Monday, 26 July 2010

Fiction's Faux Pas

Sweating, exhausted, and laden with shopping bags, we fell into rather than sat on our chairs. My dad and brother had just joined my mother and me after a morning of clothes shopping, not nearly as hot and bothered, and soon we were digging into the best pizza the mall had to offer. Our waiter spoke English, and though we can order in French, all the waiters here prefer to practice their English than suffer through our mutilated 'Je voudrais' s and 'je prende' s. Well, my mom had long since pulled out her fan, and as our sweating waiter came to offer the desert menus (no AC), she burst out with a, "You're so hot!"
My brother and I quickly averted our gazes, while the waiter assumed a slightly confused, horrified expression, and my mother, bless her, quickly added, "So am I!"
Then, still confused and horrified, the waiter started to back away, and my mom reached forward with her fan and tried to clarify as she waved in frantically, "You're sweating, like me!"
Relief filling his features, the waiter smiled genuinely and handed us the menus, then promptly disappeared. My brother and I counted to five, and then burst into laughter.
It was a faux pas.
My mother, who was flustered after a day at the mall, knew it was a faux pas. But she didn't know why.
In France, the polite expression is "J'ai chaud" which literally translates to "I have heat." And while that sounds odd to us, it's very common in the romance languages - I have hunger, I have heat, I have cold. And while our waiter may have understood basic English, he still would've probably said, "Yes, ma'am, I have heat."
Because in French, to say "You're hot" is like saying, "You're horny." Which is not appropriate for a middle aged woman to say to a twenty something male. It's even less appropriate to add, "Like me!"
The waiter understood eventually however, and while he had to put up with giggles from me and my brother (we're so mature) for the rest of the meal, my mom left a nice tip in apology. (Which, in retrospect, may not have helped the situation.) So why bring it up? Because I have recently been reminded of the faux pas of all publishing faux pas's.
That is, of course, the fiction novel.
Now, I'll admit, when I first heard an author scoff at the term, I had to frown and think for a second or two at what the problem was. Keep in mind I was young, unschooled, and... oh, nevermind. It was just a few months ago. :) And while it's never been a phrase I've used (even if it was correct, it sounds pretentious) I have to wonder - what is the big deal? Okay, so it's repetitive, incorrect, and unlikely to be used by a professional. But I have seen agents/authors/editors get so turned off by this that they lose all respect for the author.
Does that seem right to you?
To me, it seems like us in the blogging world can get really big heads about this. As if it really reflects how good of a writer the person is. And while the whole world laughs and scoffs, I'm secretly thinking... I might have said that. Holy cow, if I hadn't read that one blog a month ago, I might have said that. Then my query never would've been taken seriously. People would un-follow my blog. I'd be laughed out of the industry. Thank God above that I read that one ity-bity post!
Again - does that seem right?
To be fair, I haven't seen many of those in the blogs I read, either by agents or authors. Most faux pas's that cause laughter are legitimate - being unprofessional, exceedingly arrogant, or simply self-centered and uncaring about the agent's time. But this one - the fiction novel - keeps popping up.
I guess what I'm trying to say is if the author is worth making fun of, he will provide you with better laughing material than that. So... ease up on the noobs who maybe, just maybe, haven't thought about how silly the phrase 'fiction novel' is. It doesn't mean they won't become professionals; give them a chance to break into the industry before you criticise them for not abiding by its rules.


Nicole MacDonald said...

Ahhh we all have made that mistake one time or another *grin* Better yet is when you tell a relative (one you're not fond of) that you've written a novel and they ask 'fiction?'. And this person is supposed to be intelligent - you know, they screw their nose up when you say fantasy...

Jade said...

Yes, I think we should laugh at the people who write non-fiction novels.

That bit about your mum was awesome. In my version, the waiter was hot and shirtless.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Haha! Yes, pity the new. This is not an easy biz to grasp. And I hate snobbery.

Great post and funny story about your mother's faux pas. I've made my own:) Who hasn't?

Jemi Fraser said...

Your poor mom! It's so easy to make those faux pas - especially when we're new :)

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