“Where are you from?” they ask me the minute I open my mouth.
All it would take is one word, a simple hello, and they would immediately discover that I’m not one of them, that I’m a transplant from a faraway land.
After seventeen years of living in the US, I still haven’t figured out how to pronounce one American word correctly before revealing my true colors, my deviation from red, white and blue.
Even though I’m a naturalized citizen who proudly carries her American passport everywhere I go, I was not born in this land. This purgatory is where I dwell — one foot in Rockville, Maryland, and another in Jordan, where I grew up. Having an accent only accentuates that sense of not belonging, the unsettling feeling that the jig is always up, that I’m a foreigner who will die a foreigner.
When I first moved to the US and realized my phonetics issues, it bothered me. It really bothered me, especially when sometimes the question of where I was from would be followed by, “Do you speak English?”
It infuriated me when people slowed down their speech to talk to me so that I could understand them since, in their eyes, my accent was proof of my language inferiority.
I grappled with many issues as I sunk into the hole of self-doubt. Would my accent affect my job prospects? Would potential employers think I’m not qualified enough even though I had over two decades of experience and a master’s degree in journalism from one of the best universities in the United Kingdom (the birthplace of the English language)?
Would my accented American English impede my pursuit of a writing job in English? Shall I enroll in an accent reduction class? Can I even afford that?
Although eventually I got various jobs in the US and appeared on TV to comment on international news, was invited to speak on panels, and was published in top newspapers like the Washington Post and Elle magazine, self-doubt never left me.
That damn accent.
My unfair advantage
Everything changed when I attended a live presentation by media mogul Greek-American Ariana Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post. She started her presentation with this one sentence: “I…