Which Accent Do You Dislike Being Accused Of Having?

Which Accent Do You Dislike Being Accused Of Having?

It’s can be refreshing when you’re travelling to have someone recognise your accent, but pleasure can turn to offence if someone gets it wrong. If you want to upset a New Zealander, try suggesting they’re from Australia.

Kiwi picture from Shutterstock

In a discussion about regional accents before a conference session kicked off when I was in the US last week, one speaker suggested that the smaller your country, the more likely you are to be offended if someone guesses you’re from a larger nearby neighbour. “Australians don’t get offended if you guess they’re from New Zealand, but Kiwis hate it if you say they’re Australians. Same for the Dutch and the Germans.” I’m not sure that’s an absolute rule (some people take offence more readily regardless of their origin), but it’s an interesting speculation.

The level of distinction can also vary based on where you’re visiting. In the US, you’re often lucky if someone notices that you’re Australian rather than British. In the UK, more people can successfully distinguish Australians from New Zealanders. In France, native speakers can pick the part of the country you’re from based on the accent. What remains constant is that some individuals will be offended if you make a guess and get it wrong. National and regional origin is an important aspect of identity for many people.

How can you avoid those solecisms yourself? While it’s tempting to try and demonstrate the breadth of your knowledge by guessing at someone’s accent, it can be a risky business if you’re unsure. Sticking to a more general statement — “your accent suggests you’re not from around here, where are you from?” — can be a safer approach.

Which accent mishaps have tripped you up or upset you in the past? Share your tale in the comments.


  • Having a Canadian accent, whenever I meet someone they ask if I’m American. I don’t take offence, but it does happen every. single. time.

    • That’s why if I’m unsure, I always guess Canadian before I guess American. The American’s dont mind, and the Canadians are chuffed that they didn’t have to put up with the whole “no, I’m Canadian” thing.
      However, after spending some time in Canada, I can pretty much pick the difference now (mostly).

      • I always guess Canadian. I’d rather get under an American’s skin than a Canadian’s.

    • i find it pretty easy to pick between americans and canadians, usually even when a canadian is playing an american on tv.
      the differences are definitely there if you hear canadians enough.

      • Except when you’re an American from the very northern part of the country right near Canada. For some Americans, their nearest major city is in Canada.

    • Interesting; I’m a half-Canadian, born and raised in America. Been in Australia since I was 14. The majority of the time people ask me if I’m Canadian, vastly outweighing the amount of times people ask if I’m American.

      Then again a rare outlier ask if I’m Irish so clearly people can’t hear accents and just randomly pick some country that isn’t Australia.

      • I’m originally from Ireland, Dublin and I’m frequently pegged as an American by Australians. Fair enough I reckon as my accent is more Bono than Darby O’Gill. The weird thing is that Americans from the Northern States recognise me as Irish, while their southern cousins think I’m English. But weirdest of all is that every Canadian I’ve ever spoken to has thought I’m a fellow countryman – right down to placing my accent as being from the Ottawa Valley.

        • I guess that’s the thing – accent doesn’t even go down to a country level. Where most of my family are from / live there’s fairly strong Bostonian accents, which would differ from a lot of the rest of America.

          Moral of the story: Everyone is different. No two people are not on fire.

        • Hey mate, I’m a Canadian from the Ottawa Valley living in Australia for the past 8 years and in that time working in pubs and clubs I probably average at least one person a fortnight who asks if I’m Irish….

    • I usually have no problem picking an “American” Canadian accent. The French Canadian accent is a little harder to distinguish from a normal French accent though (to me, anyway).

  • I’m not bothered by people wrongly guessing my accent. I’m pretty much the opposite of a patriot, I think all countries have their strengths and weaknesses, and getting fussy or offended over nationality (or race/gender/religion/etc. really) seems pretty pointless.

    • Agreed. Accents are fascinating, though. I’m often mistaken for a Brit (sometimes even by the English!), while my flatmate from southern NSW, who has never left the country has a kiwi accent. Maybe it’s because we’re becoming internationalised and influences from media are beginning to affect our speech patterns. But I agree with you…people who put on strong Aussie accents make me think they like to wrap themselves in the flag, only buy Aussie and adhere to that whole nationalistic crap that many people use to become racist arseholes.

      • Wow that generalisation is so stupid it’s almost a crime. There is no correlation between a strong Aussie accent and any of the things you mentioned, also I don’t think Zombie Jesus (Sweet) ever implied there was.

        • I said people who PUT on a strong accent make me think (i,.e. remind me) of flag drapers.

      • I “buy Aussie”, because I like to employ the people around me. I was born in South Africa, lived in the UK, and now live here. So my accent is a mixed bag, and people never assume where I am from, but that doesn’t mean I am not proud of the country I call home. It’s a great place to live, and I am grateful that I am allowed to live here. As for the “nationalistic crap” and racism, that is a huge generalisation.

  • I got tripped up this week by asking a Yorkshire man if he was Lancastrian. The air between us nearly froze solid.

