Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Sometimes when I get really bored at work I play this game in my head.
What you do is you try to figure out what you would say to certain people if you had their undivided attention for 5 minutes. All sorts of people. From the president to random celebrities to that crazy smoking lady at the bus stop. It is all about practicing your conversation skills.

It started because when I was a very little girl I was so painfully shy. I spent a lot of my time with my head buried in the back of my mom or dad's knee when people tried to speak to me. My parents used to tell people what a chatterbox I was at home and how they thought it was funny that I would get so shy around people I didn't know. I decided I needed to force myself to act the same way towards strangers as I did to them at home. I saw their comments as negative criticism; a personality fault they would point out to strangers again and again. I was determined to change.
I started talking to everyone and saying nothing, just as long as I was talking. This made the family start to criticize me in a different way. They gave me unflattering nicknames that pretty much all boiled down to saying "She talks too much."

I would get so upset by how they would tease because I thought I was only doing what they wanted. So then I switched gears again and made it a point to go for hours without saying a word. I would watch the clock and count the words I would have to speak if I spoke. I would count the words that they were speaking and compare their numbers to mine in my head. I would only speak when someone spoke to me. Only answer direct questions if I had to verbally. I would shake my head if I could get away with a simple yes or no answer.
The thing is, no matter how long I would remain mute, the second three words came out of my mouth they would say, "Oh, there she goes again!" and laugh knowingly to one another.
It was insulting, even to a five year old.
I would try to argue that it wasn't accurate because I only spoke "this number of words" in the last two hours compared to all of the words they had spilled out, the numbers didn't lie, but that mattered not.

When we moved to Alaska, I was 7 and it was a whole new problem for me. I had a horrible midwestern accent. I sounded pretty Fargo if you know what I mean. Everything seemed to come out of my nose and I put an accent on sounds that the other kids didn't. I used words like 'ain't' because that is what everyone used around me while I was growing up. My accent made me sound simple and therefor people thought I was. I picked up some pretty insulting nicknames because of my accent. I was treated like I was slow by certain teachers, that is until I was tested and they realized I was much further ahead than they ever imagined. This time the numbers worked to my advantage.

I had one particular teacher who really changed her attitude towards me after she saw my test scores. She started riding me and correcting my grammar all of the time. She told me that I would probably not like her very much for it then, but when I grew up I would be glad she did this for me. She worked with me every day for the whole school year making me pronounce things over and over and over again until my accent was almost completely gone. To this day I hear her voice in my head if I slip and I don't sound like the rest of my family. Even my little brother has a stronger midwest accent than I do, and he was just a baby when we left!
I think I still sound a touch nasal because that is just where that particular voice comes from and there is no shaking that, but I accent things in the right places for the most part, and I don't ever use the word "ain't" anymore unless I am being silly and even then it makes me feel uncomfortable.

Needless to say, with all of this controversy about the sound of my voice in my most formative years, I was made very self-conscious about speaking. So I play these games where I practice conversing with people in my head.

Now my job is to talk to strangers on the phone every day. Nice.


Earl said...

That sucks. It's not fair that you get stereotyped for how you talk. I've always had a slight lisp (corrected mostly by speech therapy classes in kindergarten & first grade) but 28 years later I'm still conscious of it as it tends to come out when my mouth is dry. It doesn't bother me if someone thinks I'm gay, but to make that assumption based on a "-th" sound instead of a "-sss" sound is lame.
However, I have to admit that I sometimes assume that people with certain southern accents are not intelligent, and that is just as lame if not worse.

Now I have a job that requires verbal communication with lots of people, and I often find myself using email instead even though I should probably call directly.

I like your game though...it sounds like it could help.


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