Maybe it's the football or maybe it's because I no longer live in Michigan (a place where children have to incorporate snow suits into their Halloween costumes), but autumn in Washington tends to bring out my inner Southerner. Didn't know I had one, did you? Well, half of my family is from East Tennessee, and if given five minutes and a bourbon I can drawl along with the best of them. I think it's also because my own accent is Midwestern by way of Long Island, thanks to my choice of college, and this means that I have no affect and pronounce "orange" as "aaarhhh-ange." I really don't like this.
One of my lifelong bad habits has been to immediately slip into my Southern accent whenever I'm around people who normally speak one. They often think that I'm making fun of them, but 1) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as I covet their beautiful drawls and the way it doesn't at all sound fake when they say "all y'alls" instead of "you guys" and 2) I legitimately can't help it. It's not just my family background and personal distaste for my normal voice; I have pretty extensive accent training from my acting years and just naturally absorb the accents of other English-speakers. I do the same thing with English accents, and please be assured that after the summer of 1998, the entire population of London hated my guts.
I caught of whiff of this after having lunch with Law-Rah and Betty Joan last week. These two Dixie gals have their own slightly assimilated yet fully gorgeous accents, whereas my East Tennessee twang sounds most appropriate when hollerin' for Pa to git in, the vittles are ready! Since our lunch I've caught myself inserting more "y'all"s into my speech patterns and saying "whut?" instead of "could you please clarify that?" and "raht" instead of "yes, I concur" at work.
Last night I reached the apex of my faux-Dixie identity when K and I went for soul food at Oohhs and Aahhs on 10th and U (cannot recommend this highly enough; try the beef short ribs, green beans and cornbread if you want to know what heaven tastes like) and then caught Old Crow Medicine Show at the 9:30 Club. We'd seen OCMS at Prairie Home Companion earlier this summer, and were looking forward to a mellow night of hardcore bluegrass played by really cute 20something white boys. Imagine our surprise when we got inside to find out that the venue had sold out and was filled with people who looked exactly like us. I'd been expecting more of the NPR set, perhaps some Baby Boomers in tweed blazers with frayed elbow patches. But no, we were parked right behind the entire Ole Miss Sig Ep DC-area alumni association, and lordy honey, they were whoopin' it up. They even brought their own beer cozies (from Bass Pro Outdoors-- because if you're going to BYOBC to a bluegrass concert, of course they're going to be from Bass Pro Outdoors).
Our bellies filled with soul food (I named my soul food baby Jamal) and surrounded by congenial Southerners, K and I lapsed into hardcore twanging. K is originally from Oklahoma and has a more legitimate claim to her accent than I do, and was soon shouting things like "Euyh-muh-lee! Did y'all want uh Haaah-nuh-kyn or uh Milluh Laaaht this tahm?!" It was around the second of my Haaah-nuh-kyns and the band closing their first set with "Johnny Get Your Gun," that the crowd shifted from Congenial Southerner to Drunken Redneck. There was much ill-advised square dancing on the beer-soaked floor, and the faster they fiddled the more the crowd whooped like we were at an SEC tailgate. K and I sang along "Tell it to me, tell it to me, drink the corn liquor, let the cocaine be, cocaaaaaaaine done killed my honey dead!" and whooped with the best of them.
As we stumbled pack to the car, ankles twisted from do-si-do-ing and sides hurting from the dual effects of hollerin' and fried chicken, K and I were still twangin' away. "Eyuhm," K said as I unlocked the door, "I am so puh-raoooowd of uhs fuh doing sumthayn diif'reeeent."
I nodded. "Honey, we haaayve to do this agayn."
"Don't y'all wi-yush that we sahnded lahk this awl the tahm?"
I thought about the beer cozies, Jamal straining my pants waistband, and the look on the indie snob bartender's face when I'd ordered my Haaah-nuh-kyn.
"Honey child, no. I do nawht."