for writers and readers….

America’s another country: they do things differently there — so don’t make assumptions

America is differentI wrote this post on another blog back in 2010 and when I came across it the other day I thought it was still interesting and still relevant. Hope you agree.

Just been reviewed on an American blog devoted to books (it included an excellent plot summary by the way – not simply a re-arrangement of the blurb on the back cover.) One point that came across, however, was how ‘other’ A Good Confession felt to an American reader.

Whenever I read British literature, I find myself transported. It seems so foreign to me, even more so than reading the South Asian authors and Middle Eastern authors who I love, perhaps because I always feel like it should feel more similar to my own experience, since they speak the same language. So I’m surprised when I read a story just how different it is.

I suspect that on this side of the Atlantic we do assume we know America because we’re so immersed in American culture through music, film, television and literature. When my sons went to New York for the first time (mid 90s) aged 6 and 10, they were enchanted by a city they already knew as well as London. Turn the corner into the Rockefeller Centre and yes, that’s where Macaulay Culkin was reunited with his Mom in Home Alone, another corner and another cherished film moment – and they weren’t even teenagers…

It’s an assumption we can’t trust though. I give you my uncle’s front door. He lives with his large, loving family in Chicago. A few more blocks and he would be officially in the suburbs but his house is within city limits. It’s a pretty standard American house with a small backyard and and even smaller strip of grass dividing his front porch from the pavement. A couple of years ago he bought a new front door. He didn’t order it specially and like his house it is pretty standard. And it comes with a standard feature – a latch. That was good he said because they were so many of them coming in and out all the time it was a nuisance to have keep getting your key out and unlocking the door. So, during daylight hours it was on the latch. Anyone could just come in and they only locked up when it got dark…

I can’t imagine anyone doing that in England, not in the cities or in the countryside. Half a century or more ago front doors might have been left unlocked but no more. And nowhere in the UK can you buy a standard, mass produced front door with a latch….so another of my assumptions was folded up and put away…

photo credit: Sprengben [why not get a friend] via photopin cc

7 comments on “America’s another country: they do things differently there — so don’t make assumptions

  1. Storm Grayson
    April 28, 2014

    I totally agree having lived and visits the US many many times I am still amazed my friends can go away for days at a time and never lock the door.

    • bridget whelan
      April 28, 2014

      Of course, it’s not just that but the idea we understand somewhere simply because we share a language. I met a woman at a literary event in Ireland who told me that she had moved from England a few years earlier. It had taken quite some time to settle into the way of life, she told me and admitted that she she had assumed it would be like moving to another county. “I didn’t realise it would be so different…”

      • Storm Grayson
        April 28, 2014

        Definition of assume – makes an ass of u and me!

  2. elainecanham
    April 28, 2014

    Actually I have plenty of friends who don’t lock their doors. Sometimes because they live in villages where everybody is known, and sometimes because they don’t have anything to steal. One advantage of being poor, I suppose.

    • bridget whelan
      April 28, 2014

      I find that heartening and can understand how that can still happen in small, close-knit communities, although I know from experience that poverty is no safeguard…I suppose the point I was trying to make is that our assumptions about other cultures with whom we share many things may still be wrong. And the example I gave was in an urban setting where doors were manufactured with a latch facility.

      • elainecanham
        April 28, 2014

        Yes, I did note that; I was so astonished by the guy with the latch door that I just wanted to say something uplifting about the British, I suppose. I completely agree with you about the assumptions one can make. You can do that quite disastrously in individual relationships, never mind with an entire nation that shares your language. Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  3. Vikki Thompson
    May 1, 2014

    Hi honey 🙂 I just wanted to stop by quickly and say thanks for your support during the A-Z Challenge…i think I’m back! 🙂 xx

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