I’m at my favorite Atlanta coffee shop, Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party, where the owner and baristas recognize me, the only place I’ve ever been a regular, where they predict my order as I’m walking in the door. Today, after I asked for my usual, a cup of coffee with room for cream, the cute-as-a-button baker/barista said, “I love to hear you order because the way you say coffee brings me back home.” I laughed and we talked about her Long Island roots and my New Jersey ones and the difficulties that that dumb Jersey Shore show brings us.

When I say coffee or dog, people comment, “You aren’t from Atlanta, are you?” When I say, “When did you find out that you were pregnant?” (which I say more than you’d imagine), they respond, “Why did I find out I was pregnant?!” I finally caught on that they’re not accustomed to hearing “when” not pronounced as “win.” And I’m not innocent–clients still ask me for an “ink pin,” and I have to say, “A what?” before I realize that they want a pen. And in spite of all of this, my mom gave me a book for Christmas that’s all about a southern lady in her tiny southern town. Inside the front cover, my mom wrote, “When did we become southern?!” And I laughed because we kind of did. I’m still loathe to admit it because I don’t want to identify with the confederate flag loving good old boys, or the old society families who STILL participate in coming out parties, but I love the nearly year-round warmth and the stately old houses and grits. I’ll still bristle if I ever hear, “y’all” come out of my mouth or if I ever travel to New York and I sound like I’m not from there, but I’m kind of OK with this place.

I’ve actually lived in the south since I was three years old, so for all good reasons, I really should have a southern accent. I attribute my decidedly N.J. accent to listening to my parents talk and to being sensitive to nuances in dialect since I was younger than necessary. The only thing that I liked about my college linguistics class was writing out phonetic pronunciations and seeing that my answers were different from the rest of the class, full of students born and bred in Georgia. And I think that sensitivity must be responsible for my Spanish pronunciations that I’m so proud of. A Mexican co-worker once heard me speaking Spanish and exclaimed, “She talks like one of us!” Latina clients ask what country I’m from or if I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, and those are still some of the greatest compliments.

I’ve actually never been mistaken for a true southerner, and when I try to imitate that accent, I’m laughably bad, but I sort of like being a geographic chameleon. And when my southern best friend turns on her charming drawl, I tease her a tiny bit, but I do appreciate it and that bit of charm I’ll never have. (“Cwow-fee” doesn’t endear me to many people the way, “Oh, bless your heart” does.)

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