Storytelling is a universal activity – a living art, which adapts to many different situations. The elements of stories are the same, regardless of where in the world they are told and differ, only in the way they are passed on.

Take, for instance: the Cinderella story, which has hundreds of variants, crossing many cultural boundaries. Cinderella is told throughout the world in a host of different languages and cultures.

Depending on the country you are in, and the age of the storytelling audience, you would choose the most appropriate version of the Cinderella story to tell to that particular audience. This may require you to do some research.

Religious difference, also influences the way in which stories are recounted. To some religions, particular versions of a popular story would be highly offensive. So it becomes important for the storyteller to research the audiences, to whom he is to tell his stories, so he doesn’t offend ethnic minorities.

Even in English speaking countries, differences in meanings occur, in the way the English language is spoken, so that some words convey different meanings, to listeners, from another English speaking country. For instance: the Australian’s ‘eskie’ is the American’s ‘cooler’, or the New Zea­lander’s ‘chilly bin’.

Bearing this in mind, it is necessary for storytellers to carefully choose the words we use and the characters, we include, to bring a story to life, for a particular audience.

I came to Australia from New Zealand, more than twenty years ago; both of which, are English speaking countries, and whose language is similar, but not absolutely the same. It took me some time to become familiar with the colloquial variations, between the English (NZ) and English (Australian), spoken language, so that I did not offend people.

Animals in Australia, are not the same as those in New Zealand, so when I use animal characters, I make their actions match the animals of that country. Many Australian animals are marsupial and nocturnal, while most New Zealand animals are not, and it would be difficult to tell a story, with animal characters, without some identification of their peculiar habits – related to their particular species – and the sensitivity of the audience. Kangaroo, Platypus, Koala, Wombat and Emu would involve some explanatory behavioural changes in a story, such as, the Brementown Musicians. Just changing the names of the animal characters would be insufficient, to give the audience an understanding of their actions.

There is also a difference between city, and country people’s understanding. While the city responds to a faster pace, people from the country have a greater connection to their animals and the land and have adapted to a slower pace. So it becomes important to identify animal behaviour and pace your story accordingly.

When I tell a story from another country, I usually give some background to the story, before I start, rather than changing the animal identities. That way the story retains its synergy and the audience appreciates being introduced to another culture. Don’t be afraid to take a little time to do these things. They can only enhance your storytelling presentation.

Helen McKay © 2009
Storyteller, Author of ‘About Storytelling’,
published by Hale & Ironmonger. ISBN 0 86806 652 4
About Storytelling is available from the Internet at: