Trapped in My Accent

by Allison Ochs, MSW
Edit Change Management

When I moved to Europe as a 19-year-old, I knew one thing – I was American. I have since spent 29 years living abroad: my entire adult life. I am American, but I have changed. I'm feeling more European, specifically Swiss.

Recently, I was working with a group of teens. One of them made the remark, "I don't mean to be disrespectful but we are in Europe, and this might not be relevant to us." I smiled, "I understand. The thing is, my entire professional career has been in Europe, so I guess I would say it is relevant. This is about you." The kid was being a provocative teen and looked stumped. A while later in the presentation, it came out that I spoke German and French and the same teen slumped further. He was Spanish and must have thought, "Hey lady, I am European. We are more progressive than you Americans when it comes to sex and sexting."

A few weeks ago it happened again. This time an adult was the culprit, saying I was "too American" without even knowing me. I complained to my husband, "Will I ever free myself from this? What can I do?" He laughed, "Aside from faking another accent, no. You are who you are and people who don't know you will just assume based on your accent that you are a typical American." He is right of course, and I guess I will just have to continue living with people misunderstanding me. I think we all do.