The Language Barrier

Heather called me earlier today to tell me she was making a quick trip to Alabama this afternoon so that she could visit with a friend. Heather and I have been trying to figure out a way to see each other ever since we got home from our Uganda trip – and we’ve even been in Nashville at the same time on two separate occasions – but our schedules have been at odds at every turn.

So when she told me that she was planning to be RIGHT HERE IN MY VERY OWN CITY tonight, I was beside myself. And I assured her that even if I had to juggle this and rearrange that, I would figure out a way to see her. We were way overdue for some live-and-in-person conversation.

Since our family had some stuff going on at church tonight, I didn’t have my phone with me when Heather called to tell me that she’d gotten to town. When we were finally able to talk, I explained that I’d run over to the church lobby to buy Alex a t-shirt for choir, only who am I kidding, it totally sounded like TAY-SHURT FAR KWI-IRE, and that is okay because I have made my peace with the fact that I will never be asked to do any sort of professional voiceover work.

Because I also say BU-OOK instead of BOOK, SAYAND-WITCH instead of SANDWICH, STAY-YUP instead of STEP, and now that I think about it I pretty much double the syllables of every single word I use. If the word has two syllables, I’m going to need four. If the word has four syllables, I’m going to need eight. And if the word has six syllables, well, the person listening to me is probably going to need either an extra measure of patience or a nerve pill because it’s going to take me a realllllly long time to say it.

So after I finished telling her all about the KWI-IRE, Heather told me that she and her friend were in dire need of some directions to a restaurant. I asked her where they were, and she said, “downtown,” and my stomach immediately dropped to my knees because I believe I’ve been very clear about the fact that I DON’T DO DOWNTOWN.

Oh, the local authorities might argue that our downtown streets are logically arranged in an easy-to-understand grid pattern, but I BEG TO DIFFER, SIRS AND MADAMS. You could put wedges of cheese on every single street corner, and highly attuned rats still wouldn’t be able to find their way out of that place. Simply put, it’s a maze all wound up in a labrinyth and tied off with a morass, THE END, THANK YOU.

But since Heather and her friend were wandering aimlessly along the downtown streets, I really wanted to do my best to help them. So when Heather told me that she needed directions, I told her to HOLD ON, PLEASE, I HAVE TO PARK THE CAR SO I CAN CONCENTRATE.

And that’s exactly what I did, y’all. I pulled into a shopping center and parked in front of Home Goods and put my head in my hands while I talked because I DID NOT NEED ANY DISTRACTIONS.

To make a long story short, Heather and I overcame our accent barrier (Southern California vs. plain ole Southern), and I was able to get her in the general vicinity of an area where some restaurants might have been at one point in time even if the restaurants aren’t there anymore. I was able to do this by saying things like, “You need to go UP, AWAY FROM THE HOSPITAL,” and then Heather would laugh and say, “Is that back toward Georgia? Or the other way?” and I would reply, “JUST UP, GO UP. AND THEN GO OVER TO YOUR LEFT.”

Really, I’m just like your GPS, only friendlier. And much more confused.

A few seconds after Heather and I hung up, she called me again to ask for the name of a restaurant. I was trying to tell her about a place called Bottega, but with my accent it sounds more like “BOW-TAY-GAHHHHH,” and Heather couldn’t understand what I was saying and thought I was trying to tell her about an Italian restaurant called Ortega, so I finally gave up on trying to say an actual word and resorted to just spelling it out: “BAAAAAAAAY-OOOOOOOH-TEEEEEEEA-TEEEEEEEA-EEEEEEEE-GEEEEEEE-AYYYYYYYY.”

Which was TOTALLY clear, I’m sure.

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  1. oh, i miss you!

  2. i love this post! i don’t do downtown either.

    so, did you meet up or not? inquiring minds what to know.

  3. I’m from the Northwest and I moved to Florida for a few years where I got to hear that fun accent a lot. They pointed mine out all the time as well. I got pulled over in Alabama after having been waving at people (I was excited to be there) and the police told me he was pulling me over for “wavin'”. I had no idea he meant “weaving” and with the language barrier between North and South I was lucky he didn’t take it personally when I seemed confused. Whew!

  4. LOL. I can totally see this, and I can totally see MYSELF in the same situation.

    Maybe you could get hired to do voiceover work for a southern-i-fied version of a GPS. You know, so people in Alabama could actually UNDERSTAND their expensive directional devices.

