Ripple Iron on the Stations

I had an email over the weekend from Helen, who is a little frustrated at the removal of Australian terms from romance novels set in Australia:

I have a topic to suggest. International heroes, or, false advertising: why are
you labeling him Australian, giving him an American name and calling him a

American cultural imperialism! It drives me crazy. Corrugated iron roofing
is called ‘ripple iron’, properties or stations get called ‘ranches’…
and dear God almighty, a Sheriff? I hope he’s flown in from the USA cos
I’ve never met one in Australia.

Why do editors assume that Aussie authors have to be ‘translated’ for the
US reader to comprehend – and then even in Oz, we have to read the
Americanized version! With the Crocodile Hunter, Curtis Stone and those fake
Aussie steak houses, surely you can cope with the odd unfamiliar word. I’ve
never seen a bowl of ‘grits’ or been to the strangely named ‘homecoming’
but I can cope when my characters encounter them.

Do you reckon we could persuade editors to stop sucking all the flavour out
of books and let authors write with a bit of local lingo? Here’s the
example that ticked me off below: Masters of the Outback – I can’t get over how American the blurb
sounds – but I ‘m sure you could find a sqillion others:

These powerful Australian men are ready to claim their brides! A rugged rancher – Clay has come home to restore his family’s ranch and find a wife. Virginal Caroline seems the perfect choice. And knowing she’s forbidden makes Clay want her even more. A tempting tycoon – Businessman Quade returns to outback town Plenty in search of a bride. Feisty Chantal is everything he’s not looking for. Yet even Quade can’t deny their explosive chemistry! A commanding cop – Spirited new arrival Amy has got under gorgeous Sheriff Angus’s skin. She’s determined to put herself in danger’s path and he’s sworn to protect her. Could that protection turn to passion?

Now, see here, Helen. You’ll drink our Coke and watch our movies about ranchers and sheriffs and you’ll LIKE IT. My cultural imperialism does NOT make my ass look fat. Got that? Just kidding!

Seriously. I thought it was as silly as anyone that the first Harry Potter book was renamed for the American audience, and that words like “boogies” were removed. But over the weekend Hubby and I were talking about how much more I know about Australia, Canada, England, Ireland and New Zealand (for example) merely from speaking with romance readers from those countries.

So imagine my surprise when Helen says in Oz, they don’t use the word “ranch.” I had no idea! I’m all for local flavor, but “stations?” Really? So I asked for more info. I’d only encountered that word once, in a Harlequin Presents (I think) set in a New Zealand sheep station – and I thought “station” referred specifically and only to sheep.

Helen says,

Lol… yep, ‘cattle stations’ or ‘sheep stations’. There’s even an expression “playing for sheep stations”,  meaning that people are playing a game or sport too seriously. eg “Jeez mate, lighten up, you’re not playing for sheep stations ya know!”  Possibly the word ‘ranch’ might be used nowadays by immigrants or people who are marketing to the USA, or breeding American saddle horses and the like, but it’s definitely not part of the local lingo.

I’ve often wondered if it’s ‘just me’ who gets so frustrated, or if other readers feel the same way. I read a lot of British authors and fortunately they aren’t usually subjected to the same abuse as Australian/New Zealand authors are.

I’m spoiled by reading on a digital device with a dictionary so when I encounter a word I don’t know, even a very old Britishism every now and again, I can look it up with to gestures of one finger (not the middle one, I’m not flipping off my Kindle). I enjoy learning new words and finding out how different English speakers refer to various things – and it doesn’t distract me. If anything it adds another layer to the setting through the language.

I’m not saying one blog entry will change all the ranches to stations and the ripple iron will start showing up as a sound effect in a rainstorm, but does it bug you to know that words are changed for your reading experience, if you’re reading a romance set in Australia for the US audience? Or would the words you don’t know distract and confuse you? Have you encountered this type of language replacement? What do you think?


