Some of the complaints I’ve heard around the internet about Fifty Shades of Grey aside from its juvenile writing style, poor word use and repetition of phrases is how un-American it feels. This is a complaint made by American readers in that they are finding it difficult to believe that this is set in their country. “Americans don’t talk like that” or “I’ve never heard an American use that word before!”
Fair enough. E.L. James is British and perhaps we might accuse the book of demonstrating poor research amongst its sins. I can’t comment, I haven’t read it and I won’t read it. This is a common trap to fall into and you need to go for authenticity on the finer points.
There language differences between British and American English are essential if you want an audience to be immersed in a world in which you do not live. Aside from the obvious spelling differences: colour/color, realise/realize, aluminium/aluminum, centre/center, fizzy drinks/soda, spelt/spelled there are a number other differences you need to be aware of if you are American writing a story set in Britain or if you are a Brit writing something set in the U.S.
Oxford dictionaries has given us quite a comprehensive list here. There’s plenty of them and a writer would do well to take note of these differences. Nothing screams louder than bad research and unfortunately, too many writers do it.
My favourites are these confusing terms
British Term: Waistcoat / American Term: Vest
British Term: Vest / American Term: Undershirt
There are also some issues over describing a person’s ethnicity. In the UK we use the term ‘Asian’ to mean a person whose background is the Indian subcontinent, nationalities that include: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Sri Lanka. In North America the same word is used for people of Far East descent: China, Japan, Korea etc. In Europe, we use “white” instead of “caucasian”, “Mediterranean” instead of “Hispanic” and though both use the term “black” – in Europe there is no hyphenated “Anglo-Caribbean” or “Franco-Senegalese”. It must be remembered that the majority black populations in both of our respective countries have different backgrounds. Whereas most American blacks are descended from the slaves who were brought straight from Africa, most blacks in the UK are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean in the 1950s (and so might not want to be referred to as African hyphenated anything).
But I went off on a tangent there. Does anybody have any other vital language differences? Can you think of any poor examples of a book set in one country where the author had little to no experience of it?