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On speaking Canadian to a (mostly) American audience

Fun Fact: According to current stats, the majority of my blog’s visitors – 66.60%, in fact – reside in the United States, while only 13.00% are from my native country of Canada. That’s quite an extreme difference! Really, though, apart from being a rather odd little statistical quirk, this tidbit of information shouldn’t make any difference as to how I write, or what I post, or the way I construct my comments or replies… should it?

Surprisingly enough, it actually does.

Though the two nations share a border (and an incredibly long one at that), we are notably different in ways that cross my mind nearly every time I sit down to share my thoughts through my writing.


I’ve heard it said 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 instead work with what you might consider to be an error.

Even though these 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 extremely happy to be Canadian) simply rebels. She will occasionally cater to the notion grudgingly, albeit in a roundabout way (case in point – upon review of the earlier text, 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.

communicationI continue to use my country’s unique spelling and terminology in my personal writing, on the one hand glad 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.

What are your thoughts on language and spelling differences?
Please share!

NaBloPoMo February 2014

(Updated from original post in April, 2012.)

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.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Marya
    February 12, 2014

    Right there with you! Thanks so much for sharing – it was an honour to read! 🙂
    Marya recently posted… #Win with @SearsCA, #Carters, & #OshKosh: $50 gift card or family trip to #Orlando!My Profile

  • Krystal February 12, 2014

    This was a cute post! I’m an American and forget sometimes that those in other parts of the world spell words differently than I do!
    Krystal recently posted… 5 Tips For a Cheap & Easy Sunday Brunch + Grapefruit Mimosas!My Profile

  • Sandra Sallin February 12, 2014

    Well, you hit the nail right on the ??? Anyway, you’re right I’m always confused about weather, schools and sizing but the important thing is what people are saying all over the world. The rest are just little pesky details.
    Sandra Sallin recently posted… CAROL BURNETT and TOM SELLECK ––– A FLASHBACKMy Profile

  • Linda Anselmi
    February 12, 2014

    Write Canadian! It is your authentic voice and perspective. For me, as an American reader, it adds flavor and makes for a fun bit of learning.

  • Cathy Roberts February 12, 2014

    I’m with Linda Anselmi. Write Canadian. I’m curious, do Canadians use “realise” or “realize”. I spent a year in Britain and had to learn that its “realise” in Britain and “realize” in the US. But which is it in Canada.

    I really wish the US would go metric. I feel like we are still in the dark ages using the English system. I encourage you to keep using metric in your writings and posts and comments. Maybe it will rub off on the US that we need to convert to metric and join most of the rest of the world. I googled it and only three countries do not use metric: USA, Burma, and Liberia.

    • Laurel Regan
      February 12, 2014

      It’s funny, Cathy, but in some cases Canadians are a bit of a hybrid – we tend to the British spelling for the most part, but in cases like realize and organize we (in general) seem to opt for the US spelling. We’ve picked and chosen from both cultures and developed our own unique identity, I suppose!

      I personally am a hybrid when it comes to the metric system, and I think it has to do with my age and when the metric system was implemented in Canada. We had been learning Imperial measurements up until Grade 6 or 7, which was when Canada started making the switch to metric (mid- to late-1970s), and consequently I feel as though I don’t know either of them very well! I still use pounds and inches for weight and height, and follow Imperial measurements when cooking/baking, but measure distance and temperature using metric. It’s awfully confusing, LOL!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… How do you define a writer?My Profile

  • Karen
    February 12, 2014

    As an editor, I find I must flip back and forth between Canadian and U.S. spellings depending upon which client I’m working for…but like you, on our blog we’re relentlessly, defiantly Canadian. Not that Canadians are usually defiant. Wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression… :0
    Karen recently posted… Awesome Advice Central is the cat’s meow!My Profile

  • Marika February 13, 2014

    In my head your posts sound like the Canadians I see on South Park. I kid!

    I actually work with a lot of Canadians, and I love talking to them on the phone, especially if one of them says something I have seen on Kids In The Hall or that old Show SCTV … One of my favorite writers is Sparkle Hayter … and I loved the language so keep it up!
    Marika recently posted… Nordic NoirMy Profile

  • Diane
    February 13, 2014

    As a Canadian, living closely with our large, influential neighbour to the south, I quite agree! I love them! But I love us as well. So I’m unapologetic in my writing preferences. Here’s to friendship!
    Diane recently posted… Accidents with Dad. Part 1My Profile

  • SunbonnetSmart.com
    February 13, 2014

    Wow! Laurel! I had no idea you were/are so full of angst over the written differences. It is amazing how many there are and I had no idea all of this was constantly going on in your “pretty little head.” I would definitely write in your natural voice as the one thing you seem not to know about “us,” is the Americans I know consider any semblance of a European cant to be upper crust and highly educated. In the museum world, I have seen complete idiots be hired, who were actually drummed out of England for malpractice, simply because, when they spoke nonsense, it sounded eloquent to our mutt ears. I think you are missing a great opportunity to command prestige and social standing. Without the elevated spellings of your native land, we here in the States are assuming you’re a nincompoop like each of us tends to be. A worthy concern. Much Love, Fondly, Robin
    SunbonnetSmart.com recently posted… My Rather Short Bucket ListMy Profile

  • Jeanne Melanson
    February 13, 2014

    I’m a Canadian who’s been living in the United States for 20 years. It’s a dead giveaway every time I say, “house” or “out.” It’s amazing how many differences there are in speech and spelling. I must be around the same age as you, because I also never really learned the metric system very well. It was that awkward school age. So, nice to meet you, fellow Canadian!
    Jeanne Melanson recently posted… Shocking Response From Dallas Sportscaster on Michael Sam Being GayMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      February 14, 2014

      When I was at the BlogHer conference in Chicago this past summer I was chatting with a stranger who had asked me a question. I hadn’t even got one sentence out before she interrupted me and said, “You’re Canadian, aren’t you?” Not sure which word gave me away, LOL!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… How do you write?My Profile

  • Cat Graham
    February 18, 2015

    Loved this post, Laurel. Here it is 9pm and I’m not usually online but I just had to read this. I followed the link over here from Debbie’s thread about SEO and Canadian vs American spelling which I find such an interesting topic.

    I can so relate to all of it. Canadians are different from Americans and spelling is just one of our differences along with different words and phrases. I am defiant and keep the British English, too. I get upset when I see places that write Center instead of Centre on their buildings. That’s how bad I am. HMPH! We are not amused! I’m a bit of a Monarchist, too, but that’s for another debate.

    As for metric, I’m the same and learned both. When I was back in grade 6 or 7 (As opposed to 6th or 7th grade!) we switched in the 70s, I semi learned metric and now I don’t know either one particularly well except metric seems easier to understand being based on ten. At least I’m not as bad as the hubs who still refers to a litre of milk as a quart. LOL!

    I do find with the Internet, we are all becoming more similar with access to a lot of the same information. I say we celebrate these little differences as they make us distinctive and interesting. I am so enjoying learning about India and how we are similar and different to them, too. Fascinating stuff.

    Great post! Very thought provoking!
    Cat Graham recently posted… A Love For All SeasonsMy Profile


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