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jane says:

    I actually really, really enjoy the Australian/New Zealand set books and am sorry when the stories are “Americanized.”  I heard from someone that the excellent Bronwyn Parry Romantic Suspense books are not in the US yet because they are too Australian. Too Australian?  That’s like saying the Larsson books are too Swedish.  Back in the heydey of chic lit, I used to order my books from Amazon UK because I loved the British version of the chic lit books. 

    Elizabeth Young was one author I enjoyed.  She was bought for the US market by Avon and they “Americanized” her books. I had previously purchased the UK version and thought there was definitely something “lost in the translation.”

  2. 2
    Camille M says:

    It happened to Harry Potter- originally English but ‘translated’ into American. I did’t and still don’t see the point in that.

    .. surely you can cope with the odd unfamiliar word

    That was exactly what I thought.

    I’m Aussie and I’ve not yet come across this in romance- when I do I will be thoroughly confused and then pissed off. Maybe not in that order. Or perhaps I already have and can’t remember the experience because it was so traumatizing my mind has blocked it.

  3. 3
    library addict says:

    They do that with British books as well.  I hate when I am reading a book set in England and the characters talk about their apartment instead of their flat, etc. 

    Learning new terms is half the fun of reading “foreign” romances.  We have enough novels set here in America.  If I’m reading one set in another country it would be nice to feel as if it truly set in another country.

    Soviet69 – Why, yes, I would love to read a contemporary romance set in Russia with Russian terminology.

  4. 4
    Faellie says:

    I recently read an ebook by a US author which is set in contemporary England and the author’s note for which specifically thanked 3 English readers for checking the local details.

    The book then went on to make numerous egregious errors, including spelling “Hereford” (nearest town to the SAS HQ) as “Herriford”.

    If I hadn’t been reading on my nice new laptop, the book would have definitely hit the opposite wall at an early stage.

  5. 5
    Terry Odell says:

    I have a Brit crit partner, and until recently, also had an Aussie one. We often had to translate for each other, but my Aussie character (I hope) has enough of the flavor of his speech when he’s on the page. I read a lot of British mysteries and I love trying to figure out what stuff “really” is.

  6. 6
    Ben P says:

    Late last year I began reading a romance set in New Zealand and written by a New Zealand author and had to put it down due to massive WTFery.

    There was crap in there like “police cruiser” (Maaate it’s called bloody police car so spare me that bollocks.) and other americanised bits that completely ruined the flavour. If a novel is set in the US, fine. However americanising a novel set elsewhere and, above all, written by a foreign author is like travelling to a foreign country and yet eating only McDonalds. Why bother? Now being a rancher is a fine thing and romance does love it’s Texans. But a sheep farmer is a sheep farmer. Ask the sheep. They know this.


    Rubbish like that is going to spawn an entire new romance sub-genre:

    The Potemkin Village Romance.

  7. 7
    Ben P says:

    Utter crap. I wrote “it’s” instead of “its”.
    Abject despair. Love the one your with.

  8. 8
    Helen says:

    hmm, I did a bit of googling and discovered there ARE Sheriffs in Australia. Well. You learn something new every day…

    Faellie, despite the Americanization of many terms, one thing that Aussie authors are good at is creating authentic places and people – I guess that’s part of the reason I choose them, because I can feel ‘at home’ in their stories. The outback characters written by authors like Bronwyn Jameson and Barbara Hannay and ring very true to me and they have an amazing knack for capturing the ‘feel’ of the country.

    And Aussie blokes make such great heroes!

  9. 9

    Yes, we have graziers (never ranchers) on sheep and cattle stations, farmers on dairy farms and wheat farms, and they drive utes and 4WDs, not pickups or SUVs. Oh, and in winter they wear jumpers under their drizabones, not sweaters… although my heroes wear leather jackets, because I really don’t want an American reader to be jerked out of the story by their image of a hero in a jumper ;-)

    Here, we see so much in books, TV and movies from the US and UK that it’s naturally easy to translate the various terms, and we have plenty of mental images – even those who haven’t travelled – of various locations overseas. That’s probably not so much the case in the US, and perhaps that concerns US publishers. Not all of them are aware, after all, of the awesomeness of the Bitchery and the smart, savvy women who read romance novels!

