“Where is that accent from again?”

Let me begin by saying, like all naive Dubaians, I never used to believe I had an accent. An immigration official at LAX airport set me straight. After a gruelling sixteen hour flight to Los Angeles, the last thing I expected as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes was an immigration official asking me “So, what accent is that you’ve got…it’s pretty interesting.” One thing led to another, as they often do when one is travelling and at their most-vulnerable best, and the next thing I knew, I was being led to be strip-searched and interrogated for three and a half hours, all on the basis of an accent the blessed officer “couldn’t quite place”, naturally arousing suspicion. United States of Paranoia.

It did make me think though, how would I categorise my accent? Born and raised in Dubai, the Cosmopolitan melting pot that it is infused me with a global fusion of an accent. I told the officer the same thing I tell foreigners when asked about my accent “I’m a French citizen, though I was born in the Middle East where I went to an International School. I watch far too much American television, grew up with a Sri Lankan nanny, have a Canadian sister, Indian parents, a South African best friend and a Mancunian fiancé- of course I sound strange” The best part is, I would be considered decidedly uninspiring and boring in Dubai, with others affected by even stranger concoctions of nationalities, dialects and accents.

The fact of the matter is that those who live around here are constantly bombarded with different accents every single day. Live in Dubai for more than a year and you’ll realise you’re living a multi-national existence rivalled by places like New York and London, famed as cities filled with diverse immigrants. The interesting part is, unlike New York and London, where immigrants tend to stick together and form close-knit communities like Chinatown and Little Italy, Dubai is too small and too concentrated for such segregation to take place for long. There is absolutely no escaping the bombardment of accents and languages that hit a Dubaian as soon as they step out the front door in the morning, making it next to impossible to escape the ‘Dubai accent’.

Take for example a simple day out buying groceries from your neighbourhood hypermarket. As soon as you park your car you are accosted by a Sri Lankan gentleman asking if you would wish to have your car washed as you shop. You head over to pick up a trolley where a friendly South Indian security guard greets you as you enter the crowded hyperspace. You bump into your Australian neighbour as you pick up milk, and after exchanging pleasantries head over to the deli counter where you are served fresh olives by a Jordanian. You buy meat from the Pathani butcher behind the meat counter, and when you can’t find eggs, a cheerful Bangladeshi supermarket stacker directs you in the right aisle. You head over to scan and pay for your items, as your Philipina cashier asks if you would like to pay by cash or card all while a swift, Nepalese boy bags your groceries. You head back to your car, make small talk with a Local policeman giving a ticket to an illegally parked car, jump in and drive home. Over the course of 20 minutes and the simple act of getting groceries, you were faced with 9 different accents. Isn’t it but sociologically inevitable to find this infusion of accents creeping into your own?

The Dubai accent is a mish-mash of Arab phrases, British spelling, American slang and Indian-inspired diction with a generous peppering of Philipino voice inflections and Persian lingo, all blended together with the individual’s home-grown tone. Chameleon-like in its quality to borrow from what it sees around itself, the Dubai accent is pretty much synonymous with the Dubai expat entity itself. It takes defining aspects of the dynamic stuff it is exposed to, and infuses it with one’s own touch, coming up with a unique hybrid accent that leaves many stumped. As one lives life in this crazy little bubble we call Dubai, we don’t just learn to curse in five different languages and say “Good Morning” in another seven, we actually get influenced enough by the accents we hear swimming around us to start sounding a little bit different ourselves. Whether it’s imbibing phrases like ‘yalla, ‘kaisa hai’ and ‘cheers mate’, to being able to sound like a perfect parody of put-on Americanese with an ‘awesome, how you doooin’ that could put a Southern California cheerleader to shame. The Dubai accent is a feisty little fighter, making its mark even in the most fastidious of environments.

So for all those expats who have just moved and plan to stick around for a while, be prepared to expect changes to start affecting your accent after a couple of months. You can run but you can’t hide…The Dubai Accent triumphs over all, from the strongest Kenyan baritone to the most pronounced Yorkshire blend.

As always, I end with a quote:

“I have travelled more than anyone I know and I have noticed that even the Angels speak English with an accent”- Mark Twain

If it suits the Angels, it suits me fine…

If I had six minutes to live, I’d write a little faster xxx



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