"Vi are From Svee-den!": More on Language Mismatches


I mentioned last week the oddly charming effect of seeing someone raised in India speaking English with a distinct German accent -- because he'd been working for a German car company for decades. Reader Mike Baab weighs in:

As an American who's lived in London and now Copenhagen, the ethnicity-accent disparity is becoming one of my favorite things about living 'in-Continent'. One of my good friends was born to Vietnamese immigrants living in Paris, and speaks with an accent so French that if one of your English-speaking friends did it, you'd be offended. I love watching my American friends try to figure out this ethnically Asian guy smoking a cigarette and ending sentences with 'non?'

I have no data to back this up, but I anecdotally see this more and more when I travel around Europe. I was in Stockholm last summer, and heard a group of mostly black schoolgirls practicing their English in a train station, 'jaaaa' and all.

The increasing distance between ethnicity and nationality is something I really like about living here, and whenever I get discouraged about European insularity, I think of those girls on their first trip to America, and the looks on people's faces when they say 'Vi are from Svee-den!'
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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