  10. 10

    hmm, I did a bit of googling and discovered there ARE Sheriffs in Australia.

    Helen, yes, we do have sheriffs, but the role is very, very different to the US role. IIRC they are court officials, not law enforcement officers. No guns, no deputies… and probably no donuts ;-)

  11. 11
    Deb says:

    I read lots of mysteries from other countries and I don’t see half of the “translations” that I notice in romances from other countries.  Surely we’re all bright enough to pick up meaning through (as they say when evaluating the reading levels of school-age children) “context clues.”  Sadly, it seems that many publishers assume their (mostly female) romance readership can’t figure out that a “flat” is an apartment or a “buscuit” is a cookie or a “lorry” is a truck, etc.  It seems to me that the romance genre really takes this “translation” stuff on the chin:  Everything has to be spelled out for us poor bubble-headed romance readers.


  12. 12
    Sycorax says:

    The bit in the blurb that made me burst out laughing was the idea of an Australian town called Plenty. That’s so American. Aussie towns have names like Burrumbuttock, Wollongong, Mullengandra, Wodonga or Gundagai. We have the most boring, unimaginative state names imaginable, but luckily a lot of town names are based on Aboriginal words, which makes for truly interesting maps.

    It does seem that American publishers have very little respect for the reading public to think they’d be so easily put off by an unfamiliar word or two. I find it especially insulting that they do so with children’s books. In my experience children are more adventurous readers than adults and are used to learning new words as they go. Sorcerer’s Stone indeed…

  13. 13
    HeatherK says:

    Most Australian or New Zealand set romances I’ve read have involved CEOs and boardrooms, not cattle or sheep “ranches” or stations. Diana Palmer has a book called “The Australian” and it has a cattle station (I went and double checked). If I’m going to read a book set in a foreign (at least foreign to me) setting, I much prefer regional dialects to be used. I want it authentic, not Americanized. I think that’s why I don’t try to keep my southern expressions from creeping into my writing (if it’s set in the south, of course), because it wouldn’t feel right otherwise.

    As for knowing what author comes from what country, I admit I generally don’t know unless I take the time to look up info on the author. However, I do agree that if an author is from the location in question then he/she should be able to write it and be true to themselves and their location.

  14. 14
    Elizabeth says:

    I’m a midwesterner by birth, and have lived in the Northeast USA since . . . many decades.
    I learned that livestock are raised on “stations” from romance novels read back in the 1970’s. The new-to-me vocabulary helped me imagine a far away place. I wish i had kept some of those Harlequin romances! Sure, I needed to use a hard-copy dictionary to look up the new words (“joey” was another), but that was some of the fun.
    I am very disappointed now when lingo is sanitized to USA standard. The joy of armchair traveling disappears.

  15. 15
    JoanneF says:

    Even in the US, the vast majority of people call them “police cars,” at least where I live.  Actually, I think only cops call them “police cruisers.” 

    I’ve also read books that are supposedly set in the USA where English terminology is used, such as children playing in the “garden.”  Most American children would get punished for playing in the garden, here they play in the “yard” or on the “lawn.”  Even from region to region in the States there’s sometimes disparity.  I once read a romance supposedly set in NJ which was populated with weird pseudo-cajun hicks who live in the Pine Barrens and had their own practically unintelligible dialect due to their isolation.  Yes it’s a big forest (locals would say “woods”), but there is no place left in NJ that is that remote.  Very annoying.

  16. 16
    Tina says:

    I have to agree that its off putting if the word used has a different connotation in another region.  A jumper in the US is a little dress for young girls, not something I would ever picture my hero wearing. 

    I’ll admit that it can totally throw me for a loop when a book I assumed was set in the US, suddenly starts spelling wods like “kerb” and “realise”.  But as long as the author and characters don’t speak exclusively in local slang, usually I am able to enjoy the story.

