially when the response we get for answering it is always the same, "Oh." Ninety-nine percent of the individuals who ask me about my accent cannot differentiate between London and the United Kingdom, so it puzzles me why they even ask the question. My response is to give a dumb answer to a dumb question.
Also, there are too many prejudiced people in this country who judge others based on their accent, and besides, starting a conversation with so personal a question is offensive. -- TICKED OFF IN FLORIDA
DEAR ABBY: I am an American who has been living outside the United States for many years. It seems the second question anyone asks me is, "Where are you from?" often followed by, "You have such a strong accent." I find it insulting because I work hard to pronounce words correctly, and the inquirers seem to make this comment with such joy. I know I don't have a strong accent because when I am on the phone, no one normally comments on my accent.
People like us get irritated partly because when we are asked where we're from, we feel they do it to pigeonhole us, to classify us as "one of those Americans" or "one of those XX immigrants," not the unique individuals we really are. -- NAOMI IN SAO PAOLO, BRAZIL
DEAR ABBY: I have a severe hearing loss and have been told I "have a beautiful accent." People constantly ask me where I am from. I tried being truthful, but that ended up embarrassing the person who asked, so I stopped. I finally started saying, "I'm from here." Most of them don't believe it, and they press me for more information. If I know I'll be seeing the person again, I tell the truth and also say that I'm very open about my hearing loss, and I just talk the way I hear. If I won't be seeing the person again, I just shrug. -- LINDA IN PHOENIX
DEAR ABBY: I am from the Netherlands and have only a slight accent, but I'm still annoyed with myself for being unable to get rid of it. For a lot of people, it is very important to be able to assimilate into the culture, and I can understand that people get tired of being stamped as a "foreigner" all the time. -- KITTY IN OAKLAND
DEAR ABBY: I was with my grandmother in a department store a few years ago when the clerk noticed her accent and asked what country she came from. My grandmother was puzzled, then she replied, "Oklahoma!" -- JANE IN RANCHO CORDOVA, CALIF.