So I’ve been reading a lot of fic lately — I don’t want to single any group or pairing out, but let’s be honest, I’ve been reading 100% Linzin fic the last few weeks — and I can’t help notice that people are kind of … lazy about remembering that this is a universe without white people. And Europe. And European things that we take for granted.
It’s not that this Eurocentricity — and let’s sweep America into that label as well for our purposes here — is an egregious crime, although you could argue that it’s erasing people of colour, and since we’re apparently arguing (again) about whether or not there are white people in the Avatarverse (spoilers! There aren’t!), it might be a symptom of a general growing hinkiness. Or it might just be laziness and lack of imagination, like the many, many Harry Potter fics where the Marauders generation had iPods and listened to Britney Spears.
Either way, I’ve seen way too many decent fics spoiled this way. I’m not an expert on Asian cultures in general or China in particular, but I read a lot of non-fiction, and I know how to google stuff. (Also, given that Avatar is still an American show written by American people, I rarely take my research beyond “double-check Wikipedia. If I were dealing with Asian media, I’d be a lot more immersed in the specific source country.)
All this said, here are a few things that will have me hitting the back button:
- Saturday. Sunday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Guys, the days of the week are named after Norse and Roman gods. Which have never existed in the Avatarverse because they never had Romans or Vikings.
Chinese names for days of the week are numerical. I think Japan has specific names? I don’t know about other Asian countries. I just avoid naming days.
- Weekends. The five-day work week is a pretty recent invention in the West. It was only officially adopted in China in 1995 — 2006 for Hong Kong. A lot of industries across Asia — and schools — still have a five-and-a-half to six-day work week.
- Months named after Roman gods. Again. Come on. (I hit this one when I decided to title my girl!Zuko/Zhao fic after that Killers song. ”You Had a Girlfriend (Who Looks Like a Boyfriend That I Had In Er-Yue)” scans — I think, I fail at scansion in any language — but has the side-effect of seeming at first glance to refer to the character Yue.
- Chocolate and coffee in their modern forms. We can probably assume that cacoa and coffea exist in the Avatarverse, but it’s modern, western tastes that have given us blocks of milk chocolate and the flat white. For most of history, chocolate was a bitter, watery drink, and coffee was … also a bitter, watery drink. (I read a book last year called Drink, which purported to be a history of the world through six significant beverages. It was hopelessly Eurocentric and not even reliably accurate. I don’t recommend it.)
- Milk and sugar in tea are English perversions. Delightful English perversions that are perfect for picking you up on a slow, cold afternoon, but not right for Avatar fic. And have you ever put milk in green tea? DON’T DO IT.
- General Tso’s chicken. Guys, we don’t even have that in Australia. It’s an American-Chinese dish. (One of the ways in which it’s westernised is by the addition of sugar. I guess my next quest is to find a history of sugar, right?)
- Toast for breakfast. Not a big thing. When I was in Japan, I briefly stayed at a place with a breakfast buffet. On one side was the western breakfast, with toast, bacon and eggs, sausages, beans, tomato, hash browns, the lot. The other side had Asian breakfast foods — congee, miso soup, rice, dumplings. Once in a fic, I had Toph put sweet berries on her congee, which sqbr pointed out was all wrong — it should have been something savoury.
(Just randomly, American breakfasts tend to be sweeter all around than in other English-speaking countries. SUGAR.)
- Bread is also different. On that trip, lostinomo asked me to bring her a loaf of multigrain bread, because what her local supermarket was selling was sweet white bread. It was nice, but difficult to eat every day. Bread, as a staple, was introduced to Asian countries by Europeans. Pastries and wheat products exist in the Avatarverse, but they’re not the centre of anyone’s diet.
- Meals that consist of meat and potatoes. I shouldn’t have to explain that that’s basically the whitest possible meal you can get? My stepmother is Singaporean, and when she first moved to Australia, she had a lot of trouble adjusting to the idea that a slab of meat and some vegetables is considered a meal.
- Although ancient beer recipes have been found in China, beer/wine/ale/etc weren’t staples the way they were in the west. Beer is wheat-based, and certain ingredients — like hops — were rare. Modern beer culture in Asia is a product of colonialism. Rice-derived alcohol was more common. And on that note…
- Long-stemmed wine glasses. Champagne glasses. Sparkling grape-derived wine named after a region in France.
(I know P’Li is seen drinking a cocktail from what looks like a martini glass — but the whole reason those glasses were invented was so the drinker’s hands didn’t warm up the drink. I’m willing to buy parallel development there.)
- Actually, if you drink and you want to write about Avatar characters drinking, I recommend taking yourself to an Asian grocery, if you have access to one, buying some alcohol and experimenting responsibly. It’s useful to know that, for example, soju is a lot more potent than an American beer.
I’m sure there are lots more things, but these were all that came to mind for now. Mostly, I think people should just remember that they’re writing about a culture that’s not exactly like contemporary America, and maybe not take things for granted?
I also think that someone should recommend to me a good popular history of sugar.
And there are a lot of things that i’ll let pass in lok fic rather than atla fic but for gods sake