Maybe this will upset some of you, but you do not just “pick up” that accent. What’s worse, when travellers returned to the US, they sounded like a bloody idiots. When I return to the US, I sometimes hear people trying to fake British accents, and it’s gut-wrenchingly painful to listen. Even in the UK, I heard Americans trying to fake a British accent and, for some reason I’ve never understood, they were almost invariably young women.
My accent after years abroad
So do I have a “European” accent? Nope. I’ve lived here for years, and I still sound solidly American. There is one tiny problem I have to worry about: I say toe-mah-toe instead of toe-may-toe. I say flat instead of apartment. Many of my word choices are distinctly British, but that’s after living there for years and getting tired of people constantly talking about my choice or pronunciation of words. I started using their words as a defensive measure, though I could never get the accent. My accent has undoubtedly changed in the years I’ve lived here, but it’s not European, whatever that is.
It’s more than just and accent.
After leaving the UK, I sometimes had trouble being understood in the Netherlands, not because their English was poor, but because they spoke American English, not British English. I’ve ordered a white coffee and gotten back a latté. I tried to nick a fag, and you can see where this is going. My friends and colleagues got used to my curious mish-mash of English and American words, and that was that. Now in France, no one notices what words I use, but when I go back to the US, I better not thank someone with cheers instead of thanks lest I want to come off as a damned idiot trying to impress people.
So no, if you move abroad, you likely won’t get the accent. That’s OK because many people will adore your local accent. You wouldn’t believe how many compliments I’ve had about my dull, generic mid-west accent. Research on the topic I’ve read indicates that by the time you’re around 20 years old or so (this can vary considerably), your accent is fixed, and it takes a lot of effort and time to get rid of it naturally. Even actors are only deliberately faking it for a short time. Several well-known British actors use American accents to significant effect but fall back to their natural pronunciation when off-camera.
And for that American friend who insisted on magically having a British accent after two weeks abroad, suddenly switching to milk in your strawberry-cumquat tea was a dead giveaway.