      • In my defence, the variation between East Lancashire and West Yorkshire accents is far less than is found across either shire, and the guy was an expat who’d had his vowels a bit modified by his time in Australia.

        I found that when I lived in the US, that I kept encountering English speakers from Africa whose vowels had turned a bit Aussie/Kiwi from their time abroad, sort of a linguistic geo-lag.

        • The fact you were able to even tell they were from the North of England is a big plus, let alone which region.
          Although my Yorkshire accent is muted from years of living in Down Under, I still get people asking me if I’m from the US, Canada, Ireland, South Africa….

  • If you want to upset a New Zealander, try suggesting they’re from Australia.

    What’s funny is that most New Zealanders ARE from Australia – judging by the number of silver fern and Aotearoa stickers I see when driving.

  • Not so much offended as surprised…
    In Queenstown, going up the Ski lifts, I was mistaken by Australians as being English on multiple occasions!
    To be fair, the South Australian Accent is the most “English” of the Australian accents, but seriously, there’s still a pretty big jump!

    • snap. I’m born and bred SA, but last night in Canberra I was told by a new work collegue she thought I might be Irish (!?) and I was even asked if I was ‘from the North’ last month in the UK by a local!! Seriously?

      being asked if I’m Kiwi by northern hemispheres is understandable, even though they couldn’t sound further apart to us antipodeans.

      I don’t ‘hate’ being mistaken, it just amuses me how often it happens. I really don’t hear the similarities to the British accent.

      • I’m from NZ and I don’t notice the Australian accent at all here in Melbourne but when I head up north it seems to be stronger. People don’t seem to notice mine either but when I visit Sydney its every third comment.

        • You are noticing the difference between the criminalised regions and the colonial ones.
          NZ, Melbourne & Adelaide were all colonised – people went there by choice, so our accents are similar.

          That’s my theory anyway.

      • In all fairness (about “from the north”) – a major influence on the Australian accent is our roots in Cockney England. Now, umm, I don’t really know where in England Cockney is, but I know Cockney is lower class, and “the north” is lower class, so I’m assuming Cockney is in the north.

        But yeah, our accent is a “fork” from cockney english, rather than the queen’s english 🙂

        EDIT: There are comments below saying that fir SA, it’s the exact opposite of what I just said. Bugger! I blame Stephen Fry’s show QI for that bit of misinformation!

        • Cockney is traditionally associated with working class Londoners, specifically the East End. According to the lore, you had to have been born with the sound of Bow Bells.

    • One funny thing is because i’m a South Aussie, when i was at school i had a teacher from New Zealand and she thought the South Aussie accent sounded more South African for some reason?

      I have heard that the SA accent is the most posh sounding in Australia, i suppose its because SA heritage is from rich, free settlers and not convicts like in NSW.

      • My guess is that it’s from the pommy effect on WA and the Kiwi effect on the eastern states.

  • I’ve had Dutch and German people think my fairly mild NSW accent is British (this was in Far North QLD, mind you). When I was in NZ there were also a couple of locals that were surprised to find out me & my partner were from the other side of the ditch.

  • just suck fuck and cunt enough and no one will mistake you for anything other than australian, ya fuckin cunts.

      • no but i have been contacted to do another tourism ad campaign like Hoges’ one. cept this time itll be me saying. get yer fuckin arses down here here ya pommy wankers and yankee bastards! fuck the shrimp, we dont eat that shit and fosters is for you non aussie cunts.

  • just got back from my honeymoon in french polynesia (tahiti, moorea, bora bora), and about 80% of the people there thought my and my wife were american.
    10% knew/thought we were aussies, the other 10% had no idea and asked.

    I was so shocked… who would have thought aussies sound american

  • I’ve had people say that I sound German, even some Germans!

    But that’s usually just for ‘Guten tag’. The rest of my German is a bit too broken to sound right.

  • Living in Canada, I’ve been mistaken for British and South African.
    I can sort of understand the South African; I also work with a few South Africans and their accent is way closer to ours than the Canadian accent, but I find the British accent claim intriguing. Because at least to us, the difference between British accents and Australian accents are usually very prominent. But maybe for Canadians, not so much.
    I don’t mind being “accused” of having a different accent, though I do like to have fun with it. Apparently there are moments where I sound “normal” and then I switch to having an accent, which bewilders a few people.

  • I’ve had quite a few people think I might be English because my accent (I’m from WA) isn’t as strong as say, Alf Stewart or Crocodile Dundee. I’m never offended, just surprised that so many people can’t make the distinction.
    IMHO, UK is the global home of bad reactions to incorrectly guessed accents. I once asked a girl if she was from Liverpool and got told “NO WAY, I’m from WIGAN, that’s a different accent!”. Oh, so I was 20 miles out, was I? I think Australians are far more likely to just think the guesser is just a bit of an idiot at worst, whereas it can be a serious problem in the UK. Try calling Scottish, Irish or Welsh people English and see how that goes. Even Cornish or Geordies who technically live in England may take umbrage at that.
    I’m an advocate of what I call “listening with an accent”. If you can pick what accent the speaker is speaking with, it makes it easier to follow what they are saying, as long as you have some familiarity with it.