  5. I am hurting and wiping the tears from my eyes. I so understand every word you are saying and that scares me.

  6. Hilarious because I also live in your town and could totally picture where she was and where you were telling her to go.
    Have never eaten at Bottega, but I ate at Hot and Hot last week. It’s right around the corner. It was, well, Hot. Loved it.
    Also agree about downtown. Grid my booty. I totally get that the streets are numerical, but the North/South part confuses me. And I have a really good sense of direction. Plus, you can throw the whole grid system out the window once you get near Five Points.
    We totally should meet. I’d be willing to bet we’ve met before but didn’t know it. That would be weirdly funny and totally prove the “It’s a small world” saying.

  7. Oh! A sweet B’ham friend and I have been to Bottega, fun times…

  8. Cracking up here in SoCal. Every time we’re down there, I end up even THINKING with a southern accent.

  9. Okay…so really, I’ve been wanting to email you about this but this “meeting up” post reminded me so I’ll do it here.

    I think we should have a B’ham Blogger meetup. I know there is a good bit of us here and everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t we???

    What do you? y’all say???

  10. Uh huh, this chick doesn’t do downtown.

    One way streets give me the heebee jeebees.

  11. Oh my. I love you Southern Folk.

  12. I’ve only visited Bham a few times, but went to Bottega once with a friend. Just recommended it to a friend from Houston who was working in Bham and she loved it. Glad it’s still such a hit!

    PS: I’m from GA, lived 7 years in SC and now live in Houston. People notice and comment on my accent – can’t even imagine what I must sound like.

  13. oh my goodness! i used to live near bottega! ahh… the memories. but i about lost it when you said home goods. my sweet little birmingham is all growns up.

  14. I don’t even need you to type in phonics for me to get it. I just read everything you write in an accent. It’s more fun that way.

  15. This is too hilarious! My husband is an English nerd…uh, I mean…enthusiast, and he’s going to love reading this!

  16. This is funny. I moved to the south from Cleveland, Ohio and I struggled for a long time trying to understand the “locals.”

  17. I used to live in ur hometown – and avoided the downtown area as well! Bottega was a good food though! I just had to ride with friends from grad school cuz I could NEVER find my way around that area!!!

  18. Why say “marsh” or “swamp” when there’s “morass”? Love it!

  19. Oh my! I can relate. At my office, we have a man who relocated from Holland. He wanted me to book a flight to Toronto. I had to ask him 5 times to repeat himself. Apparently, I say Ter-ahn-oh. He says Tor-on-to. It was a long five minutes! =)

  20. I don’t mind downtown IN the grid. But the grid will only get you so far. Shudder.

  21. I loved your directions…to me they very clear..I mean who doesn’t understand “go up and left?” :)

  22. You see, this is why I love to go to Alabama.I love that southern accent so much!

    Did you get to meet with Heather?

  23. What a fun story. And truthfully, those of us who grow up in CA find the “accent’s” fun because we “don’t” have one. Although some conversation’s can be hard to follow.
    Driving Downtown – My “Southern” friend used to call me ‘city girl’ because I drove on the freeway – in Des Moines! I told her it wasn’t a ‘real’ freeway because there weren’t 8 lanes of traffic.

  24. Oh man that made me laugh. I grew up in southern california and I swear I never heard a southern accent until I moved to Colorado where I met a couple from Alabama. I am always amused by southern accents, I think it is because they are so foreign sounding to me. Then I moved to the midwest…the speak their own language here as well.

  25. Chris says, “God talks the way we talk.” Translated is Gaw-d taw-lks the whe-ey we-e taw-lk.

    There’s nothin’ plain about you, Southern Sophie!
    Much love,

  26. I can do five points and I LOVE the lakeview district, but heaven help me if I get lost in the grid. EVERY road is one way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken my girls to the mcwayne center only to get lost on the way home. My husband gets a panic call every time, because I’m convinced that I’m on a corner where a murder is about to take place. As for our accents, I love being southern!!!

  27. Cristy says:

    Reminds me of the time we were visiting family in Biloxi, MS and they had given us the name of a place to meet them and directions. We drove up and down this street 20 times looking for the Allen Lounge, finally stopped and asked someone, “Where is the Allen Lounge?” They pointed right across the street to the Island Lounge. Apparently, even though we were saying the wrong word, they understood it perfectly!

