#1 in a series on the call of other places
Buon giorno! Namaste! G’day!
Exotic places grab my imagination and fire multiple story ideas. My husband and I, and sometimes our children, have travelled quite a lot, through Asia, Europe, Britain and west coast America. Culture, attitudes, languages differ and therefore understandings or interpretations of even basic things can be challenging. My first attempt to order a latte in Tuscany highlighted this for me. A latte in Italy is hot milk, not the milk coffee we associate with the name here. Fortunately, an Austrian customer who spoke Italian and English cottoned on to my surprise and the situation was easily remedied. And I quickly settled on cappuccino as my preferred form of coffee.
Language incorporates different cultural understandings and these aren’t limited to languages other than English. Differences between various forms of English can be humorous as well. A simple example from my next release is that Matt, the Irish hero of Engaging the Enemy, cannot use the word ‘kid’ when referring to a child because he thinks of a baby goat. He uses ‘bairn’ which confuses Andie. Even simple colloquial names for a child differ and it’s important to accurately reflect culture as well as character in your writing.
Then there are basic, everyday actions such as driving. Stick to the left, overtake on the right. Easy. Unless you’re in Hawaii, or Europe. The first heroine I created landed on Kauai, jet-lagged and annoyed by being given a different vehicle to the one she’d ordered. On turning out of the airport, she was confronted by a truck bearing down on her before she remembered and dodged into the ‘wrong’ lane and breathed a sigh of relief. So many of our daily actions are automatic and instinctive after a lifetime of repetition.
Even crossing the road in a country where vehicles drive on the right hand side offers potential for conflict. For a writer, these offer a treasure trove of potential, from first meetings to conflict situations. I took this idea and placed it on the Amalfi Coast road for my novella, One Night in Sorrento. Luca almost literally runs into Rhiannon because she forgets the traffic drives differently there. (She also learns what it’s like to ride behind a hot Italian biker, but that’s not part of this discussion ;) )
Our first encounter with a zebra crossing in Hanoi was beyond scary. Expecting traffic to stop as we stepped off the kerb, we were taken aback that the lanes ahead continued as if we weren’t there. What we had to learn—and quickly—was that you cross slowly in what amounts to a dance between you and the road traffic. They glide forward until you are in their lane then slip past as soon as you’re out of their direct line. Slow and steady is the goal but it took nerves of steel to become acclimatised.
Next week, join me as I delve deeper into writing exotic settings.
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I’d love to hear from you! Till next week,