the time i was pretending to be british, and got polish hate-crimed

Santorini, Greece
Oia Santorini, Greece

Attraction is a strange thing. Some people fancy beautiful eyes or long legs or blondies or baldies (gentlemen, I know one fine young lady who’s a sucker for shiny-headed, gap-toothed men, if you’re looking). I’ve always been more of a sounds and smells kind of girl. If you smell funky, you’re automatically redirected to the No bucket. But what smells funky to me, can’t possibly smell funky to everyone, so who am I to judge? It’s just that if you smell like a wet sock to me, I don’t think we can fix that. The pheromones have spoken.

Now, if you speak with any sort of accent, I’ll personally escort you to at least the Not No bucket. Pretty much any accent does the trick…Boston, Southern, Yooper, British, Australian, Brazilian, Canadian, Kiwi; there is no known end. I know it’s superficial. But so is only dating men above a certain height, or having a preference between T&A.

What this accent attraction doesn’t do is explain why I feel the need to speak like I’m from England/Ireland/Australia/New Zealand/Scotland or more realistically, a mangled mash-up of all of the above. Half of the time I don’t even realize I am doing it. My sister is inflicted with the same vocal problem, and it’s not uncommon for us to leave long voicemails to each other, speaking in some unrecognizable tongue.

Traveling abroad seems to worsen my condition. I figure it isn’t hurting anyone if I pretend I am British for a few five-minute conversations, when we’re just exchanging pleasantries. I hate chitchat. I hate the little nothing conversations you have with others to be polite. I guess this makes me a horrible person, but speaking with a fake accent is definitely a way to make small talk more enjoyable.

And then this happened.

We’re on a tiny island waiting for the free shuttle to take us to downtown Mykonos, Greece. As per usual, my friend Alex found himself engaged in a conversation with strangers, who just so happened to be two young girls from the US. Alex has this gift of being able to converse with anyone anywhere; I usually just wait for his new friends to disappear. But this time Alex wormed his way into introducing me, and my British self just popped out of my mouth. Well-acquainted with my British side, he joined my web of lies with no questions asked.

The shuttle finally showed up and there happened to be a legit British family aboard, so I decided to shut up. I’m fully aware my fake accent is terrible, and I didn’t want to be asked any questions (I have pretty much zero knowledge of anything British, except that they speak with a brilliant accent), called out for being an imposter, or worse, offend them in any way, as my fake accent is pretty offensive. I quietly eavesdropped on their conversation trying to pick up some pointers.

I bolted from the bus, freed from the ears of the British family, but noticed the American girls stuck around. Well, fuck me. See, once you come out as British, the only appropriate time to stop being British, is when you physically leave the people you just falsely lead to believe you were British.


Left with little choice, I morphed into a Brit with a past. My parents split when I was younger and my twin sister moved to the States with my mom, which is why I sometimes “slipped” into the American accent but I had recently moved to Chicago to reunite with my sister. Yes, I stole that right from Parent Trap. When I learned one of our new friends was an aspiring model, I created a friend in New York who worked at an agency. What’s that? Of course I will take a photo of you and send it to him! (technically I do have a friend who lives in New York who works. He was very confused by my message containing a glamour shot of a girl with the caption, “found your next model!”) A couple of times I had to politely remind Alex he was not British, just me, so his accent was unnecessary. My Oscar moment of the night was when one of the ladies gushed, “I totally apologize in advance if I start talking like you, I just love your accent. I hope I don’t offend you.” Offend? I will wear that as a badge of honor, my friend. You have no idea just how inoffensive that is.

And then I was punished for being a horrible fraud of a human.

An entire night of being British is exhausting and makes you hungry. I needed a gyro. And let me tell you, it was the BEST gyro my mouth has ever known. We were actively consuming our individual pieces of heaven, when I noticed a guy from the club gazing wistfully at Alex. (For the record, this is a very hard thing not to do. I find myself gazing wistfully at Alex all of the time, and I know he’s gay.) Alex was preoccupied with his gift from the gyro gods and failed to notice, but the loud, obnoxious American table sitting in between us took offense. It’s hard to say exactly why one of them dumped their entire two liter bottle of water over the guy, and I won’t pretend to understand their motives, but the accusatory comments made while dumping gave me reason to believe they didn’t do it just ’cause. Startled, he fell back in his chair and hit his head on the ground.

I don’t like bullies and I am especially averse to bullies who specialize in hate crimes.

