Midwestern teenagers speaking in English accents?
March 29, 2013 10:14 AM   Subscribe

What's the deal with the recent spate of Midwestern/Southern (US) teenagers I've heard speaking with English accents? Is this a "thing"?

This is an odd question, but since the beginning of the year, on probably something like a weekly basis I've heard groups of teenage/college-aged tourists speaking to each other in English accents. Most typically, they're imitating the sort of clucky North London accent characteristic of Adele's speaking voice, and they do so frequently at a volume that can charitably be described as "demonstrable."

Each time, at some point they've slipped enough into their natural speaking voices that I can immediately identify them as Midwestern or Southern tourists (I live in NYC). I definitely don't hear local kids doing this.

So, why do I keep encountering this? I'm fully willing to chalk this up to coincidence or selection bias or what-have-you, but it keeps happening, so I just need to know that loudly impersonating Adele isn't a "thing" that kids are doing in Middle America.
posted by incomple to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I live in Wisconsin and work in a high school, and I haven't heard my kids doing this.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:16 AM on March 29, 2013

It might be a thing. For the very short period that I watched American Idol this year, I noticed both Niki Minaj and Mariah Carey using fake British accents when talking to people auditioning. Maybe they are imitating that kind of stuff they see on TV?
posted by HeyAllie at 10:16 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe they walked by some British tourists and were imitating them. Dollar's cheap; lots of foreign tourists in nyc. I could see midwest/southern kid who hasn't met a lot of foreigners parroting away...
posted by keasby at 10:25 AM on March 29, 2013

i think kids of that age play with accents. i remember my friends and i doing it. kids from the flyover states, visit the big apple, act like they're british. i can't tell you why, but it makes perfect sense to me.

as to nicki minaj and mariah carey - they're just doing the madonna thing. nicki has an alt personality that's british (roman zolanski) and mariah has been putting on the accent for a long time, i think it even shows up in the cribs episode. when they do it on american idol it almost always seems to be used to deliver bad critiques, maybe in a bid to distance themselves from it. it's probably not what is influencing the teens.
posted by nadawi at 10:28 AM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would chalk it up to Theatre Kids being goofy. Especially the high-school-trip-to-New-York-City-OMG folks.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:34 AM on March 29, 2013 [15 favorites]

I think it's common for younger tourists to find it funny to pretend they're visiting from overseas. They know they're not actually fooling anyone, but they also know no one's going to say "come on, everyone knows you're from Cleveland." And if you end up annoying some locals, oh well, it's not like you'll ever run into them again.

I also agree with nadawi that teenagers tend to find fake accents funny in general. My friends and I used to say things in bad fake accents all the time, and it was all the funnier to us since we were clearly terrible at it.

Finally, is there a possibility they're quoting movies/TV shows? Not sure what the kids are into these days, but in my day you absolutely had to use the appropriate accent when quoting Monty Python.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:38 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm in South Central Ontario, and both my 9 and 12 year old keep speaking in a horrible fake English (UK) accent. They don't seem to have a particular catch phrase that might indicate an origin. As I'm mostly gritting my teeth when they're doing the accents, I'm afriad to ask why or where they picked it up. It might be something they picked up from something popular on youtube (we don't have tv/cable). I think that it's more likely a "thing" at school that has infected them.

I guess I'll choose to be happy that they got this instead of a norovirus again.
posted by nobeagle at 10:54 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you actually identify someone from the Midwest by their accent? It's a pretty neutral accent...

I think kids do this. I work with kids on the east coast and they do it. It's not a Midwest specific thing as far as i know.
posted by geegollygosh at 10:57 AM on March 29, 2013

I'm from the Midwest, and during a high school trip to Seattle we pretended to be British while walking around doing touristy stuff. So yeah, what others above said.
posted by zsazsa at 11:15 AM on March 29, 2013

Response by poster: I lived in Ohio for the first twenty years of my life, and I'm somewhat insecure about my own accent, so I'm pretty sensitive to even the most subtle Midwestern tone. I'm not saying I could detect all (or even most) Midwestern accents, only that in each of the dozen or so instances of running into this behavior, I've detected the perpetrator's Midwestern or Southern accent.

Also, in my experience, tourists from the Midwest just seem to behave differently than tourists from other parts of the US. They seem to emanate a "fuck everything" vibe that I don't typically get with tourists from other parts of the country. (I have an offensive theory for this that I'm happy to share.) BUT, I know this has less to do with reality than with my own hangups and insecurities and biases.

Anyway, I wouldn't debate what anyone's said here. I have no basis for believing that it's a "thing," other than the unusual frequency with which this particular imitation has been popping up in the last few months.

