Yesterday, I read that the Brits are upset by a BBC show on which they interviewed a 96-year-old Irish blacksmith. Here's what happened:
Apparently his accent was so thick that they used English subtitles so people could understand what he was saying. So what were people upset about? They were upset that the show used subtitles for someone who spoke English. Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy was quoted as saying, “This is part of an ongoing process by the BBC of insulting the Irish people both in culture and language, in this occasion putting subtitles over the voice.”
I love it. You can't make this stuff up. I've spent time in Ireland, and I speak English—or at least I thought I did until I got to Ireland. Let me tell you straight up, I could have used subtitles during my visit. If you think the Irish are tough to understand, take a trip to Scotland and see if you can figure out what planet they're from.
When I worked in Austria, I had two Scots working for me. Richard and Liz were from the Hebrides, a small group of islands off Scotland. When I first met with them, I could see their lips moving and I could hear noise, but it was unlike anything I had experienced before. When they paused, I sat in stunned silence; I had absolutely no idea what they had just said. It literally took weeks for me to begin to understand their accents.
The Lovely Louise is British, and we enjoy watching British television. One of our recent BBC addictions was a show called Peaky Blinders. It's about a gang in Birmingham in the early 1900s. After the first ten minutes, I looked at Louise and asked if she could understand a word that was being said. Turned out that neither one of us could understand a damn thing. Fortunately, we were able to turn on subtitles and we watched as though it were a foreign film. Eventually we became accustomed to the accent and were able to turn off the subtitles and enjoy the rest of the show.
Those are the easy English accents. Even the Brits can't understand people from Wales, and I think the Welsh like it that way. They can speak right in front of you and insult you in the most elegant ways and all you can do is smile and nod. And don't even get me started on Cockneys.
We have the same thing here in America. For a while there was a show on TV that I think was called Swamp People. Filmed in the Louisiana bayou, it featured various locals who hunted for alligators. One guy I remember had an accent so thick that I truly could not understand him. The only time he came through clearly was when he and his partner, Elizabeth, would catch a big one. The alligator would be thrashing in the water while he tried to hold on to it. The whole time he would be shouting, and the only thing I clearly understood was, “Shoot 'im Elizabeth, shoot 'im”! That part I got.
Another great experience I had with accents was many years ago when I lived in London. I got tickets to a West End show called The Buddy Holly Story. It was a great show, but the most enjoyable part for me was watching English actors trying to do Texas accents. It was hysterical, and none of the Brits could tell. Their feeble attempts annoyed me so much that I left after the first act.
If you're from New England, I dare you to name an actor other than Affleck or Damon who can do a Southie accent from Boston. They just can't do it. I've watched some of the best actors in the world give it a try, and it's completely beyond them. I imagine the rest of the country thought they did pretty well, but in New England, we just laughed at them.
There are lots of accents right here in America that I can't understand. Creole is one. Good old boys from the Ozarks are another. Some African Americans often seem to me to be speaking an entirely different language. A good Bronx accent can be difficult, and California surfers have their own language. If you want to hear a great accent, listen to the Bert and I stories from Down East Maine. Not only is it a great accent, but they're great stories as well. It's the American equivalent of Billy Connolly in the UK.
I love Billy Connolly, and I'm sure I'd love him even more if I had a fecking idea what he was saying.