Foreign accents seduce
August 11, 2002
Has anyone ever told you they love you - in a foreign language? By any chance did it make your toes curl?
Je t'aime. Ti amo. Ich liebe dich. Te amo. Eu te amo.
Anyone getting spine tingles besides me? Psst There's a reason why they call these "romance languages."
It's hard not to be interested in a foreign accent. Whether it's a British phrase like "Bloody, marvelous" or an Aussie request to put something on "the barbie," a hypnotizing dialect can fan your love embers with a globe-trotting gust.
In "A Fish Called Wanda," Jamie Lee Curtis asks the barrister John Cleese if he speaks Italian. She loves that language and is momentarily disappointed when Cleese says Russian is much more beautiful. He speaks a few sentences and, within nanoseconds, she is chewing her own knuckles to mask her rapture.
Many people I know really do succumb to the velvety tones of French, Welsh, South African, Portuguese or German. So what is it about foreign accents that melts normally logical people into goopy marshmallows?
C'est vrai (it's true) that the French explain it as "je ne sais quoi" - loosely translated as "I don't know what it is, but it sure triggers my libido."
An accent, like music, has a resonance that pleases the ear. Sound is one of the five senses we actively use to gather information and mold our judgments. It stands to reason that the tones of different accents can create odd changes in what we believe to be the norm.
Take my Italian friend, Armando. He has dated women all over Europe. "It is very sexy the way some people say the same words," he mused. Because English is spoken almost everywhere, it therefore picks up many international flavors.
My friend Kat pulled a "Shirley Valentine," visiting Europe alone. After her divorce, she needed a fresh perspective. The change of scenery and lifestyle sped the recovery process, but dating a man with a French accent did even more.
She almost missed her opportunity with him, opening their conversation by saying, "Nice fake French accent, dude!" Flustered at what should have been perceived as an American offense, he replied thickly, "Bah ah rheallly ahm Fraaaanch, fhrom zee souz ohf Phrovaaaance."
Oh sure, because what is the likelihood of finding an actual French man in France?
The international intrigue of a foreign accent is unmistakable. You can hear an accent and be mentally transported into the fantasy land of a different culture. So that's part of why Michael Flat-ley can Riverdance his Celtic self near me any time. I'm impressed not only by his flying footwork, but also by the Irish brogue he has adopted, unlike anything else spoken in his native Chicago.