Someone asked me last week why I use American spelling for words like favorite, center, and color. In Canada, of course, those words are spelled favourite, centre, and colour. Do I not realize what I’m doing?
The answer is, of course I do, and as much as it saddens me to forsake a part of my Canadian identity by writing differently (the meaning of the words is unchanged, but the way they appear on the page is obvious), I’m pretty sure I’ll be searching for an American agent and an American publisher when the time comes. I’ve done my research and I don’t believe that my book would be a good fit for Canadian publishers. For one thing, the story’s not set in Canada, and even if it was, there’s nothing really Canadian about it. It’s just a story, the kind of story I felt like writing, and since I live in Seattle now, Seattle is where the story’s set. And from what I’ve learned from other Canadian writers, unless your book has a very specific Canadiana feel to it, good luck at getting a Canadian publisher to take a chance on you.
So I set my Word program to American English in order to cater to my imagined audience. Yes, it felt totally traitorous, but no, I don’t think it’s the wrong thing. At first, I added both forms of English to my Word dictionary, but you know what happened? I ended up using both color and colour interchangeably throughout the novel. Which was horribly inconsistent and stuck out glaringly when I went back to reread a few chapters. I realized that at the very least I need to pick one and stick to it. So I picked.
I still try to use colour and centre and favourite in my personal emails to friends and family in Canada, but I can’t tell you how tiring it is to remember which version of English to write. It’s as big a pain in the ass as memorizing a Social Security number along with a Social Insurance number and having to keep bank accounts active in both countries (which have two totally different debit card systems).
And after almost two years here, I still have to use an online calculator to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, otherwise I have no concept of how cold it really is outside. I have to remember to tell my hairdresser to chop off three-quarters of an inch instead of two centimeters, so as not to confuse her. I still find myself surprised at how low the speed limits are on the highways (sorry, freeways), only to remember a moment later that the signs are in miles, not kilometers. I couldn’t understand why people looked at me funny in restaurants when I asked where the washrooms were, until someone finally explained that they’re called restrooms here. And iced tea always comes fresh brewed and non-sweetened unless otherwise advertised.
I still find it weird to see labels in Spanish, when I’m used to French being the second language.
But in the end, geography’s not so important. Más que nada, home is where the heart is, n’est-ce pas?