18 Uncles — My Accent Feels Fake

Navigating the identity crisis after teaching in foreign countries

Mitchell Peterson

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Brother Dylan and I — photo from author.

Note to readers: My work has shifted to another website and all posts are at Substack.com. This is simply an introduction for my former Medium.com audience.

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Madrid, August 2010, it was one of those sweaty Spanish summer nights where the midday heat refuses to leave, and the air just hangs around, seemingly with no place to go and too far away from the coast to be nudged by the famous Levante, Poniente, or Leche wind patterns. Skin still sticky with slight perspiration, I was leaning on the rail of a balcony in the center of the city, speaking to two new friends from Kentucky and in awe of the rhythm and elongated vowel sounds of their rural American drawl.

And I know they were thinking the same thing about me.

Apparently, my pronunciation used to be at least as off-beat and unique as theirs. Because within minutes of meeting, after a friendly back and forth, one of them asked, “What the hell is that accent? Is that Yooper?”

I was shocked that he nailed it so precisely and asked how he guessed.

He replied that he’d seen an ESPN commercial of an old man talking about the Watersmeet Nimrods, referring to a legendary advertising series from 2003 featuring the tiny Upper Peninsula school and locals who were huge basketball fans, the end line being, “Without sports, who would cheer for the Nimrods?” The ads were so popular that the basketball team, coach, and one of the protagonists, the elderly Dale Jenkins, were invited onto The Tonight Show and inspired an 8-part documentary series.

Watersmeet is a village of one thousand people, and the Nimrod mascot designation was made in 1904 after a Biblical warrior and hunter. And in the ads, Jenkins plays on the modern meaning, saying…

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Mitchell Peterson

Freelance writer who spent nine years outside the US, currently in rural America writing the Substack bestseller 18 Uncles.