In a land where everyone talks like a Disney princess or James Bond, my accent sticks out like a sore thumb. The Malaysian accent is rough around the edges, poorly phrased and filled with nonsensical syllables that will make a dictionary author cry. It’s instantly recognizable, to the point where if you’re on a crowded London tube you’ll detect the unmistakable sounds of ‘lahs’ and ‘Where got wan?’ from the end of the carriage. And it’ll make you feel like jumping out on your seat and saying, “Eh, can I join ah?”
Accents are often a handy way to figure out where someone grew up in – but only if they know where that accent is from. With a strange one such as mine, nobody can really place you. The closest some people will come to is – “Are you from Singapore?” To a Malaysian this is like being mistaken for your much more hardworking, higher achieving brother. If they don’t know where Singapore is they might say, “Hey you’re American right?” Our Malaysian forefathers will probably cry, if they knew that we’ve been so Americanized by Western TV that people are starting to think we sound like them. And if they really can’t figure out where my accent is from, they place their bets on what’s safest and say, “Ni hao!”
Having a weird accent has its downsides. It’s hard for people to catch what you say sometimes, so you got to really talk like. You. Mean. Every. Word. To the point that I’m kind of worried that people think I’m slow in the head, of just high. It goes the other way as well. Sometimes in a big group of British friends someone will make a hilarious joke that everyone laughs at, but which I didn’t quite catch. My choice is to either not laugh and look psychopathic, or laugh and live a lie. So I’ve gotten pretty good and faking laughs now.
But there are upsides to having a Malaysian accent as well, and I’ve come to really appreciate being from a foreign country and having foreign sounding vocal cords. For one, it’s always a topic of conversation to bring up. Inevitably someone will ask me when I’m from, and that question always excites me because I’m proud to say I’m Malaysian (though they often won’t know where that is, and I have to say, “you know, the country that lost two aeroplanes?). And also, having this weird accent has really helped me with British women. Turns out, they think it makes me exotic and interesting.
That last part isn’t true.
But regardless, my Malaysian accent is kind of like a badge that I always have to wear when I’m out and about. It identifies me as where I’m from and who I am. But rather than shy away from it (or try covering it with a UK one) I’ll rather wear it proudly.