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Unsoliticited Writing Tip - #2

Firstly, I hope all my American friends on here had a great 4th of July! May your country only improve with age and maturity :)

Some of you guys liked my fic-reading induced rant on Saturday (was that Saturday? Friday? Who knows) Anyway, there was a request for more such posts, so here's another one:

FOREIGN CULTURES:
When writing about a foreign culture, even if you don't THINK it's that different than your own, there are amazing little things that you can get wrong.
This is really unavoidable. But whenever possible, try to have your fic read by someone from that culture.

Someone (a guest no less) just had their shoes on, in the a Canadian household, in WINTER.

Listen, I’ve had dorm rooms that you could cross in 6 steps. 5 of those steps were ALWAYS done in socks… and to this day, if I have to go more than one step into my apartment to quickly grab something and I leave my shoes on to do it, I apologize TO MYSELF.

It's just amazing what can throw someone out of a fic.

Now, this is SO SMALL AN INNOCUOUS. This isn't a rant saying that you have to be perfect - this is more me saying that you are inevitably going to get something like this wrong. You just will. And, you could argue, this one isn't even as bad as the old J2 fic I used to read that had frequent snow (and snowstorms) in Vancouver.. (seriously, just because you cross a border, that does not mean the Pacific North-West is no longer a temperate rainy climate)... but, at the same time, it IS just as bad... because as soon as I read that this person, was wearing his sneakers in the kitchen... I was out of the fic immersion, and yelling at that cute boy to get his ass back to the front door and take off his shoes like a civilized person - and did he not realize the amount of salt, sand, and slush, he would have tracked through that house?!

Anyway, folks, just because Canada is next door to you, and just because we speak a common language and watch many of the same TV shows, doesn't mean we're exactly the same. We take our shoes off at the door, in all seasons, and if we don't want to, we always check with the owner of the house before leaving them on... only THEY can tell us whether shoes are allowed to stay on (and some people DO keep their shoes on, but for the most part, I find those people either come from Away, or they haven't cleaned in a while and don't want you to get your socks dirty.) Your first action when entering a Canadian home is always to either take your shoes off, or say "shoes on or off?" if there doesn't seem to be a place to put shoes by the door or you notice your host has left their shoes on. An exception to this is if you were invited over for a summer BBQ/yard-event and the way to the backyard (where you will once again need your shoes) is through the house.

We also do say "sorry" a lot. It's not an admission of fault, it's the equivalent of saying "I acknowledge that just happened, and I wish it hadn't" (this is why we say sorry when people bump into US, not just when we bump into other people) or "I acknowledge that I may have just interrupted you and/or spoken too long - what were you saying?" or "I can't hear you, please repeat that?"...or "You seem upset, I don't know why, but if it's because of something I did, please know my intention was not to upset you"....or, in some cases, it can mean "WELL EXCUSE ME FOR EXISTING AND ALSO FUCK YOU!"... all depending on the circumstances and inflection, of course.

Anyway, yeah, I know I've gotten stuff wrong about America and Britain in my fics. I called Tower Bridge London Bridge, and no one caught it... it probably actually is STILL wrong... maybe because no one actually realizes that I meant Tower Bridge. I probably didn't describe it. Listen, I've never been to London... my point is, we all do it, but it's important to be AWARE of it, and if you're trying to get something IMPORTANT right, then it's, well, important, to be aware of your weakness and to seek help with correcting them.

Getting Canada wrong isn't that big a deal - but if you get a more oppressed or underrepresented culture or group wrong, then it can be an offensive disaster, and no one wants to do that! So, never assume that you know things, unless you are actually a member of that group/culture. Always ask when you can, or research heavily when you can't ask.

And who knows, maybe this fic writer is Canadian...but like... a weird one? Maybe they're from away? Who knows. All I know is that the sneakers in the kitchen threw me right out of my ability to actually believe they were in Canada.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
supernutjapan
Jul. 5th, 2016 08:07 am (UTC)
LOL! Love this!

I remember my grandparents had shoes on inside, but I think they were special shoes because they had an arch problem or something. Every single place I've been in Canada, I can almost swear that we had to take our shoes off. And this was very nice for me, since we always take our shoes off in Japan.

I think the "sorry" culture is very similar to here as well. Canadians always get along with Japanese people better than Americans because of this ;)

I'm always very sensitive to talk about Japan, and it would totally turn me off if someone got it wrong and they didn'T have a sound excuse for it. I read a fic recently which included talk about Japanese onsen. But what was there was not an onsen and it bugged me so I told them, but they had a good excuse, and I was good with that :)
hells_half_acre
Jul. 5th, 2016 03:54 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, my mum is also at a point where she wears her shoes inside, because it's better for her bad knees and feet to have the orthodic insoles and shock-absorbers and whatnot, that her shoes have. So, at my mother's house, I also often wear my shoes inside, unless I'm in my bedroom - at which point I take my shoes off at the door like usual.