  • Americans tend to think people with NZ accents are from Australia,
    Chinese are pretty good at picking up the difference between AU and NZ accents.

    As for Australia, you can really tell whos from where, Sydney having the most thickest of them all, and WA having the weakest.

  • Surprised Umpa Lumpa has made the list with the amount of orange painted women in Australia. Then again, not sure if they have an accent.

  • I’ve never been upset by a mis-guessed accent – usually it’s just amusing. I once stopped to chat with a woman in an inner-city suburb in the American midwest. She could tell I wasn’t American and wanted to guess. She then embarked on a list of just about every English-speaking nationality you can imagine, even some quite obscure ones. Finally she came to: Australian?

    I don’t have a pronounced “ocker” Australian accent at all, so I had quite a few Americans think I was English when I lived in the States. That didn’t surprise me. Quite often in Australia ESL speakers will guess that I’m English. Native Australian speakers don’t make that mistake though. And I’ve never been mistaken for English by a British person; they might say that I don’t sound obviously Australian, but they get the country right.

    The most amusing thing for me in the US was when I would meet up with the other couple of Aussies working at my company. We’d deliberately drop into an extreme ocker accent (with traces of Kath and Kim), which would leave our American and Canadian colleagues utterly perplexed.

  • G’day, eh?
    I’m a Canuck in Oz (13 yrs) and note the following:
    – I’m asked if I’m CDN about 80% of the time.
    – when asked if I’m American there are usually apologies made when I politely say “No, Canadian, actually.” Which makes me think who are the Canadians who take great offense to being mistaken for Americans? That, in itself, is very UN-canadian.
    – we sound very similar in most cases ( though to me Toronto sounds american and Florida sounds like un-accented Canadian, and Minnesota, the Dakotas (most border states) sound like Central Cdns (think Fargo). Get over yourself.
    – I don’t understand the vitriol towards the average American here. Most are very kind, friendly, and work just as hard as hard as we do. They may not be as worldly (getting better) , but that’s the US system to blame -not the person -ie what they teach in schools, what’s on the news and TV in general. Their narrow minded morons are no diff to those in Canada and here. And there are plenty in each country. Same for the dickhead pollies, whom we keep putting into power…

    – so Canadians, lighten up on the accent thing
    – aussies, until you meet an actual dickhead American, give em the benefit of the doubt (they know they are unloved). There are CDN dickheads too. And have you ever seen the Aussie Schoolies in Bali lately?
    – and Americans, keep travelling, getting worldly (watch the BBC occasionally) and prove them/us wrong…

    • – I don’t understand the vitriol towards the average American here.
      For most Australians, what we know about Americans is what we see on TV. Now tell me, if the only thing you knew about americans was what you saw on TV, wouldn’t you feel the same? Americans like to torture foreigners, invade countries just ‘cos, picket funerals with “God hates f*gs” banners, they can see Russia from their houses, and even gun massacre after gun massacre can’t move them to do away with personal weapons of (near-)mass destruction.

      Now, rationally, we know everything I just mentioned above is only a value held my a very small minority of Americans – but it’s still the only values of American life we ever hear about. Can you blame Australians for the vitriol, really?

      EDIT: Oops, I made it sound like I actually support the vitriol. I don’t. I really don’t. Australians need to use their brains and leave their hate behind, that’s my honest opinion. I was just explaining why the vitriol exists – it’s purely ignorance.

  • Not sure why, but some American accents really shit me. There’s just something about the sound. Usually the ones with the harsh vowel sounds. My accent is heavily influenced by Triple J, so kind of like Lindsay McDougall. I aim for a mellifluous sound.

  • I often get accused of being American by other Aussies, mostly because I’m South Australian. I think its because I don’t drag my vowels as seems to be the case with those from states further to the east. I tend to think of my accent as bastard English. I have practised basically non-regional diction. Americans on XBL tend to think I’m English… And a convict… O_o

  • I am constantly asked if I’m American – I’m Irish, but moved to Australia when I was 8 years old (so I really don’t have a very strong accent). Normally people are a bit hesitant when asking so I’m guessing they can’t quite guess where I’m from. I think the only thing that does it is how I pronounce my Rs.

  • I’m a kiwi (New Zealander) a lot of people say we don’t pronounce our vowels correctly…which is true –sometimes– but it’s really annoying! Most times they think we kiwi’s are Australians. But do us kiwi’s sound weird? Coz people are saying kiwi’s have accents…but I don’t know what we sound like to you guys…coz I have an accent too. I’ve never heard the ”Kiwi” accent coz I am a Kiwi… SO, are out accents annoying, normal, weird, different, whatever you think they are…please just reply…I’m really curious to know what most people think…coz I have NO clue at all!!
    thanks. :)) <3

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