  17. 17
    2paw says:

    Oh I’m with Helen!! Well done!! One of my favourite author’s books was Americanised (Barbara Hannay) and the hero became a ‘rancher’. Surely we can credit others with the intelligence to be able to understand we have stations, not ranches and a footpath not a pavement.
    I can understand the cultural references in British and American books, I may not have the depth of understanding of someone who lives there, but I can pretty much get the gist of what’s going on!!
    I prefer to read books which show the culture pertaining to the setting, not something ‘Americaned’ up.

  18. 18
    KimberlyD says:

    I tend to not read (or not finish) books that are set in a country that is not the US but read like they are in the US. However, it is a little bit jarring for me to read a book that uses the vernacular of other countries/cultures and I come across a word that is completely unfamiliar to me or that I cannot figure out the true meaning of using context clues. (For instance, using Bronwyn’s example, I would imagine the hero in a jumper/dress, not a jumper/sweater, which would really confuse me!) However, I would prefer that authors write using the true lingo and not the Americanized version. And I would way prefer it if publishers would give us all some credit for brains and allow those books to be published!

    On another note, I wish that we in America had more access to television/music programs from other countries besides England. I would love to experience entertainment from countries around the world. Maybe then I would know what an Austrailian jumper was!

  19. 19
    Brianna says:

    Complete agreement with my fellow Aussies. I don’t read a lot of romances set in Australia, as they are mainly Contemporaries, and I very rarely read them.

    I have read a few historicals set in Colonial Australia by Candice Proctor (AKA C.S. Harris of the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery fame) – an American who actually lived in Australia for awhile, and they feel very natural, with no Americanisms that screamed out at me. I would love to see more books set during this period.

    I read a lot of historicals – particularly Regency/England, and it still amazes me basic errors, such as calling autumn ‘fall’ –  I HATES IT SO MUCH IT BURNS!!!!! There have been quite a few books that I DNF because of this – if you can’t get that simple thing right, what else will be buggered up?

  20. 20
    Helen says:

    and of course, we do enjoy American culture in the right context… like, an American novel :)  – I enjoy it when I get to see different aspects of America to the usual stuff we see on television. Does regional flavour get ironed out too?

    Accents are just about impossible to render in print, I think – I’ve seen some completely barmy attempts at a Scottish accent.

  21. 21
    Kristal says:

    I’m on board with the save the local flavor movement!

    I’d like to know where in the US corrugated sheet metal is called ripple iron – I’ve never heard that term before, it must be regional.  Anyone?

  22. 22
    Silver James says:

    Holy Sheep Station, Batgirl! Have people never seen “The Man from Snowy River?” Or…dare I say it, “The Thorn Birds?” If this backwards Okie oil patch trash can understand the different terms, surely educated readers can, too! Once again, I fear the romance publishing industry is short-changing and disparaging the average intelligence of their readers.

    Does this happen in other genres? Or just romance?

    spam word: old34 I’m way older than 34 and I remember reading Mary Stewart’s mysteries in the sixties. THEY were not Americanized!

  23. 23
    Foz Meadows says:

    @Sycorax – Pedantic point: I live in Melbourne, and believe it or not, there actually is a suburb called Plenty, between Mill Park and Diamond Creek. It’s hardly sheep station territory, but still.

    Also: it’s not just romance novels that suffer Americanisation. It’s all part of the same, wider problem that sees shows like Kath and Kim (AUS) or Life on Mars (UK) remade for American audiences rather than simply aired as they are, seemingly because American networks fear that humour, like fresh milk, cannot survive an ocean voyage without curdling. Sadly, it’s the kind of thing that’s very difficult to protest about/change from this end, as we’re not the audience for whom the changes are made, and because they are made, many American readers don’t notice them at all, because everything seems as it normally would. Now, if *American* readers started kicking up a fuss about it…

  24. 24
    Francesca says:

    the romance publishing industry is short-changing and disparaging the average intelligence of their readers

    yes, moronic bitches, instead of smart bitches

  25. 25
    kathy says:

    I’m with you Aussies!  and just for fun, we don’t have the same kind of Sheriffs in Canada either, ours are for transporting prisoners, and other such duties.  I love when a book is full of local jargon etc as it puts me right there.

