Merry Christmas everyone! Did you enjoy your break? Are you, perchance, still on your break? If so, I hate you. I am back at work for the three days between Christmas and New Years; officially the quietest time of the year for my job, which is why I’m sitting here writing this and listening to my NEW OFFICIAL FESTIVE iPOD. My already scratched, official festive iPod. Can I just say that making a gadget extra sleek and light and pretty means NOTHING if you must immediately enshrine said appliance into a case? Can I say that? Will Apple come and repossess my iPod if I say that? Because really, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it looks and how nice the lines are … because the good looking yet incredibly impractical outer shell means I must stuff it into a case and ruin said lines and never see the very nice design features. This is Complete Dumbassery as far as I’m concerned.
By the way, I did consider, what with the War on Christmas and all, saying “Happy holidays!” and discussing my “festive break” and similar; but then as I listened to my official festive MP3s I ended up thinking about the Harry Potter books and how they tie into my thoughts on Festivus. (Bear with me here.) In America, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; partly because US children would be unfamiliar with the idea of the ‘philosopher’s stone’. Leaving aside the issue of appropriate vocabulary, which SHITS me in rather a similar way, the issue I have here is the wider idea of ‘unfamiliarity’ as being undesirable; the practice of changing scenes and words and settings in a foreign book to make them more relevant to another country’s audience. I think this is counterintuitive and actively cheats the reader. Books help you to enter another world, to look at things in another way, to see what another viewpoint finds ordinary and contrast it with your own. As a child, the books I loved best were the ones which were most removed from my own life: fantasy (the Narnia series), the Emily series (by L.M. Montgomery, but I liked Emily much more than Anne), books set in boarding schools (the Chalet school books), and any book with a bucolic English setting. And it’s glaringly obvious that I had a thing for trilogies and series. Anyway, I didn’t so much enjoy horse stories, The Baby-Sitters Club books or books set in New Zealand (poor Maurice Gee, how I maligned you); this was too similar to my own life and although I read anything and everything as a child, I was not really interested. And the snippets of books which stay with me are the parts which were so wholly removed from my own experience: unpacking at boarding school, descriptions of food (Enid Blyton was very good here), strange words for clothing (anorak, stole, wellingtons) and other differences (‘seaside’ not beach, ‘ices’ not ice creams, ‘braids’ not plaits, ‘bangs’ not fringe) … the context made it very clear what these things were. I’m too hot and sluggish to talk in detail about how removing differences, particularly for an American audience, depresses me so greatly. But for me, this practice is related to people modifying or censoring their own lives so as not to offend or confuse other people. Even Australians using the word ‘cookie’ instead of ‘biscuit’ … the context makes it clear. You don’t need to interpret for your audience. I am a New Zealander and live in Australia. I will translate the odd word in deference to a my vast international audience (heh), such as ‘bach’ for a holiday house, but otherwise I hopefully just leave you to get on with it. Don’t you find that half the fun? Seeing other people’s lives, other experiences, in their own words and their own slang and with their own quirks? And (finally), to return to my original point – I feel the same about my personal Christmas and the ‘festive season’. This is my own experience, as related by me. You experience it through the language that I use, the place where I am, the life that I’ve lived. And I have Christmas, and I call them Christmas holidays, and it’s summer where I am, and I’m not going to try to modify it to placate an imaginary somebody who doesn’t celebrate in the same way. I read a really interesting account of someone’s Hanukkah the other day. If they had just said “happy holidays!” and brushed over their celebrations in order not to offend anyone non-Jewish … what good is that? People are different. Lives are different. Countries and attitudes and celebrations are different. I’m not a country or a corporation or a government; I don’t have to represent anyone except myself. So … merry Christmas! Enjoy your break, if you have one. Personally, I was floating down a muddy river on a lilo in 36 degree heat. Tres Australian. And aren’t you glad?