This Yankee Needs to Find Her Yeehaw… and Soon

a closeup of an array of black and brown cowboy boots
Image by Marco Verch / CC BY

We’re stopped at a Subway in Kentucky. On our way to Georgia, to a large conference called Frolicon, due to land later that evening.

My husband, who grew up in rural Michigan, is suddenly talking like a cowboy. “Yes, ma’am, no ma’am, thank you kindly.” It’s appropriate given the context but jarring. He code switches like it’s no big deal.

Me on the other hand? Well, I’m floundering. I’m spitting out words in clipped Yankee fashion and hearing them drop from my mouth with all the grace of profanity.

“Would you like your sub toasted, ma’am?” the worker asks.

“Yup,” I say.

I can see a micro-expression flash across her face, one that signals to me at least that I’m being really brusque.

Oh God, what are you doing? I think. You sound curt and angry.

I try again. I stretch out a “yeah” so that it lasts about three seconds. That doesn’t work either. I sound like I’m mocking her. Incredulous. Sarcastic.

As she continues to ask me your standard Subway questions, about cheese and condiments, I scramble for another solution. “Yes, thank you,” I begin to say.

I’m still talking a little fast. And my accent sounds weird, sandwiched between the two sub shop workers and my Suddenly Talking Like a Cowboy Husband who frankly sounds very natural and sexy in a novel way.

As I watch the sub shop worker place pickles on my roast beef footlong, visions flash before my eyes of my husband standing on the cover of a romance novel as a moody ranch hand with bedroom eyes.

“Yes, thank you very much,” I try, drawing my words out a bit slower. It’s still a little fast. Relative to the speed of everyone around me, I’m talking like I’m in a freaking hurry. Enough that I’m starting to give myself anxiety.

But I make it through the transaction. My husband pays for my lunch, still talking like a cowboy. I decide it’s time to shut up.

When we get out to the car, I ask him, “Where did you learn to talk like a cowboy?”

He laughs. “I was talking like a cowboy?” He tells me it often happens when he travels for work. He picks up the accent of the people around him without even realizing he’s doing it.

I know it’s true because he came back from South Africa sounding like a completely different person for about a week.

“How the hell am I going to move to Texas?” I moan into my car window.

“You’ll be fine. You’ll adjust,” he says. “And besides,” he adds, “didn’t you tell me that you were reading that lots of people in Dallas-Fort Worth don’t have Texan accents?”

I nod. “I’ll be trapped in the city,” I say. “A Yankee who can’t adjust. I wish there were a course or something I could take. Southern accents for dummies. I need a program or something.”

He laughs again. Reminds me that I figured out a passable Midwestern accent after a little while in Cleveland. Although my childhood accents still come out more easily when I’m drunk and/or angry.

I suppose he has a point. But I’m not so sure I’ll be able to adjust so easily this time.

Not just when it comes to the accent. Since I’m originally from Maine and Quebec. That makes me pretty Yankee even for a Yankee.

Can I live in the South without making a complete and total ass of myself over and over again? Stay tuned.

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1 Comment

  1. Watch a bunch of youtubes of Molly Ivins and Ann Richards; I think you’ll be able to be sympathetic to their no-bullshit talk, which will sound more natural over time. It’ll come, I promise!

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