  28. I think this could be my favorite post by a non-Pioneer Woman eevah!

    Hilarious, self-effacing and incredibly well-written!

    Oh, and did I mention hilarious?

    Tears running down my face hilarious.

  29. When I transplanted from the north to Arkansas I determined I would “nay-a-ver tawk thay-at” way.

    Now that I am back in the freezing cold, ‘why do we live here again?’ north, I miss the fun southern lingo.

    Thanks for the mood lifting post.

    I gotta go. “I am ‘fixin’ to get ready so my southern hunk of a man can carry me shoppin’ to the Walmart SuperCenter!”

  30. LOL! I don’t do downtown, but for different reasons. You might get shot in downtown Jackson! No, thank you!

  31. I’m a Florida girl with an Alabama family. When I was about 12 we visited said family. One of my grandfather’s sisters was going on and on about how pretty I was…she kept saying, “I bet you’ve got lots of FEEEELERS, don’t ya?”
    I was terrified to ask what feelers were; Granddaddy came to my rescue and whispered in my ear, “She means FELLERS, as in boyfriends.”
    Ahhh, memories!

  32. LOL too funny!

  33. Ain’t nothing wrong with a country girl, and don’t you forget it.

  34. Leslie says:

    Did someone mention a birmingham bloggers’ meet-up? Oh, please, let’s do!

  35. I, too, have an abhorance to going downtown… I just don’t know it well enough to be comfortable down there. I really need to take a day or five and just drive the daylights out of the streets. THEN I’ll totally be able to take anyone there and not feel like a lost idiot.

  36. Kristi Lynn says:

    OH man…that is so stinkin funny! Who HASN’T gotten lost in Downtown Birmingham. My first year in college in B’ham I got stuck in a BANK! i mean…its a scary world out there! hahaha!

  37. Oh my word, you crack me up. And you speak my language!

  38. …and the spell check was burning the candles at both ends for this post!

  39. I listened to one of the podcasts and I love your accent! I went to Auburn University and miss the southern accent. It’s just not the same in Texas, although I must say that the Texans are charming in their own way.

  40. MAY-AN, that is some funny junk! I think I could hear Forrest Gump in the background as I read this. heehee! :o)

  41. I second… the Bham Bloggers meetup. It’s a must. And we could meet at Bow-tay-guh.
    We would totally make a scene because I guarantee there would be laughing. Lots of it.

  42. Oh, and I totally gave you a shout out on my blog today. You opened up a whole southern can of worms for me.

  43. Oh, that is so saweeeet! You crack me up, dear Southern sweetie.

  44. Our downtown intimidates the heck outta me! I hope she was able to find Bottega!! Yummy!

  45. That is so funny!
    I love downtown only b/c I lived there forever and worked at Children’s Hospital
    Also Botegga is yum but I think I would have steered her to Surin at 5 points :)
    He He
    Have a GREE AYT DEAY!

  46. My family in Oregon always wanted me to say my AAA, BAAA, CAAAeey’s

    dude, I’m feelin’ ya

  47. Whaaat?
    We don’t have an ak-ci-ent.

  48. You ever taken yore acceeeyunt on over to Yoo-wer-up? (Europe)? Espayshully in England, where they make everthang sound s’purty in all? OHMYGRANNY, I am literally ashamed to open up my may-outh ova thay-er. I just wanna set quietly and commYUNEickate in hay-and signals. I feel lak such a HI-Yuck!

  49. Maybe you could offer translation services for Paula Deen. Her food looks awful good, but I can’t understand what she’s saying!

  50. Never been through downtown B’ham, but Atlanta scares me…Friends ask, “since you live so close, do you go there much?” My answer…NEVER. It scares me. I hate it.

    Grew up in south AL where every word ends in “-ah.” I love listening to an authentic southern accent…I can pick out a fake anywhere.

    My SIL/BIL are from South Carolina and are moving to San Diego next month. I can’t wait to hear their stories about their accents!

  51. You need to hook up with my mom – maybe have a competition to see who is the hardest to understand.

    The other day she said, “I can’t get that coin to come out.”

    Only with her south Arkansas accent, it sounded like, “I kaint get that kohen to come out.”

    “I’m going to” is “I’mo”.

