Maria Smedstad – Border control
Text & Illustration: Maria Smedstad
My native accent is from the north-east coast of Sweden, slow and broad, with thick Ls and elongated vowels. My English accent, on the other hand, is generically southern. The south is where we moved as a family in 1994, and is consequently where I’ve stayed.
My older sister largely bypassed England, instead moving to the US in her early 20s. There, she divided her time between Oklahoma and Oregon, sharing flats with Australians and Danes along the way. As a result, her English accent is – well – all of that. When we travel abroad together, our mish-mash of accents has a tendency to confuse people. On sight, people often assume correctly that we are Scandinavian (or Dutch); however, our accents are anything but. At best, this leads to friendly banter with a waiter in Portugal. At worst, it holds us up at a national border, as happened once in the US. At the time, we were rattling across the Canadian/US border in my sister’s old Volvo, causing ourselves to be pulled over for some stern questioning. Apparently, two Swedish citizens travelling in a car with an American number plate, one with a Tulsa/Adelaide accent, the other one speaking Kent, was entirely incomprehensible and decidedly suspect. “Why is your British accent so good?” was a question that could not be answered with a thrilled “Why thank you!”. The state of the Volvo was also the cause of some unease. This was entirely justifiable – my sister had likely been overcome by some form of wild childhood nostalgia when purchasing the clearly unroadworthy 1980s model. We didn’t admit to this, though. You don’t diss your national brand of car unless you really have to.
Maria Smedstad moved to the UK from Sweden in 1994. She received a degree in Illustration in 2001, before settling in the capital as a freelance cartoonist, creating the autobiographical cartoon Em. Maria writes a column on the trials and tribulations of life as a Swede in the UK. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine.
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