I mimic the people I talk to. But only if their accent is strong or unintelligible. This got me into trouble when I was a kid. My mom always knew when I was playing with the Salvadoran neighbor whose mother she hated. Mario was a BB gun-toting, buck-toothed menace with a hatred of red ants.

“Have you been playing with that little Mario kid again?” My mom would demand.

“I no know what you talking about. I no play with guns. I no lie.”

Three years ago, I spent seven hours in the backseat of a car with a girl from Brooklyn. We had become fast friends over a week playing Left, Right, Center and drinking beer at a beach house on Duck Island. She was my best friend’s partner’s colleague. And by the time we pulled up to her apartment in Bensonhurst, I was already talking like a local. “So good tawkin’ ta you. Come ovER to da city for dinnER tomorrOW. My treat. K?”

My best friend in the driver’s seat glared at me through her rear view mirror.

Here in Hong Kong, I say hait (Japanese for yes) to anyone who asks me anything in a thick Asiany accent. This, unfortunately, includes my Spanish teacher.

She says, “Why jew say hait? Jew are so funny.”

I say, “Well jew know, I spent a four jears in eTokyo.”

Unlike Tokyo where Americans have the upper hand when it comes to English language pronunciation, here in Hong Kong the Queen’s English reigns. You hear it spoken everywhere, see it written everywhere.

It’s not color, it’s colour. It’s not behavior, it’s behaviour. I’ve even found myself typing British English in emails.

If you want to take your pizza home, you tell the cashier not takeout but take away. And while this is all well and good at Pizza Express in Hong Kong, you’ll get strange looks if you say it at a New York pizzeria. Believe me.

When I was back in the US this summer, I asked my dad, “Do you want to head to the restaurant straightaway or do you want to stop by the bank first?”

He grinned. “You’ve said that on the phone too.”

After he explained what he meant, I said, “Well, it is also considered proper English to say straightaway instead of right away or right now.”

I later made a point of using straightaway that afternoon. Then I used it without thinking. Seven months in Hong Kong without setting foot in the U.S. was changing me.

I play the British English game when I’m here in Hong Kong. I’m a good sport. I say, “I went to university in Austin.” God forbid you say college by mistake.

“Did you go to (the) hospital?”

“You must maintain good marks if you want to graduate primary school.”

“Did your work colleague phone you just now?”

“I reckon that you’re keen on attending afternoon drinks.”

“Where did you go on holiday?”

Me? I went for a very long, extended trip in Asia. Years in fact. And I’m not quite sure when I’ll be returning, or if I’ll be returning, but I know I won’t be the same when I get back.

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