Accent-based prejudices abound during freshers’ week, but remember to keep an open mind.
Attending university in the heart of the capital, you couldn’t ask for a more culturally diverse mix of people. Students from all over the globe lug their suitcases into London halls, bringing with them their social and cultural backgrounds. However, you needn’t look far to see such societal differences between regional groups. Within the UK, it’s a common occurrence for Southerners to mock Northerners, to be afraid of venturing to THE NORTH (as ominously titled on road signs) and vice versa. The stereotypes of the North-South divide have always been there, with a perception of the North as chips-and-gravy-loving and being stuck in the 80s. Northerners also hold generalised views of their Southern neighbours – viewing them as middle class, rude professionals who can’t keep their drink down. (My source: my Northern friends.)
However, with the eruption of reality shows such as The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea, Desperate Scousewives, Geordie Shore and The Valleys, exaggerated regional stereo- types have, rightly or wrongly, found their way onto our television screens.
I hail from Essex myself, but I like to think I am the opposite of the ‘Essex gal’ stereotype. I have natural brown hair without extensions, real eyelashes, real nails and unfortunately a real, non-existent tan. My only lapse is that which my drama teacher consistently picked me up on my Estuary vowels. On one of my first nights out during Freshers’ Week at King’s, my friend introduces herself as from Surrey, and is greeted with “ooh, nice place”. I, on the other hand, receive an “oh”, a grimace and a look of almost pity. In fact, one day someone actually said “I’m sorry” when I said I was from Southend.
I start to feel ashamed of where I live and where I have been brought up: laughing about it so I am at least part of the joke. However, I am not the only one to feel the inner shame; ‘The One Show’ Welsh Presenter Alex Jones says ‘The Valleys’ “doesn’t make you greatly proud of your nation”. Instead, I said I was from “just outside of London”, hiding my roots to avoid the judgemental looks from my fellow freshers. That is, until I get back on the train home to Southend. I pass the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, the fishing village of Leigh-on-Sea and the sandy beach at Chalkwell and am flooded with memories of my childhood. Although London is an amazing city, there really is no place like home.
People view Essex without knowing it just like they do Newcastle, Liverpool and anywhere else these brain-dead programmes showcase. Meeting new people with different accents and ‘customs’ is all part of the learning process at university. As @Dear_Freshers tweets: ‘Dear Freshers, arguments on how to pronounce words like “scone” and “bath” will last for at least 3 years’.
The difference in accent creates funny, ice-breaking conversations that last the duration of your degree with no winner. Be careful to go with an open mind and not judge a book by its cover. Just because a boy is from Essex doesn’t mean he will be like Mark Wright (The Only Way is Essex), or just because a girl is from Newcastle, she isn’t necessarily going to be the next Vicky Pattinson (Geordie Shore).