Having an accent different from the locals certainly sets you aside (particularly when you are in a town in north Texas that doesn’t see a lot of foreign tourists). People notice you and engage with you when perhaps they otherwise wouldn’t. This is a good thing.
Ever since we arrived here people have been intrigued by our accents, a lot of people will comment upon it and try to guess where we are from. However, many do not get it right. The most common mistake is that people assume we are English! The Americans seem to have a lot of trouble differentiating The English accent from the Australian one (even though most English and Aussies would agree they are not at all alike). Still, the locals love our accent – it can be a great ice breaker or conversation starter. On one occasion we had a waitress who attended us with a dedication beyond expectations; she admitted it was just so that she could hear us speak. A lot of folks we meet just want us to talk, just to listen to the accent.
However, it is not without its problems and limitations!
Although we all speak English here (except for those who speak Spanish) you would sometimes question whether you are speaking a completely foreign language. We are often misunderstood, or not understood at all; we get blank stares, pleas to repeat or just a grunt of “huh?”. Once, in a retail store I asked an assistant a question – I had to repeat what I said 4 times! Perhaps on first hearing a different accent, they are taken aback and don’t concentrate on what is being said. It can still be very frustrating though. (Andrew has taken to speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y when asked to repeat himself).
To be fair, though, it does occasionally go the other way. Sometimes we have difficulty understanding what is being said to us, generally not because of the accent, but due to the way some words are pronounced or because a different meaning to what we know is attached to a word. The whole subject of the Texan vernacular has had me pondering for some time – it deserves more consideration and a separate post – keep watching!