I speak French with a German accent, apparently

I had to travel to Morocco to get a straight answer. French adults don’t acknowledge my accent, bless their hearts. French children just say that I talk funny.

Morocco’s unofficial second language is French. (Arabic is the first language, and the Berber family of languages are second, officially.)

Anita says that it is like Florida for France, with all the French retirees in campervans for long vacations, and in the resorts for slightly shorter trips. That certainly appeared to be true in Agadir, a city rebuilt for the purpose of foreign tourism.

My first diagnosis was from a supervisor at one of the resort’s restaurants; she simply assumed I was German.

The next evening, a bartender started counting the ice cubes in my pastis in German. He was beaming with pride that he’d switched to my native language on his own. I chuckled, and that must have given me away.

“You’re German, yes?” he asked in English. When I said that I was American, he erupted with joy. “All my time working here, you’re the first American!”

He was a little unclear on the details (“Chicago is close to Boston, yes?”) but his next words were invaluable. “You speak French like a German you know.”

I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s good to know but I’m racked with curiosity. Is it my pronunciation? The rhythm of my sentences? Can I blame Luxembourg? Or my American Midwest French teachers?

The last full day of our time in Agadir, I stopped to chat with the security guard on the boardwalk. He said, “Too cold for the beach?” and I replied that it was much warmer than I was accustomed to.

“You are German? Germans never mind the cold,” he laughed. I couldn’t help but correct him, especially when he didn’t recognize the name of Chicago. (That was a first for me.) Then I went back to my chaise next to Anita at the pool. I closed my eyes and couldn’t help contemplating how I pronounced the ten words I’d spoken before his guess.

On the day of our departure, Anita introduced me to a Parisian couple that she’d befriended the day before. I attempted to verify my Germanic accent and maybe get a few details.

I can’t say that I was surprised when I received a Gallic shrug in response. A pair of shrugs, actually, and just as William Gibson described them: “that complexly French way that seemed to require a slightly different skeletal structure.”

Three full days in Morocco, each day a similar diagnosis of my French pronunciation. Good to know, but I’m feeling a bit self-conscious now that I’m home.

6 Comments to “I speak French with a German accent, apparently”

  1. Amanda said...
    18 February 2011

    I was accused of being a German in Spain once. Because of my shoes.

  2. Jaime said...
    18 February 2011

    On the way to Dublin airport, I once had a taxi driver not believe I was American. He was convinced I was Australian!

  3. Dave said...
    18 February 2011

    Is this better or worse than your French Canadian acccent in middle school?

    At least you’ve pinpointed it. I blame Luxembourg.

  4. Will said...
    20 February 2011

    I have no way to compare my current accent to the way I spoke French in middle school. Back then, my main exemplar outside school was Pepé Le Pew.

  5. Sharon said...
    8 March 2011

    I think you just look German….
    You look more German than French to me.
    Use some more nasaly-ness. I don’t think the French want to claim you as their own, I wouldn’t either. ;)

  6. Ed Le Canard said...
    20 April 2011

    Although I’m French, I was once mistaken for an eskimo when someone yelled out that I was a “silly knut”.