This week for the bash is something different. My good friend Sara Jayne Townsend is stopping by and she's talking about cultural displacement. Hi Sara and thanks for being here.:-)
DEALING WITH CULTURAL DISPLACEMENT
By Sara Jayne Townsend
I was ten years old when I moved with my family from the UK to Canada. To me, this strange new country was like an alien world. I was told that everyone spoke English, but it sounded like a foreign language and I couldn’t understand what anyone said. They all told me I had a funny accent. I thought they were the ones with the funny accent. They had perplexing words for things. Their leisure activities were strange. No one could understand how it could be that I’d never been on a pair of ice skates in my life, and they yelled at me when I played baseball wrong (I was playing rounders, which I thought was the game we were playing. The equipment is the same but the rules are different).
There were too many changes for me to be able to deal with, at that age, and I rebelled against it by resisting as many changes as possible. I insisted on spelling things the English way, and at age 11 had an argument with my teacher when he marked incorrect my spelling of ‘tyre’ – which to me was the correct English spelling, not ‘tire’ as the Canadians spelled it.
Only when I moved back to England at age 18, after high school, did I realise how Canadianised I’d become, despite my resistance to becoming so. People kept asking me what part of the States I was from, despite my being ridiculed in Canada for my ‘funny’ British accent. And despite feeling that I’d moved back home, I still felt I didn’t really belong.
I found out years later that this feeling of alienation in a different culture is known as cultural displacement. It’s about more than just speaking with a particular accent. It’s about the cultural references you grow up with; the shared knowledge that is an inherent part of your childhood. Canadian kids are all put on ice skates as soon as they learn to walk, and everyone knows how to play baseball by the time they start school. I came to Canada and entered school in grade five. It never occurred to anyone that I might not know how to play baseball, or that I might never have been on ice skates before, because these things are such an ingrained part of Canadian culture no one thinks twice about them.
When I created my amateur sleuth Shara Summers, I decided to draw on these feelings of cultural displacement. Shara has a British mother and a Canadian father; she is British born but has lived in Canada much of her life and has a Canadian identity. At the start of the first book she is living in Toronto but goes to England because of a family crisis, and she ends up deciding to move back to England permanently.
I always had a notion that throughout the series, Shara will observe those little cultural differences between the two countries she is connected to. Some of those are down to language (diaper vs nappy; elevator vs lift, etc). But there are other things too – things you don’t notice when you’re a native of a particular country, but you do if you are an outsider. The fact that Canadians always take off their shoes when they enter someone’s house – in Britain this is generally not expected. The fact that when you are on an escalator in London you stand on the right hand side, and if you stand on the left you can expect to get shoved out of the way by someone in a hurry. The fact that Canadian beer – which the British would define as lager – is always served cold. Beer in Britain can be ale, which is stronger than lager, brewed differently and generally served at room temperature. Wedding cakes in Britain are traditionally fruit cake. Canadians collectively dislike fruit cake and most wedding cakes are sponge.
I dealt with my feelings of cultural displacement by transferring them to my amateur sleuth. I hope having a foot in both countries makes her unique in the world of amateur sleuths. In the real world, the person she has the most in common with is me. But I was always considered a bit odd anyway, in both the countries I am connected to.
I don’t mind these days if people think I’m a bit odd. The world is all the richer for its differences.