“I’m sorry, excuse me. Wha’dya go and do that for?” I heard my angry British voice question. It’s my favorite phrase to say undercover.

First they tried to tell me they were related (they weren’t), then they told me to mind my own business, stay out of it, go back to my own country (uh, what? Have you failed to notice you are also a foreigner?) and finally, to go f*ck myself.

Yeah, no. Minding your own business is how people get assaulted in the middle of city streets while other people listen and peek out the windows from the safety of their homes to see what all the commotion is about. Someone else will do something. If you see horrible things happen and just let them happen, you’re kind of saying it’s okay. And it’s not okay. Besides, I’ve never excelled in minding my own business.

We exchanged words; theirs rude, typical college-aged American insults, mine with a lot of “bloody” and “wankers” tossed in. It became clear to me that I had the distinct advantage of being sober and logical. They must have figured this out too, because they resorted to what so many people do when they have nothing intelligent to say: attack with personal insults.

“Why do you care anyway? Look at your nose. You’re ugly as f*ck. Get a nose job.”

Now my brain is working overtime, trying to carefully select fighting words British people would actually use, while at the same time trying to process their logic. How did…why…what? My nose? I’m sorry…what does that have to do with…what are we talking about here again?

I’m Polish, complete with the Polish nose of my father, his mother, and a long line of Polish ancestors. Growing up, I remember telling myself I would grow into my nose. Turns out, it doesn’t really work that way, though I will say, some stages were much more awkward than others. And kids are mean, man. So I endured my fair share of stares, rude comments to my face, whispers just loud enough to reach my ears and I taught myself to deal with it. They weren’t staring at me. They weren’t whispering about me. And even if they were…meh. What kid, heck, what adult, doesn’t have that one (or many) thing they are insecure about? This was mine.

As an adult, dealing with it turned into acceptance, and acceptance turned into some weird sort of love/hate appreciation. I liked that I looked like my dad. I liked that I looked different from everyone else. I liked being Polish. Finally it just became a part of who I am, which is funny to acknowledge, since it was physically always a part of who I was.

I am ashamed to admit, their words cut deep that night. Now, I realize calling this a hate crime might be a stretch. The internet tells me “hate crime” describes bias-motivated violence (verbal abuse and insults included) on the basis of certain personal characteristics: different appearance, color, nationality, language, religion. So technically, to make it a hate crime would mean the bullies perceived me to be Polish (clearly I was British, duh) and verbally insulted me because I was Polish. Part of what helped me in my acceptance phase was strongly identifying with my ethnicity. I told myself everyone looked like me in Poland, I was just a long way from home, and I should appreciate my ethnic look. I was especially offended by the piss poor advice to get a nose job. Please, it’s not like I didn’t think about it every day for years. I’m so past that. This is me! I was born this way, dammit! I forged a direct link between my nose and being Polish, so while their insults probably had no hate behind them, it felt like they were attacking my very identity.

At some point, water was thrown in my face, and I completely lost control of my right hand, which allegedly tossed my half-eaten gyro at the gaggle of bullies. I regretted that immediately. Noooooo, not my gyro! It was so good. After unintelligibly shouting as many insults as they could form in what was left of their wasted brains, they high-fived themselves on their successful verbal attacks and skipped down the street chanting, “USA! USA!”

I vowed to be British forever.

Maybe I was exhausted from my acting gig, disappointed in being even remotely associated with those Americans, pissed at myself for wasting my gyro on a bunch of losers, overwhelmed by long-forgotten childhood memories, or confused at what the heck had just happened, but I just broke down and cried. It was only then I noticed the locals. Several applauded me and thanked me for saying something and “giving them what they deserved,” one told me, “it looked like you had it covered, but we were here for you just in case,” and the wonderful gyro shop owner said,” I noticed you used your gyro as a weapon. Care for another?” Oh man, WOULD I?!

But unfortunately my appetite had chased the Americans down the street. I was overwhelmed, sad and embarrassed. Embarrassed for my fellow non-idiotic Americans, my country and how it was represented, and especially for how I let meaningless words from insignificant people affect me. I just wanted to close my eyes and erase the last 20 minutes with the darkness of my eyelids.

The next morning as Alex slowly came back to life, he just stared at me. I shifted uneasily, worried he was going to try to comfort me, and tell me I’m pretty and wonderful, but instead he just solemnly touched my arm and spoke very slowly, “Tosha…I just…I just want you to know…I’m very impressed that you fought that entire fight last night without breaking your British accent. Not once.”

And that is why we are friends.

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