I have to say something. It pains me to say it, but here we go.
I prefer American spellings to British ones.
Honestly, that shouldn’t be hard to admit. I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body. But still, as a Brit, I cling to a stubborn resistance against the overwhelming influence of America.
This time, though, I’m letting go.
For professional reasons, I’ve been spending a lot of time switching between the two sets of spellings. The more I look at them, the more I realise that British spellings are full of choices that make them less instinctive for someone familiar with our shared alphabet and writing system. Extra letters. “S”s for “z” sounds. “Re” to make an “er” sound.
We cling to our system because it’s what we’re used to. If we’re using something then our brains find ways to justify it, rather than admit that we’ve been pouring effort into an inferior option. Brains are tricksy like that.
But American spellings are, in most cases, better.
I’m not going to just start using them. After all, I live in Britain. I have to work with that. But never again will I try to say that the Americans are the ones spelling stuff wrong.
Britain’s a funny old place. Lets face it, guidebooks can never quite capture the essence of a nation that gave us both Bilbo Baggins and the Rolling Stones. Fortunately our rich tradition of making stuff up, aka science fiction and fantasy, can help out.
Fellow writer Victoria Randall‘s daughter will be learning about Britain first hand later this year when she travels to Swansea, a town some of my readers are very familiar with. So to help her out here are a few valuable lessons on Britain, as shown by science fiction and fantasy.
I know that in some other countries getting what you want is a mad scrum to get to the front. She who shouts loudest or pushes hardest gets her way.
Yes United States, I’m looking at you. Don’t try to hide behind Canada, even if they’re too polite to give you away.
In this country we are far too polite for that (sidenote: studies from the Centre for Made Up Statistics show that 63% of British politeness is just a cover for repression – more on that later). The cybermen may be brutal villains hell bent on destroying humanity, but at least they know how to wait their turn in line. Get out of line around cybermen and they will destroy you. Real Britains will politely dream about it, and then provide you with poor service and a look of disdain. Don’t take that chance.
Food = happiness
Is there any more British hero than Sam from Lord of the Rings? Diligent, home-loving, unsure of himself. And what does Sam do whenever he wants to cheer people up? He cooks.
The British love of a cuppa is well known, but it goes beyond that. Look at our traditional national cuisine – Yorkshire puddings, teacakes, milky tea, boiled potatoes and over-cooked vegetables. Some people might call it joyless and unexciting, but it’s really the opposite – it’s a sign of how much we love our food, that we can find comfort in it no matter what. That’s what makes Sam such a big damn hero – halfway up Mount Doom he’s still putting on the kettle and reaching for the breadknife.
Scepticism is not just healthy, it’s compulsory
We may be polite but that doesn’t mean we blankly accept whatever we’re told. Remember, we chopped our king’s head off long before other countries got in on the act.
That’s right revolutionary France, I see you jumping on our bandwagon.
Scepticism is the bedrock of the British mindset. It can be about authority, about ideas, even about whether this nice weather will last (it won’t, this is Britain). And it’s embodied in the works of one of finest fantasy authors, the amazing Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s characters and the plots of his books challenge accepted ideas and authorities. They show that scepticism of which we’re so proud.
Though we do look askance at anyone who gets too proud.
Repression is so last century
All of this might leave you thinking that Britain is still the stiff upper lipped land of the Victorian age. But if you want to see modern Britain, and just how foul-mouthed and sneering that upper lip has become, then you should check out Misfits. The show about young people who develop super powers while on community service is full of imaginatively foul language and the worst sort of behaviour. Because after years of repression Britain is finally pulling out of the nineteenth century and the results are… lets call them messy.
Modern Britain has learned that it can get away with swearing in public, consuming drugs other than a nice cup of Assam, and loudly screaming its scepticism in the face of authority. We’re changing, which is not all good and not all bad, and as always science fiction and fantasy are there to show the world what it means to be British.
So anyway, that’s my guide to Britain, as shown by our science fiction and fantasy. Fellow Brits, add your opinions in the comments – what lessons have I missed? And those of you further afield, what have you learned about Britain from our national nerd culture? Or what would you like the rest of us to explain?