Monday, March 10, 2008

Asians with Unexpected Accents

When I first came down to Washington, DC, I met my first Texan Asian American at law school. Listening to his twangy Texan drawl, I laughed and said I’d never met an Asian with a southern accent before.

He replied, “Sheeeeeeet, I never met an Aaaaaaaaasyun weeeeth uh Nyooooo Yoooork acceeeennn beeeefore neeeether. Yoooooo tawk reeeeeal funny. Yooooo sound lak dat Nanny gal on teeeeee veeeee.”

Uh, Fran Dresher? I’m from Brooklyn, not Staten Island. Needless to say, I was a bit offended.

“And you sound like Gomer Pyle, Golly!” I mocked.

“Ahh, doooohn know whooooo you’re tawkin’ about,” he laughed good naturedly. “Yoooooo dun taaaaaawk toooooo fast."

“And, yoooooooo talk tooooooooo slow!” I replied. Needless to say we became good friends even as we mocked each other viciously. He reminded me of a Korean American comic I saw a long time ago on Comedy Central. Too bad I can’t remember his name cause that boy was funny. But he did this piece about his friend J.B. Daniels. Apparently the J.B. doesn’t stand for anything, so when J.B. went to get his driver’s license, he wrote in “J” --- only, “B” ---- only Daniels. When he got his license it read, Jonly Bonly Daniels. I think it was funnier in person. But for me, part of what made him so funny was the novelty of seeing an Asian American with a southern accent.

This was hit home for me the other day when I was at a restaurant and a sweet older Asian couple was sitting next to me. They looked to be in their late sixties and they were really cute together. When they ordered their meal, they spoke with thick southern accents which made me do a double take. I guess I am so used to older Asians speaking with immigrant accents, that I was surprised when they were not as I had stereotyped them. I loved it! I immediately got into a conversation with them and learned more than I probably ever needed to know. But they were the Lims from Atlanta, Georgia, and they were 4th and 5th generation Chinese Americans who were visiting their grandkids. I adored them and would have gladly adopted them myself.

They reminded me that Korean Americans are newer immigrants. 80% of mainland Korean Americans are first and second generation only. We are the ones with parents that gave us all American names which they promptly mispronounced. My best friend Sylvia’s name is forever pronounced Sylbeeahh. Virginia is Bahjinyah. Bill is Pill. Sam is Sahm. Barry is Bally. Sarah is Sallah. You get the picture. Don’t even think about throwing them off with a Spanish name. I remember my mom calling Ricky Ricardo, Licky Leeeeecahdo. Baballoooo! Licky loves you!

28 comments:

Patti said...

oh lordy! i loved this...especially since i am a white texas/german gal with a funny accent.

Precie said...

Ooh, I REMEMBER that Asian comic! Too funny!

And, of course, I love Margaret Cho with her NYC attitude. :)

moonrat said...

jonly bonly. tee hee.

Erica Orloff said...

Loved this. Laughed out loud.

My kids are Mexican Americans. Except one came out looking as IRISH as can be (my side) . . . freckles, pale blue eyes, and this totally proud Hispanic first and last name. My parents keep saying when she goes for her first job interviews, they are going to be expecting one thing . . . and in will walk this freckly Irish person. I love how our expectations sometimes get challenged and that we can laugh at them.
E

strugglingwriter said...

"Jonly Bonly Daniels" - he he he

Great post.

Paul

Larramie said...

Never, ever thought of the before. And you must admit, Ello, that in the naming process you did rather well!

Melissa Marsh said...

Ah, Ell, made me laugh as always!

Charles Gramlich said...

I have to admit, the first time I saw an Asian with a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a southern drawl, I was taken aback.

J. L. Krueger said...

Sheesh! OK so reminded me of a Korean-Scot I met about four years ago in Scotland. 2d generation, as Highland Scots as you can get! I'm quite sure my jaw dropped.

The other one was my favorite Chinese restaurant in Bayreuth, Germany. I never think anything of Asians speaking English, but to have to speak German to the Chinese waitress...that crossed my eyes!

Mary Witzl said...

When my Japanese boyfriend and I lived in Holland, we used to go and eat at a Chinese restaurant in our tiny village (where we were consistently disappointed by the very un-Chinese food, but that's a different story). The owners were sweet people, and the kids all spoke Dutch and came out to stare at my boyfriend. They couldn't get over the fact that he couldn't speak Dutch.

