Tag Archives: stereotype

Correcting My Joisey Accent

28 Jan


image via Harvard Dialect Study

“You’re from Joisey!” all the West Coasters would exclaim when I moved out to Los Angeles for college and told them I had come from New Jersey. That’s what I said, “New Jersey.” Not “New Joisey.” Yet they hoisted the accent upon me anyway.

My finger nails may have been a tad too long and I may have grown up spending every Saturday at the Garden State Plaza, but I definitely didn’t speak like some chick who over Aqua-Net her hair. In fact, no one I knew spoke that way.

…Well, at least I thought we didn’t. No one I knew pronounced “hamburger” like “hamboiger” or anything as nails-to-the-chalkboard as that, but when I really listened to the way my friends talked, I noticed there was maybe a slight accent to a few words. Some of my friends pronounced “water” as “wooter.” I also noticed I had a certain way of crunching words. “Orange juice” became “ornch juice.” “Drawers” became “joors.”

I was always a little sensitive about the issue of accents. As an immigrant with a thick Greek accent, my father sometimes was misunderstood by waitresses at restaurants, which infuriated me because I could understand what he was saying perfectly and when others couldn’t I believed it to be deliberate xenophobia. But it wasn’t just my father who had an accent. My mother was from Minnesota, another state beleaguered by accent stereotypes. My mother did not talk like any of the characters in Fargo, but she did say “melk” for “milk” and “tall” for “towel.” That’s how my siblings and I grew up speaking, and I made a concerted effort to rectify my speech.

Actually, the school system made a concerted effort to rectify my accent: I was put in speech therapy in elementary school. It was humiliating. I was the shyest kid in my grade—and probably the entire state—and yet the few times I opened my mouth I was punished by being singled out and removed from my normal class to have a therapist teach me how to talk “correctly.” That was enough to keep me silent throughout most of elementary school. Now, I had a real reason to fear talking and stay quiet. I was afraid that if I were to speak up, no one would be able to understand me.

In the school’s defense, I really did need speech therapy. As this eHow article on How to Speak with a New Jersey Accent teaches, I dropped all my “r”s—to the point that certain words, like “art,” became incomprehensible. My accent wasn’t just the issue though. On top of having a foreigner for a father and, let’s face it, as a Midwesterner my mom was pretty much a foreigner too, I had pretty severe hearing issues, which had impacted my speech. I had to have surgery twice as a kid to have tubes put in my ears.

I’m not sure if this was related, but a lot of what I did hear, I took literally instead of as an accent. I remember my speech therapist asking me what type of shoes I wore, and I said, “tenner shoes.” I think I knew that meant “tennis shoes,” but I remember thinking in that moment that I had definitely answered “wrong.” I felt so stupid as she questioned me if I played tennis. From then on, I knew the correct label for my shoes was “sneakers.” How could I have been so stupid as to call them tenner shoes? I taunted myself afterwards. I’d never even picked up a tennis racket. I blamed my mom. She was the one who called them that.

Worse, in 6th grade, the music teacher gave us a pop quiz on the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner.” When I got my test, it was clear she thought I was a horrible speller. I was relieved because this meant I got a better grade than I should have. I was also shocked that she thought someone could spell that poorly. Suddenly, I realized how “dumb” some of my classmates really must be, if I’d been given that much credit for my botched lyrics. In reality, I’d been misunderstanding lyrics the entire time. I thought “dawn’s early light” was “donzerly light.” I wasn’t sure of the exact definition of “donzerly,” but I pictured it as hazy white fireworks, since that’s what often accompanied the national anthem and seemed to coincide with what “bombs bursting in air” would’ve looked like.

So when that New York Times dialect quiz, based on the linguistics project Harvard Dialect Study, spread like wildfire over Facebook, I took it figuring it would identify me as having some random accent. But nope, it identified me as being from Newark/Paterson, Jersey City, and—somewhat inexplicably since it’s in northern California—Fremont.

Once a Jersey girl, always a Jersey girl.

What accent did you get?