Young people are frequently inscrutable goofballs, and as a person who was once young himself, I can relate. I'm going to chalk it up to some combination of coincidence and selection bias, and gratefully not to a wasted generation imitating a cartoon advertising mascot or a YouTube celebrity.
posted by incomple at 11:33 AM on March 29, 2013

Besides the pretending to be foreigners while on a school trip, or theater kids screwing around, perhaps they're imitating actors or singers they admire --- I swear I heard some of this at the height of the Harry Potter craze.
posted by easily confused at 11:43 AM on March 29, 2013

My very southern daughter has been mistakenly identified as British several times in her life. She has a very distinct southern accent, and has never pretended to speak any other way. We were just laughing about this yesterday, it's been a source of amusement in our family for fifteen years. I can't explain it, but there it is.
posted by raisingsand at 11:53 AM on March 29, 2013

Definitely Nthing the "obnoxious teens are obnoxious" idea.

British mass media is everywhere these days, especially what with the cult popularity of TV shows like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and I feel like a certain sort of media/pop-culture focused Anglophilia is on the rise in the US.
posted by Sara C. at 12:10 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you sure they're not English people imitating American accents for fun? That would be more plausible to me than the other way around.

Apart from that, there are some accents that sound similar to certain regional American accents to the untrained ear. For example, New Zealand accents remind me of Southern accents in some aspects.
posted by pravit at 12:28 PM on March 29, 2013

Seconding the 'it's a thing teenagers do'. I suspected you're more sensitive to the South/Midwestern correlation because you can recognize that accent. But in multiple groups of friends I've had, talking in accents is frequently one of those things that I can see would be totally obnoxious to listeners but easily becomes a sort of inside joke thing that makes otherwise dull, standard conversations interesting. English accents (or Australian/Irish/American South) were the most common because they're easier to do and much less likely to come off as racist than Chinese, for example. English accents have this connotation of sophistication and coolness and Harry Potter. I think it's kind of part of a phase where places that are not $HOMETOWN seem perfect that a lot of people, including myself, go through.
posted by raeka at 12:49 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

British mass media is everywhere these days, especially what with the cult popularity of TV shows like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and I feel like a certain sort of media/pop-culture focused Anglophilia is on the rise in the US.

Also One Direction.
posted by purpleclover at 1:01 PM on March 29, 2013

I had a friend when I was 15 who dyed his hair blue and started speaking exclusively with an Australian accent for a couple months. Teenagers do weird things.
posted by WasabiFlux at 1:26 PM on March 29, 2013

When I was a kid growing up in Edinburgh I would adopt a broad America accent frequently, due to excessive viewing of Clueless and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and singing along to Britney Spears. It was not entirely intentional.
posted by dumdidumdum at 1:39 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I used to do this a lot, with English/Scottish/Australian accents. I don't know why, it's just fun sometimes...

My roommate in college and I went out drinking and occasionally would speak to everyone with(probably terrible) English accents.

It's probably especially fun to do as a tourist because then you can pretend to be someone you're not and who is going to know who you really are?
posted by fromageball at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2013

Just another anecdata point, but in my experience, deliberately affecting an accent is absolutely a Thing Teenagers Do. Especially in group situations. My brother and I once hung around with a group of kids from Massachusets while camping when we were younger and went around talking like extras from Good Will Hunting for basically the rest of the summer. And a lot of the people I knew in high school were of the Theatre Crowd persuasion, so even in informal situations there tended to be a lot of gratuitously accented speech, just for the heck of it. I don't see anything in the original post that indicates this is a special phenomenon particular to Midwestern tourist-teens, in other words; my guess is it's just kids goofing around.
posted by aecorwin at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2013

Are you sure you are hearing the accents correctly? Some people from places like Mississippi legit sound like that have Australian accents. But they don't. You maybe just be confusing what you hear.

Or perhaps the high school near you started a new exchange program with another high school in England. One day I walked into a meeting at a high school and wondered when everyone in the area got so blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Turned out the school had started an exchange program with a German high school.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:10 PM on March 29, 2013

Midwesterner here. I'm pretty sure my fiancee's daughter and her friends affect a (terrible) British accent because of Harry Potter and Harry Styles (yep, One Direction). They love trading stories about people they run into who totally humor them believe they're from England.
posted by Rykey at 3:17 PM on March 29, 2013

When I was a teenager and worked retail, my friend and I took turns making the closing announcements over the store loudspeaker in fake accents. When the main manager wasn't in, of course, and the assistant manager merely rolled his eyes at us. Mortifying in retrospect, but I echo the "dumb teenagers doing what they do" theory, since my experience was almost 15 years ago.
posted by celtalitha at 12:24 AM on March 30, 2013

i work at a college in MA and i have definitely heard students do this in the past 2 years. guessing it's just a "thing". as for local NYC kids not doing this? NYC kids = too cool to imitate anybody.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 9:22 AM on March 30, 2013

I have an offensive theory for this that I'm happy to share

Do share!
posted by bahama mama at 11:29 AM on March 30, 2013

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