  26. 26

    As an Aussie author writing for a predominately American readership, I am often asked to translate or change words/phrases used. Sometimes I understand the reason for it (a car hood Down Under is called a bonnet, the trunk a boot, two terms thay would possibly bring great confusion but an interesting image to the reader’s mind), sometimes I don’t get it at all. I’ve had to change things like service station to gas station, petrol to gas, a lift to an elevator, buscuit to cookie and thongs to flip-flops :(

    Recently I was told by a US agent to remove anything Australian from a submission except the location and to even then, rethink setting the story in Australia to begin with. To quote, “Americanise your work or I’m not interested. The readers want to feel safe.” To say I was dismayed is an understatement. I was bloody annoyed (‘scuse the language). And safe? From what? Vegemite sandwiches, Tim Tams and thongs (the flip-flop variety, not the g-string)?

    As a proud Aussie, the Americanisation of Australian romance worries me. Fair dinkum, it does. Our heroes are brilliant the way they are, even if they’re called Bruce.

    farm99 – LOL How appropriate

  27. 27
    Helen says:

    @krystal – well I’m gobsmacked. Regarding the ripple iron (which I erroneously assumed was an Americanization of corrugated iron) – it turns out that ripple iron is in fact a smaller-guage corrugation, and was imported from the UK, and used in older houses mainly in Queensland and New South Wales.

    Must remember to get my facts right before I have a dummy-spit! Still, the point is fair even if the example was dodgy.

  28. 28
    Jennifer says:

    As an American, I loooove to read local/regional vernacular in my books; heck, I would love to travel and hear those terms for myself, but, sadly, I have children who demand to be fed, clothed, and housed which doesn’t leave me much money for travel.

    I do kind of understand where the publisher was coming from with the first Harry Potter book, though.  As the first book in the series, they needed to make it look worth reading to kids and tweens by the title and cover alone – it didn’t have a big enough “rep” to sell it at that point.  If American kids had seen “Philosopher’s Stone” on a book title they might not have been very eager to give it a shot – not because they don’t know the word but because it means something very different (and often thought of as dry/boring) here.  It’s been awhile since I read the books, but it seems like the later ones had quite a few British terms, so maybe they eased off on the Americanizing once the hook was set?

    I also completely agree with KimberlyD – we need more tv shows from other countries in America!  That would be so wonderful.

  29. 29
    Jen says:

    @Silver James, I totally hear you about The Thorn Birds. The god-awful accents entirely put me off that I preferred to turn to Spanish audio and enabled the English subtitles. Ironically the only leading Australian in that series was Bryan Brown, a sheep shearer and cane cutter. Understandably Colleen McCullough hates everything about it.

    The Man From Snowy River is more reasonably historically accurate; at least we’re finally in the right location (!!!) and the actors are Australian and/or of British origin. Minus Kirk Douglas, but he’s “special”.

    Overall, I find it offensive to have to read a re-adaptation of a story; it’s like labelling a different culture a scary, alien entity, and I think American readers should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to interpreting a local vernacular. Having a glossary at the end of a book would be more reasonable and appropriate. As a born and raised Melburnian it’s utterly disconcerting to read about “moms” and “faucets” in stories that quite vividly describe well-loved Melbourne suburbs like Essendon and Footscray; it’s surreal. To change book covers to cater to different demographics is one thing, but to alter the book’s original content takes things to a new and more problematic level.

  30. 30
    kerry says:

    I prefer it when books aren’t “Americanized.” I totally remember all the terms like boot/bonnet, jumpers, petrol, biscuits, etc. from the old (70s/80s) Harlequin Presents – but I guess now they make authors Americanize them? Boo. :(

    One of the things I loved as a child about reading books from other countries was that I learned quite a lot of new vocabulary. I think assuming that readers don’t want to see “unfamiliar” words does us a disservice by preventing us from learning new things.

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