    Seriously. I’ve been around her my whole life (I guess that’s obvious since she birthed me), and STILL I sometimes have trouble de-coding her Kooky Talk. =)

  52. you are telling my story! I spent a summer in Maine as a travel nurse and during the night one night I had to call one of the Dr’s for a question… he acted like I was speaking Russian… when he couldn’t understand me after several tries of asking him “what rate” did he want the IV going, he finially paused and asked me where I was from… When I replied ‘Mississippi’, he went on to ask me if I was from Tupelo and did I know any of Elvis’ family…

  53. Ok, you almost always make me giggle when I read your posts (except when you are serious, of course). But today? Today I laughed OUT LOUD, which while funny, was kinda not cool because my children were napping and I really didn’t need them to wake up sooner than normal. Thankfully they didn’t!

    Oh, and btw, apparently one can grow up in Southern Nevada and acquire an accent like yours. Our 3 year old adds extra syllables to his words all the time. Hay-elp and wee-ill for help and will, and so many other words. We don’t understand why or how, but there really isn’t much that’s cuter than a 3 year old Las Vegas boy talking like BooMama! :-)

  54. When I was in college, I was told my a “fur-in-ner” from New Zealand, that he preferred girls with NORTHERN accents over girls with SOUTHERN accents. This took some moxy as he was going to school in central Arkansas.

    Needless to say, it was the WORST insult I’ve received in my whole, entire life. As I pride my accent as much as the heritage from which it hails.

    But I had to forgive him, for he was, obviously, suffering brain damage from being upside down in the wrong hemisphere. That is the only explanation for his statement.

  55. You are wise. I don’t do downtown Seattle either. Unless I have to for something stupid like a school field trip or something.


  56. Get the heck outta here, THE very BooMama lives up the road from me. Me being DOWN in T’Town and you being UP in the ‘Ham. (not said in any type of stalking manner)

    Haven’t been to Bow-tay-guh yet but hear it is most yummy! I’m all for the ‘Bama get together! :-)

  57. JennyF says:

    Miss Boo Mama,
    I have been lurking and really enjoying your blog. After today’s blog I will be reading your posts now with a southern accent. I had been reading it with my Ca. moved to TX accent. Very funny post..Thanks! Jenny

  58. I loved the accent…I could totally hear every word! =)

  59. Wanted to let you know I received my package of DVD’s today. I’m camping this weekend, but am going to start on them Monday. Thanks so much!!!

  60. I live in central Indiana, and when we travel to the southern part, there is an immediate change in accent. And yes, sometimes it takes a millisecond to process what I’ve just heard, as if it’s a foreign tongue. What kills me is the accent on the first syllable of most words. Love it.

  61. This sounds remotely like conversations I have every day with my dear Yankee co-workers. They are proud Yankees (and I love the dearly) and I am a proud Suuuthunnnn gurrrrlll. ;)

  62. Thay-ut wuz a ree-ull funny post!

  63. Meredith says:

    This post reminded me of the play “The Foreigner” and the scene where Ellard is trying to teach said Foreigner (who can really understand everything)what the names of objects are, like LAH-UMP and FAW-ORK. Fabulous! I am also glad to know you live in the Ham! I live in Southeast LA (lower AL)! Love being Southern as I lived in NYC for a while and talk about a language barrier! WHOO!(I have a tendency to over use exclamation points!) AGH! I can’t stop!!!

  64. Oh my gosh .. I so totally know where you are talking about … and unfortunately had more trouble with reading the “real” words because I could really understand your words with the Southern accent .. hehehe

    Oh .. the “ham” .. I haven’t heard that a in a long time …

  65. Oh, honey. I HATE downtown, too. My hubby works there so he can’t understand WHY I break out into a cold sweat each time I have to take the kids to the McScience Center or the Art Museum.
    I feel your pain.

  66. I’ve listened to one of the BigBoocasts. You have an accent? Ah didn’t notice an accent.

  67. LOL! Now I’ll know to read your posts in my OWN accent, since it would seem we have the same one (wah-un). ;-)

  68. Laughing. So. Hard. Gasp … sputter … gulp… And I’m laughing again. You’re going to wake up the baby! So funny!

  69. oh how we can relate, except in our house it’s my 10 yr old! my 6 yr old even mocks her…it’s too funny!

    but next time you need downtown help, you can “holler” at me….LOL – I work down there and thought I’d never figure it out and now I feel pretty adept at traveling down there!