I know the difference between Japan and Canada is that you leave your shoes just outside the door, right? Whereas here we leave our shoes just INSIDE - otherwise bugs get in, or they get ruined by weather, or stolen :P

And yeah, I wouldn't know the first thing about writing about Japan, as I've never been. It's so rare to have fics take place in Canada (and more specifically CANADIANS in Canada) that I don't run into it very often. But lately I've been reading some Due South fic, and also Check Please! fic... so, it's come up more often.

The worst was one Due South fic that constantly and consistently misspelled Ottawa as "Ottowa"

I mean... points for knowing the capital isn't Toronto, and for knowing the general SOUND of the capital... but maybe take two seconds and look up the spelling? :P
franztastisch
Jul. 5th, 2016 11:13 am (UTC)
THAT IS HOW WE USE SORRY IN THE UK. IT'S SO TRUE. Though my favourite thing about "sorry" in the UK is that we've perfected a way of saying "sorry" that sounds like "it's alright" at the same time. So you can say it both as an "admission of guilt" and as an acceptance of an apology. It's the most amazing thing ever. :D

Shoes though. Most people I know take their shoes off when they come into a house, but when I saw small I thought it was the weirdest thing ever because our house was so cold we'd all keep our shoes on. Or at least, my mum and dad did, because neither of them really liked slippers. So everyone else would too, when they came to ours, because it was just really cold otherwise and no one gives out invitations to visit with a caveat of "please bring slippers". So for a long time I thought taking your shoes off at the door was SO FUCKING WEIRD.

But yes, checking cultural things is always important. and usually they're small things, rather than the big ones. Like how in the UK we still use a lot of imperial measurements even though we technically use metric, and when we use them is pretty random. Or, and this is something I was discussing with my flatmate, the nuances behind the use of the word "mate", which no one really thinks about but as a Brit you REALLY NOTICE when someone uses it wrong.
hells_half_acre
Jul. 5th, 2016 03:44 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah! I made the imperial measurement mistake too when I was writing about the UK! Because, like I warned people about above, I assumed that the UK was like Canada (we also use a lot of mix imperial measurements) and that you used KMs for distance... but nope, apparently it's miles. Because you guys are weird. :P

(In Canada, we only use imperial for size measurements - height, weight, measurement of objects, small spaces, and for baking. But long distances, we use kilometers.)

I get weirded out when people don't take off their shoes... whats more, if I'm in someone's house where they're like "keep your shoes on" - unless it's because the floor is literally filthy or the house is FREEZING - then after a bit, I get pretty damn desperate to take my shoes off. They become these huge uncomfortable things, even though I know if I were outside, I wouldn't be thinking of my feet at all and would be perfectly fine. As soon as I'm indoors, it's like an itch I can't scratch - "must. take. shoes. off."

We have that version of "sorry" too! It's sort of like a catch all for "this thing happened, but we are moving on from it." :P

And yeah, it's the same thing with "eh" when it comes to people writing Canadians. We don't actually use it that much! And it's in very specific circumstances - "eh" actually serves a FUNCTION in a sentence, it's not a weird verbal tic or a filler word. Granted, it's very rare that people a)write Canadians and b)make the effort to make them sound like Canadians. So, I don't run into it that often.
franztastisch
Jul. 6th, 2016 08:54 pm (UTC)
Height (people, buildings, planes), weight (people), liquids (beer, milk, petrol), distance (roads only) um... there are probably others but that's what I've got right now. Speed!

I dunno. I'm more used to it now. But only because I wear slippers. I prefer to keep my shoes on in other people's houses just because usually I don;t have slippers with me and my feet get cold REALLY easily.

Oh no, literally ours is a way of saying it that also sounds like alright. So people can mutter it to each other and no one really knows who is apologising and who is accepting the apology. It's amazing. :D

I think that's an interesting thing about people writing other people for whom English is a first language but maybe not the same English. You just tend to... ignore it. I'd go out of my way to research a Nigerian speaking English, but an American? As long as they say sidewalk and couch I let a bunch of stuff slide.
hells_half_acre
Jul. 6th, 2016 09:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we do liquids in litres, restaurants do wine in oz (6 oz glass etc), but we do beers, most places, in pints, because of the British influence. It's all a weird mix. We do weight in lbs, unless it's on an official description (driver's licenses, medical exams, etc.)... yeah, WEIRD MIX.

