It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
Sometimes, people assume that what is traditional for one cultural group is traditional for humanity. Or should be. It is a wide-spread misapprehension and is forgivable in most private cases, unless it is put in fiction by a writer. Then, it becomes an erroneous assumption on a scale corresponding to that writer’s popularity. It might even lead to racism or other drastic conflicts between cultures. I was thinking of it when I read a book by Anne Bishop, one of her The Others series (*).
In the book, a couple of human women discuss the drizzling of honey on a scone, and how the others (not human) don’t do it because they had never been taught the right (=human) way to eat honey. The conclusion: not enough humanity in those who don’t know. The women in question are good persons, set to bridge the gap between humans and the others, so they decided to help out the non-humans by teaching them to ‘drizzle honey,’ among other things.
I grew up in Russia. I had never heard about drizzling honey on a scone. I had never seen a scone either, much less tasted one. We didn’t have scones in Russia. We ate honey in a different way: ladled some into a small bowl and ate it with a teaspoon like a liquid jam, or spread it on a piece of bread like marmalade, if the honey was viscous enough not to run off. Or added it into our tea to sweeten it. I had never even seen a honey dipper until I immigrated to Canada and started watching English-language movies. I’m sure there are many other cultures in the world that don’t ‘drizzle honey.’
Does it mean we’re not humans? No. But it means that people born someplace else might have a different tradition of consuming honey than the English-speaking people do. That is just one tiny example, but it is symptomatic enough to demonstrate the global point.
Writers have a great responsibility not to disseminate the wrong ‘facts.’ We have to do lots of research to accomplish that, but sometimes, even an excellent writer stumbles on that task, when the tradition in question is trivial, seemingly not worthy of research. Like Anne Bishop did with her ‘drizzling honey.’
What do you think? Do you research exhaustively? Do the traditions you mention in your fiction belong to a specific culture or to all of humanity? Are you sure? How do you treat this issue in your writing?
(*) Note: I love Anne Bishop’s The Others series and its characters, so the musing in this post is in no way a condemnation of the books or the author.