Old folk at lunch

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A pleasant accent


Your accent is hugely important in England.  It indexes your social class.  And your social class greatly governs your life chances.  So British parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools  -- where they will acquire an RP accent  As a result, the 7% who have been to private schools run the country and are, generally speaking, hated by the rest of the population.  Tony Blair vowed to end all that but social mobility under his regime in fact worsened.

There is some echo of that in Australia  -- but only a faint one.  The "official" ideology in Australia is egalitarian and that is widely heartfelt.  Your chances in life can be good regardless of your background and you will not be held back by your accent.  The large number of immigrants to Australia from Europe who have prospered despite starting out with very little English at all are instructive.

Nonetheless, many Australian parents feel that private schooling does give their kids a leg-up and Australia does as result have one of the world's highest rates of private schooling.  40% of Australian teenagers go to private High schools (including Catholic schools).  I sent my own son to a Catholic school.

All schools are not equal, however, and those private schools with the highest academic and sporting standards are in my home State of Queensland grouped as "GPS" (Great Public Schools) schools.

That long preamble was needed to explain the context of a very small event in my life this norning.  I was in the pharmacy of the Wesley private hospital to pick up a prescription when I was attended to by a pleasant, nice-looking and well-presented Chinese lady.  That was not at all unusual.  All the pharmacies that I know are overwhelmingly staffed by well-presented people of East Asian appearance.

What made this young lady different, however, was her accent.  It was a very familiar one.  She spoke perfect English with a GPS accent!  I said to her that she sounded as if she had been to a GPS school and, with a blush, she confirmed that she had:  Brisbane Girl's Grammar. Brisbane Girl's Grammar advertises itself as "the best girls private school in Brisbane".

I was pleased to hear that accent because much of my early life was spent in the company of other women with that accent.  In proof of what I say about Australian mores, my own working class background has never been any obstacle to such associations.  If a young lady knew about Bach, Chopin and madrigals, she had almost certainly learnt it at a private school so my own obsession with that music led inevitably to a  meeting of minds with ladies of a GPS background.

So it was a nice surprise to hear that pleasant and familiar accent coming from the mouth of a very Chinese-looking lady. She will do well and I certainly wish her well. I told her that she would go down well in England -- which she will. A GPS accent and RP are very similar. Her parents invested wisely in the education of their lovely daughter.

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