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On speaking Canadian to an audience of Americans

Fun Fact: According to Google Analytics, the majority of my blog’s visitors – 60.61%, in fact – reside in the United States, while only 25.43% are from my native country of Canada. Though the two nations share a border (and an incredibly long one at that), we’re notably different in ways that, believe it or not, come to my mind every time I sit down to share my thoughts through my writing.

I’ve heard that when it comes to informal communication, such as an e-mail to a friend, a comment on Facebook, or perhaps a personal blog post, perfection in editing should take a back seat to deference for your reader. For example, if using a particular word or spelling, though correct, would actually distract the reader and thereby take away from your message, it would be more appropriate, even respectful, to work with what you might consider to be an error.

Though the above statistics and guidelines for deference indicate that I should be writing with my American readers in mind, my inner editor (who’s a relentless perfectionist, a stubborn purist, and proud Canadian) simply rebels. She will occasionally cater to the notion grudgingly, albeit in a roundabout way (case in point – upon review of the first paragraph of this post, the original words “are neighbours” were replaced with “share a border”), but most of the time, such verbal gymnastics simply aren’t considered.

You’d be surprised how often such things occur.

My US friends blithely (and quite correctly) fill their blog posts with colors, favors, and honor, while I (also correctly) populate mine with colours, favours, and honour. They cash their checks, spend money at shopping centers, and wear jewelry; I cash my cheques, spend money at shopping centres, and wear jewellery. They tell stories of when they were in third grade, or a sophomore; for me, it was Grade 3 and… Grade 9? Grade 10? (I always have to stop and do a mental translation of high school references, and usually get them wrong.) They talk of miles per hour and degrees Fahrenheit, while my posts refer to kilometres (not kilometers!) per hour and degrees Celsius. They speak of co-pays and insurance premiums; I visit my doctor with no thought as to the cost. To my US friends, “south of the border” means Mexico, whereas to me, “south of the border” is actually the United States.

I could go on and on.

I use my country’s unique spelling and terminology in my personal writing, on the one hand proud of our distinction yet at the same time with an underlying impulse to justify or apologize, hoping desperately that no one will assume I am ignorant, a bad speller, or awkwardly foreign, and therefore simply dismiss my work or my message like one might nix a superfluous u.

This, in part, represents some of the frustrations I have as a Canadian – a non-American – living in what many would consider to be a largely US-centric world. Our countries are immediate neighbours, yet so many day-to-day points of reference – our words, our spelling, our experiences – are diverse enough that at times it feels as though we speak a different language, live in distinct and unique cultures. And, as a member of the minority speaking to the majority, it can be challenging to communicate my message with authenticity while walking the line between compromising my culture and alienating my readers.

Yet despite the struggles, I am grateful for the awareness and perspective that being an “other” – a citizen of a country whose norms and practices are not necessarily the default – has afforded me, both in everyday life and as expressed through my writing.

Your thoughts?

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Oh, I love the differences, and I say you should be true to your linguistic culture. One of the charms, I find, of reading blogs around the world is the opportunity to see the world through non-U.S.-centric eyes, language and all.
    margaret christine perkins recently posted… who is maggie?My Profile

  • Becky April 16, 2012

    I think writers should write what is the norm for them. As a technical writer and editor, I changed spellings to make all our documentation consistent. As a fiction editor of anthologies published in the U.S., I also change for consistency’s sake. But other than that, if people tell you that you’re doing wrong what in Canada is right, they’re showing THEIR ignorance, not yours.
    Becky recently posted… Legacy Writing 365:107My Profile

  • Winnie April 17, 2012

    I enjoyed reading your article. I knew some of the word/grammar differences, but not all. Found it very cool to learn. I am always amazed when some kind person comments from very far away and writes in english to me and apologizes for not having the proper spelling or grammar. I am just amazed that they can and are kind enough to try for ME. I can’t speak anything but my native tongue.

  • Lou Lou Loves April 17, 2012

    I decided to keep my vowels but to include helpful measurements to my dear American friends… whenI complain about Swedish weather in °C, I try to include °F as well so that they can really understand my pain…
    Lou Lou Loves recently posted… Tina’s special holy waterMy Profile

  • Debra April 17, 2012

    Hi Dawn,
    Interesting article.
    Do you go to the theatre, or the theater?
    Debra recently posted… Those Peculiar PeopleMy Profile

  • a.eye April 18, 2012

    Though born in the States, I sometimes catch myself writing words with the ‘u’ and totally wish we used kilometers and Celsius. Though once, I thought I was doing the translation of temperature correct, and ended up saying it was 40 degrees in the spring time and people thought I was crazy since that is over 100 degrees F. I stopped trying to do that math in my head…
    a.eye recently posted… A stormy, clear dayMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      April 19, 2012

      LOL, I could never do the math in my head! I have a handy little translation program on my computer that I use in cases like that.
      Laurel Regan recently posted… NowMy Profile


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