I’ve noticed from reading the comments on my interviews and guest posts that some people are surprised to realize I’m Canadian. It’s true! I’ve lived here (in the city of Toronto), quite happily, my whole life.
You generally won’t be able to tell it from my writing, though. I learned way back when I first started submitting short stories to US magazines that it was much easier to use US spellings than to worry that an editor would think I didn’t know how to spell. These days I switch back and forth almost automatically: when I’m writing prose, or writing for a general audience (like here on the blog), I type “center” instead of “centre” and “color” instead of “colour” automatically.
There are also a bunch of US-isms that are different from Canada, some of which I already knew and some of which my editor and copy-editor caught. A few that come up frequently:
-Eh. Yep, Canadians say this all the time. It’s a very handy syllable that turns any sentence into a question, inviting the listener to agree. “Quite the storm, eh?” “Wish you’d thought of that earlier, eh?” I still get the urge to have my characters use this in dialogue.
-Money. We haven’t had one dollar bills in Canada since… I can’t even remember when. And our two dollar bills were discontinued back when I was in high school. These days we have coins called loonies and toonies. So when writing a story theoretically set in the States, I have to remember to switch back to bills.
-Grades. Here in Canada (at least, any part I’m familiar with) we don’t use freshman/sophomore/junior/senior to divide up the grades in high school. “Freshman” gets used occasionally in university/college but nowhere near as often as in the US. When we say “juniors” and “seniors” it usually refers to a wide segment of the school (e.g., in an elementary school grades 1-3 will be primary students and 4-6 junior students; at my high school students in grades 11 & 12 were all called “senior students”).
I would also say “grade one” or “grade eleven,” whereas I’ve learned from the editing process that apparently you all south of the border would say “first grade” and “eleventh grade.”
-Non-class periods. Around here we have “spares” or “spare periods” in high school. If you don’t need a full course load in a given year (usually your last) to graduate, most people would choose to have a spare. During your spare you could go wherever you wanted (in or out of the school) and do whatever you wanted. If it was the last period of the day, you could head home.
Is there an equivalent in the US? From what I understand, the closest is study hall.
You might wonder, why do I bother to go to the trouble of swapping phrases and spelling? Why not just write all my stories set in Canada?
I’ll talk about that tomorrow.
Second post is now up!