Monday, September 16, 2013

It Never Pays to Fake It

America's a great place to live. Filled with opportunity, crazy politics, and states like Montana and North Dakota where you can move to and never have to see another human being in your life, it's safe to say we have the best of everything. We are a country that has made the excess previously only available to the kings of 18th century France available to all, no matter how poor. All they have to do is get a credit card. We are a melting pot, and so have the best and worst of all the cultures in one grand pizza of civilization.

But there's always a downside. Just like American food is largely unoriginal, so is our language. We stole the Queen's English, bastardized it so that the poor Brits can't even recognize it, and relegated the British version of English to an accent only used in England and in historical films, no matter what era or country the story is set in. And that's fine with me. Americans have arguably made English into a better language, endowing it with colorful phrases like okie dokie, cat's pajamas, and OMG.

With the humbling knowledge that I have other countries to thank for the language I bandy and butcher every day, I am always self-conscious as I stumble over foreign words even when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I know perfectly well how to pronounce them. Yves Klein, Evelyn Waugh, and Bonjour Tristesse invariably come out accompanied by a self-conscious wince. As an American I feel like this is a must. Since we expanded upon another country's native tongue we have no business pronouncing foreign words like we know how to say them. It's just pompous. I know you're pronouncing Albrecht Durer and Vincent Van Gogh correctly, with expertly placed hacks, grunts, and trills, but it sounds ridiculous. We're in America, so say van-GO, and not van-Gogchph.

So when someone tries to pronounces a word, usually French, German, Italian, or Russian, I immediately decide that they are a phony. It doesn't matter if they majored in the language, spent two years there on a student visa, and now work at an embassy. I can't help it. I will silently judge you and write you off of my contact list as a pretentious snob. I once went out with a guy and when he found out I was reading Proust, tried to tell me how much he knew about Schvann's Way. I replied that I had never heard of Schvann's Way, but I had finished Swann's Way last year and enjoyed it very much. He never got a text back to his inquiry about a second date.

It's just not in our blood to pronounce things correctly. The majority of us didn't travel to Amsterdam on school holidays or visit Monet's lily ponds on day trips. This is America, land of the free, home of the brave, and haven for the individual who likes to identify with the masses. And with my independent individuality in hand I shall pass judgment on pompous snobs everywhere.

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