On Book Localisations for the US Market

Earlier today I read a Reddit thread about book localisations for the US market, and while it’s not like it was all new information for me, I did come away somewhat annoyed. I just don’t think it’s necessary to change terminology all over the place, not even in children’s books.

There were people in the discussion arguing that “torch” had to be changed to “flashlight” in the American edition of Harry Potter, because Americans only use “torch” for actual sticks with fire on the ends. And yet… what is it they think children in the rest of the English-speaking world do when they read American books? I have a vivid memory of being eight years old, and having an older cousin laugh her ass off at me because I used the word “faucet”. I was taken aback, because that’s what they always called them in The Baby-Sitters Club! So evidently I’d understood the word just fine, even though no one ever says “faucet” here! I just feel like publishers seriously underestimate the intelligence of American kids.

Another comment gave the example of an Australian YA book, which mentioned schoolies, being adapted for the US market. Not only did the publisher want to change “schoolies” to “spring break” (even though schoolies is after the end of final exams, and tbh a single explanatory sentence would clear up any confusion), but they also wanted to move the book from its November/December setting because they thought it would be too hard for Americans to understand that Australia is not cold at that time of year. I mean, maybe there would be fewer “COMING OUT SPRING 2022!” marketing announcements if Americans were more exposed to Southern Hemisphere narratives about warm Decembers 🤷🏻‍♀️ Who knows.

And that’s not even to mention the cases where “localisations” have transplanted the entire story from somewhere else to the USA. I’m sure Americans are perfectly capable of reading narratives about other countries, and maybe even learning some new things about other parts of the world as a result. But certain publishers, especially for kids, think they’re all special little snowflakes who’ll crumple if they see… well, I don’t know… a foreign ice cream brand? The name of a foreign town? The words “year 12”? It’s just so patronising.

I guess it’s a similar attitude at play when American TV companies decide to remake a foreign show instead of just, like, buying the rights and airing the show like a normal TV channel in a normal country. The other day I saw a comment online about Australian show Rake, which got a short-lived US remake, along the lines of, “Man, I’ll never understand why Aussies won’t sell broadcast rights to their shows over here, that’d be so much better than watching these dodgy remakes.” And it’s like… dude!! If American TV channels were buying, I’m sure we’d be selling! I mean, I’m not trying to pick on that random guy, and it’s possible he was poking fun anyway and knows full well the problem isn’t us… but yeah. The point I’m making is, Americans deserve much better than their mass-market, mainstream publishers and broadcasters are giving them 🙃