Have you ever seen the 'Average Asian' skits, Ello? When I first saw these, I laughed so hard I almost hurt myself. The actor is actually Korean-American, but he plays a hapless Japanese-American called Hiroshi and no one can pronounce his name. People are always trying to squeeze him into the dopey stereotypes of Asians they have, and there is a lot of food for thought in these skits...

In Florida, I knew a Japanese- American lady with a southern accent. She knitted her husband sweaters with a little pouch on the end for his privates, I kid you not. She was lovely.

cindy said...

asians with british accents stump me. actually, *kids* with brit accents i find very funny and peculiar. not sure why. they sound so proper for being so little! =)

Travis Erwin said...

I don't appreciate y'all easterners poking fun at we Texans. It's fixin' to make me mad. ;)

SzélsőFa said...

What an interesting post. Different accents amaze me. For someone whose English is a second language, some accents are easy to decypher, some are tougher than tough.

SzélsőFa said...

sorry: decipher.

Merry Monteleone said...

Okay, I laughed through the whole damn post - and I remember that comic...

I was in Texas once for a bout a week and a girl told me I had 'the cutest lil' ole accent' which made me about double over, pompous northerner that I was, I thought they had the accent.

Stuart Neville said...

Jonly Bonly Daniels - that made me laugh out loud. :)

Part of my accent is that English people think I talk fast (when of course it's actually they who speak slowly). I have to phone a client on a regular basis. I have been told that when his staff answere the call, if they can't understand what the caller's saying, they know it's me and put me straight through.

On Korean immigration to America - there's a wonderful documentary by Adam Gopnik called Lighting Up New York. In it, there's a sequence that looks for reasons behind New York's resurgance in the 90s. They list everything from Giulliani to legalised abortion cutting the number of poor people (one interviewee says "If legalised abortion is the best we can do to cut crime, then God help us").

But one factor Gopnik examines is the influx of Korean immigrants, and the strong work ethic they brought to small businesses, meaning the city for the first time in a generation had "a light on every corner." I thought it was an interesting point.

Lana Gramlich said...

I can sympathize with this post. I thought I'd slipped into the Twilight Zone one day in Arkansas when an Asian waiter came up in full cowboy attire (including hat,) & proceeded to take our order in fluent Southern.

Sustenance Scout said...

Ello, this story plus the Obama story all at once! You're killing me! K.

Lisa said...

I'm still laughing after the Obama conversation with your mom -- and don't think for a minute that now I can imagine anything except for that Margaret Cho routine where she talks about her mother and the gay porn in their San Francisco book store -- I don understand what this "Ass Master"???

Diesel said...

I used to do phone support, and when I got a call from someone in Texas, I knew it was going to be a looooooonnnnngggg one. Those people must have nothing but time on their hands.

pacatrue said...

Today I saw a poster that Margaret Cho was performing in Hawaii!!! And her show will be... yesterday.

blogless troll said...

Licky Leeeeecahdo! Ha! My best friend growing up was Filipino and HE used to make fun of the way his own mom talked. She was a great cook...mmmm...lumpia.

Cakespy said...

OK, after the title I almost didn't even need to read it--but was so glad I did. This totally cracked me up. One of my best friends is an Asian guy with an unexpected accent (who lives in DC, coincidentally enough...!?) and I love to make fun of him because of it. Awesome.

Demon Hunter said...

LOL. I hope your mom doesn't see this! "Licky Leeeeecahdo" Too funny! :*) I have friends from all backgrounds and get tickled by the accents.

The Anti-Wife said...

You are too funny!

Angela Williams Duea said...

So funny! I can't imagine the Asian/southern accent combination.

When I was in Ireland, I found it so funny to meet black people speaking with an Irish accent.

My daughters are half Mexican, and my older daughter is blonde haired and blue eyed. She speaks fluent Spanish without an accent, and it freaks out Hispanics!

Chris Eldin said...

LOL!!!!!

I love this post! And I was wondering when Travis would show up! heh heh!!

:-)

sherry smyth said...

LMAO -- this was the laughter in my day!! Thanks!!!

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