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Greece Leading the Pack

2 Jul

So many people I talk to seems to have this idea, driven by the media and not personal experience, that Greeks are lazy and aren’t doing anything innovative.  This is simply not true.

  • Greeks were ranked third in Europe for the number of hours they work in a year, according to a poll surveying 1995-2005.
  • Greek healthcare is amongst the best in the world.  It’s universal.
  • The Greek maritime industry is recognized as incredibly powerful in the world economy.  It’s not as high as it was in the 1970s, but Greek shipping heirs still seem to be attracting the likes of Paris Hilton and an Olsen twin.
  • Greek companies, such as Korres and Apivita, are leading the natural skincare and makeup revolution.
  • Greece is leading animal rights activism by banning the use of animals in circuses.
  • Greeks are often considered the most hospitable people.  It’s no wonder tourism continues to thrive, despite the media’s ploy to scare people away from the country.  Time + Leisure magazine named Santorini “The World’s Best Island” last year.
  • Greece’s Peloponnese region hardly needs to market itself to attract surfers and golfers from around the world.
  • Greek wine is currently having a revival.  Greek wine is very trendy right now in the United States.
  • Greece is home to the longest cable-stayed bridge in Europe.

Greece is working hard to bridge the gap between its rich history and its present.  The country is respecting its past, its traditions, its natural landscape, and its flora and fauna, while simultaneously capitalizing on these strengths.

New Yorker Quips Greeks Invented Tragedy, Not Much Else Lately

15 Jun


I’m getting sick of the way everyone’s always ragging on Greece.  I just read this comment in “Greece Vs. The Rest” in The New Yorker:

Greeks are fond of pointing out that they invented democracy; they invented tragedy, too, and that is what their situation increasingly looks like, whoever wins the election. The problem is that in recent years they haven’t invented much of anything else.

The author clearly thinks he’s being witty, but it is an insensitive and erroneous remark.  We don’t go around mocking other countries that are experiencing crises.  Why is it okay to denigrate Greece?  Is it because, yes, “Greeks are fond of pointing out that they invented democracy,” and therefore come off as braggers?  Or are other countries purely jealous of how much Greece has influenced the world?

Greece in fact is innovating.  Greece is part of the Global Monitoring for Environmental and Security Initiative.  Three years ago, Nanophos SA received first prize for Innovation and Sustainability in the International Exhibition “100% Detail.” Lavrion Technological and Cultural Park is linking culture and technology research. Furthermore, many well-known international companies—such as Coca-Cola, Ericsson, and Motorola—conduct their research and development in Greece.

Sorry, Greece did not invent the ipod.  Let’s remember that much of modern Greece was under oppression.  During World War I, many Greeks were killed, and Greek refugees fled Turkey for Greece, which led to its own economic stresses.  During World War II, Nazis occupied Greece, sending Greek citizens to concentration camps.  From 1946 to 1949, Greece had a civil war, when it rose up against Communism.  And now, even in the years leading up to the economic crisis, the media has lampooned Greece, scaring off tourists and investors.  It’s hard to be creative and inventive when you’re fighting for your life.

What I do agree with is the author’s statement:

An unsustainable burden is being loaded on those sectors of the population who were already paying.

Just like here in the US, where the rich are able to write everything off so as not to pay taxes, there are many people in Greece who are not paying taxes.  Those who do pay their taxes are being overtaxed.  These are the people who are poorer, who are older, who are retired, who are more generous to those in need, who do what is right, who are loyal to their country.

This is why we saw a 77-year-old man shoot himself in the head in Syntagma Square—the Times Square of Athens—back in April.  As the Guardian reported, he shouted, “I’m leaving because I don’t want to pass on my debts.”

It saddens me that the media is not more compassionate towards Greece.  Yes, there are many things that need to change there, but the blame cannot be placed solely on Greece.  The country has suffered many hardships.  There are real people living in Greece who are, yes, experiencing tragedy.  Maybe we need to cling to our heritage to remind us of what we can accomplish and give us some hope for our future.  Maybe instead of lambasting Greece, the foreign media should believe in Greece.  Because you know what?  Greece has overcome many trials and tribulations, and will rise again.