Saturday, February 16, 2013

Americans, You're Being Cheated!

  I mostly harbour benign thoughts about my life in America. I love America and Americans. True, there are the minor culture-clashes, the teeny little misunderstandings -  but all that is tolerable, even interesting and of course, there are many things which are better than tolerable. But there are also certain things that are not tolerable and what follows is one of them.
  When I have the time, I like to read. I like to read American books. There are some excellent American books but sometimes I feel, surely with some justification, that I would like to read a British book. When I'm in Britain, I don't find it hard to find American books and indeed, when I visit my local library here, I can find plenty of British books. "Hooray!" I say to myself, "A nice British detective story - just the ticket for a bit of relaxation". Then I open it, start reading and get a nasty shock.
  These so-called British books have been doctored for an American audience. "Mommy"  substituted for "Mummy", "football shoe" for "football boot", "cookie" for biscuit. I'm constantly finding examples. But quite the most egregious is the book I picked up yesterday. It's a detective story by Peter James. Peter James, is, so far as I can tell, though he did spend some time in America, a British author. More to the point, his book is set in Brighton, that most quintessentially British of seaside towns. And what do I find? Cellphones! Cop cars!  Attorneys! A parking lot!*  Something the hero orders in a pub which is referred to as "bitter beer"! What the heck is bitter beer?  I never heard an English person use that expression for a "pint of bitter" in my life!  But worst of all and this was something that really did make me jump out of my comfortable window seat and hurl the book across the room, was when our hero had a headache and reached for the Tylenol. TYLENOL! British people haven't even heard of Tylenol! Even I, who now live in America, have a job remembering what Tylenol is. In Britain it's called paracetamol. The fact that a British man with a headache in Brighton would even think of the word Tylenol is as unimaginable as, oh I don't know, serving Marmite at the White House.
  So what was intended to be a nice, relaxing afternoon has turned into a furious, spluttering, bad mood. Sorry, readers.
  There can be only two explanations. One is that the British authors write that way from the start. I don't know. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why. The other is that the publisher who markets their books in the US employs some elf with nothing better to do than sift through the book,  replacing perfectly normal British expressions with crude Americanisms. Why, why, why?
  Even when I was a child in Britain, I read a lot of American books; "Little House on the Prairie" comes to mind, as does "What Katy Did". They were full of American expressions and never once did I need a dictionary. I accepted from an early age that there were words from across the pond that were different from ours and it was fun learning them and expanding my transatlantic knowledge. Are Americans idiots that they can't do the same? Of course not. As with Downton Abbey , they're being sold short. Sold a fake version of Britain that adds absolutely nothing to the story and only distorts it. Sadly, most Americans probably don't even realise they're being cheated.

*Translation:  mobiles, police cars, solicitors (or barristers), car-park.


  1. It's appalling. And US publishers didn't use to "translate" UK expressions like this. I think it started about the same time that they mangled Rowling "for the children." In my day, you read English mysteries for the English flavor, darn it.

  2. Anyway, that's why a lot of American fans of Rowling bought the UK versions of her books. (Although the covers were a nice bonus.)

  3. Glad to see someone agrees with me :)!