Friday, June 01, 2007

Copy That

During lunch today I happened to sit next to someone with a flat Midwestern accent, which got me to thinking how bad I am at doing on-the-spot impersonations. Some people are really good at imitating an accent or impersonating a movie character. I'm not. When it comes to cracking a Borat joke, or speaking with an exaggerated foreign accent I'm a non-starter. I'll even venture to say that my lack of aptitude in this area qualifies as my greatest weakness, though if I gave that as my answer in a job interview I'm pretty sure the interviewer would look at me funny. Lest anyone start to feel sympathy for me, this shortcoming of mine doesn't affect all aspects of my life. When I'm living or traveling in another country (or down south, as the case may be), I do a pretty good job of adopting the regional inflections and voice modulations so that people don’t peg me as a "damn Yankee" the moment I open my mouth.

The root of my problem stems from my inability to vocalize and act out the impersonation. My ear isn't perfect, but I'm pretty good at recognizing different pitches and nuances in speech. However, between my ear and my mouth something gets lost in translation. If I hear an Indian accent, for example, I wind up trying to imitate it with something that sounds like it originated in England but then made a diversion to Germany for some polishing. Similarly, my attempts to speak English with a Russian accent, or to sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger (who, I realize is Austrian), both come out sounding like I grew up on a kibbutz.

Without overanalyzing all of this, the disconnect is probably related to the fact that I'm a relatively even-keeled kind of guy (Ok, I’m a very even-keeled kind of guy). This characteristic serves me well in certain situations, but it doesn't lend itself to letting loose and acting out in dramatic fashion. My balanced personality (or, some might say "reserved" personality) doesn't affect me when I'm living somewhere else or traveling, because I don't consider speaking in another accent as acting out then, I just think of it as trying to better appreciate the culture and interact with the native residents.

The moral of this whole story is that I need to go spend a few weeks in the midwest, so that I could have lunch again with my neighbor from today.

P.S. If you're interested in an update on the Tyson's Corner subway tunnel that I wrote about a few weeks ago, it's still not getting built.