Yeah, my British friends here often half guest slippers - but for the most part, Canadians are expected to keep their houses warm enough so that their guests feet aren't cold, or they provide slippers, OR they expect their guests to think ahead and wear warm socks. Since Canadians tend to own a lot of warm socks, it's usually not that big of a deal.

I think part of it is that we're so saturated with American and British media, that we feel more familiarity with those Englishes, even if they're foreign to us. Whereas we're not exposed to as much Nigerian-English, or Indian-English, or Australian-English, etc. Despite having Australian friends, if I wanted to write an authentic Australian, I'd DEFINITELY have to do research. Whereas after growing up watching Python, BBC programs, etc... I feel more a familiarity to British English, even though I've never lived in the UK, and have only spent about 2.5 weeks traveling in the British Isles in my entire life).

Anyway, yeah, you do tend to let a bunch of stuff slide, as long as they get the basics down... like avoiding any very region specific phrases or words that aren't in the English they're supposed to be speaking.
franztastisch
Jul. 8th, 2016 04:07 pm (UTC)
Well, I'd assume Canadian houses are like Norwegian houses. They are BUILT to be warm. If they're not warm, they're doing something wrong. :P Hey, do you have heated bathroom floors?

Partially yes. And because they are (largely) the same. And I think Australian English falls into this. For me, at least. Culturally, they're pretty similar.

Exactly. And not writing in dialect, which is the fucking worst. She says, having written in dialect at least once. In my defense, if was a MADE UP dialect. :P
hells_half_acre
Jul. 8th, 2016 04:48 pm (UTC)
The newer houses have heated floors... some of them, anyway. Older houses are just built with thick walls and decorated with fuzzy insulating area rugs.

:)
franztastisch
Jul. 10th, 2016 08:31 am (UTC)
Aw man, underfloor heating is the best! Almost all Norwegian houses have their bathrooms done, which is awesome. Apart from, my grandparents had a cat, and she liked to sleep in the shower cos it was nice and warm. Which is fine! You make it clear that water is coming her way and she'd move. But! You go to the loo and when she was in the bathroom? She looked at you and thought OOH LAP and tried to climb into your lap while you're peeing. With claws. While your pants are down. Very ow-ee. :P

So. Pros and cons. :P
caranfindel
Jul. 5th, 2016 06:15 pm (UTC)
This is hilarious! I say "sorry" to mean "I regret that this happened" and my husband always says "you don't need to apologize, it's not your fault" and I'm like, "I'm not apologizing." Maybe I'm really Canadian.

Also, the shoe thing reminds me of a fic I read where Dean is in the hospital and his breakfast includes beans, and it just threw me out of the story because beans are not served for breakfast in America.
hells_half_acre
Jul. 5th, 2016 07:04 pm (UTC)
Haha, yes, exactly. It's the smallest things sometimes.

I sometimes have to amend my "sorry" to "sorry to hear that", because I don't like the "it's not your fault" reply. "I'm sorry" can also just mean "I have feelings of sympathy." :P

liliaeth
Jul. 5th, 2016 07:24 pm (UTC)
Not exactly the same, but I was once pulled out of a Hunger Games fic, because the writer, had the characters mention how someone couldn't afford to go to the hospital because they didn't have health insurance.

And I was like, this is Panem. In the future. Why bring America's bad healthcare system to a dystopian world that has it bad enough as it is.
hells_half_acre
Jul. 5th, 2016 07:41 pm (UTC)
LOL

Oh man, even worse - I've read Star Trek fics where they have America's bad healthcare system. STAR TREK! It's a post-scarcity society! It's practically a socialist utopia! Can you really not imagine a world where your health doesn't bankrupt you? Americans are so sad and depressing sometimes.
liliaeth
Jul. 5th, 2016 07:44 pm (UTC)
God... But then these are the same people who somehow connected 'universal healthcare' with death panels. Never realizing that it's their own health industry with insurance companies deciding who does or does not get a treatment, that really have their own form of death panels.
hells_half_acre
Jul. 5th, 2016 08:14 pm (UTC)
No kidding. I think the scariest death panel is the one that only evaluates on the question "how much money do you have?"
khek
Jul. 6th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
Shoes off is a Canadian thing? I just thought it was just something my mom did! Then again, I thought using "sorry" that way was also unique to my family.

I guess my grandparents' Canadian influence went further than I thought!
hells_half_acre
Jul. 6th, 2016 06:51 am (UTC)
You'd be surprised how influential grandparents (or great grandparents) can be! My great-great-grandfather was half German and half Irish, and to this day my family uses a lot more German/Irish sayings and words than is your average 4th or 5th generation Canadian household.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )