« Bobby Fisher in Queens | Main | Hidden Messages »

January 23, 2008


Beth, I really do agree with you about blogging in this respect. Personally, it has been wonderful for me. I have been lucky to get to know many people via my blog who share similar interests, who come from so many different parts of the world and to be able to learn from and share stories with them. I started blogging around (actually, after) I got interested in Turkey and the Middle East and soon after I started learning Turkish (it's an ongoing struggle - sigh!) and some of what I write on my blog has been to share what I learn about (a) different culture, to write about it has also helped me learn things more thoroughly. And of course there have been my small travels which have been my attempt to expand my horizons and which, while aren't exceptional by any means, I do enjoy writing about.

Even though I am Indan its a strange relation I have with my identity...I never really learnt Hindi and at home we speak English. And a lot of my travels back home have been to discover the many histories of my own country better. There are so many ruins and so much of our heritage is being lost. I recently learnt to read and write Urdu and its almost another world thats opened up. And of course, as I always say the strange cultural connections between India and my other fascination, Turkey, never cease to surprise. I don't think I am a comfortable fit within the Indian immigrant community - a lot of my interests have made me too much of an outlier! But blogging has been an outlet to share thoughts about the many pursuits I really do enjoy and in its own way only strengthened my will about what I do want to study further. For that I will always be grateful.

Beth, you have made me stop and reflect for five minutes in the middle of a busy day at work, which is very welcome.

My thoughts took me to how utterly my ‘world’ (what physically surrounds me every day, as opposed to the world that is out there on the news and in the back of my head somewhere) has changed since I was young. Growing up in the 50s and 60s in a small city in the middle of England, I and almost all my friends and school-fellows were white and British and mostly from very similar families. I remember how intrigued and attracted I was by the Yugoslavian post WWII immigrant family of one of my friends; this was really unusual.

As a university student of Spanish – at that time taught almost exclusively in Catholic schools in England - I had many friends from Polish Catholic immigrant families, including my best friend, whose large, bilingual family became my second home.

When I left university and moved in the mid 1970s to a Northern city, for the first time many of my neighbours and colleagues were first-generation immigrants from India and Pakistan. I loved our street of tall terraced houses where impromptu communes of mostly white students and young professionals alternated with large Indian extended families and learned from a neighbour to cook Punjabi food (still a staple of my cooking repertoire).

Then in the 1980s I moved to London, worked in international organisations, most recently in an entirely cosmopolitan university, grew entirely used to being surrounded by a huge mixture of people, languages and habits. Anything else would feel very strange.

I now define myself as part of this multi-ethnicity, much as I’m also conscious of my own stolid fairness, my legacy of anglo-saxon irony and emotional repression. What strikes me is how much my own sense of identity, as well as the society around me, has changed. For all the terrible problems brought by economic, political and cultural ‘globalisation’, I just can’t imagine anything different or wanting to go back to the England I grew up in.

Thank you so much ...

Szerelem, I love reading your blog and now it's such a pleasure to read your story - this is exactly what I meant, it's wonderful to discover each other's backgrounds and stories, and I hope other readers will visit some of the blogs they find this way too. I knew you were studying Turkish but didn't know about the Urdu as well! Much admiration for all that work. I agree with you about the intersections between these cultures - it's true in the food as well, and probably has a lot to do with the shared Ottoman heritage as well as trade routes, don't you think?

Jean - you and I share that anglo-saxonism and also the fascination and desire from our youth for living in a multi-ethnic world - thank you so much for sharing more of how you got to where you are today.

i was born in Canada to Greek immigrant parents who met here (it was an arranged marriage actually). we lived in a small city that was mostly white rich folks. this was especially true of the area in which we lived, though we only lived there because my family owned a restaurant and we needed to live close by so my parents could come home for naps or to feed us kids lunch. almost all the kids i went to school with were white and i can still tell you exactly how many visible minority children were in each grade - there were so few, they kind of stood out. with our not very fashionable clothing (we couldn't afford much) and our strict parents not allowing us to mingle much with the "Canadian" kids, we became almost visible minorities ourselves even though we had the same skin colour as the majority. so, yes, i very much felt ethnic (though i now realize this was more to do with class than anything else).

until, that is, i moved to Toronto in my mid-twenties! twenty years later i now feel much more up-tight and white and much less ethnic. i can still understand Greek when it's spoken but i haven't kept up with the vocab so i can't really say i speak the language. and apart from some of the things i eat, i'm not really in touch with my heritage. i have been assimilated in many ways, and i think that's likely what alot of first-generation kids go through. i feel Canadian, which feels like a mix of the old and the new and *not* like i've all of a sudden grown a heritage of white, anglo-saxon roots. but this Canadianess i feel is definitely a big city thing. when i go back to visit the small city i grew up in, i feel much more comfortable in my skin now but i still don't belong there like i belong in Toronto (or Montreal, or Vancouver).

Beth, yes the cross cultural connections are strange! Actually the North was ruled by Turks and Afghans since the Delhi Sultanate (even Razia Sultan the first woman Muslim ruler in the world who ruled over Delhi had Selcuk origins) and then the Mughals themselves were Turkic people. And then there were Persian influences on both the Ottoman Empire and India....

Btw, the common words between Turkish and Urdu never ceases to surprise and amuse...

I'd like to try a "smootie". It sounds kind of, I don't know...pert? Like lips puckered for a kiss.

I'd just like to react to the photo (I unfortunately only have Dutch roots and like my far, far ancestors still live right here in the Netherlands, so no interesting story to tell): what a funny combination of foods! A small piece of Spanakopita -my favorite greek food- as a amuse, than an italian mini basil and mozzarella pizza as a starter, with as a main empanadas. Yum!

Oh, Anne-Mieke, I'm so glad you noticed the photo, because that list really amused me too.

Zuleme -I'm pretty sure "smooties" is really "smoothies". It made me wonder what the native language was of the person who did the sign!

My interest in the content of your piece rather diverted my attention from all but a cursory look at the photo. I now see the menu is in 5 languages, with reference to a 6th country (viennoiseries)! I noticed this type of menu when I was in New York last year. It's something you don't see in London. There seem to be a lot of Spanish and Portuguese people working and mispelling things in Italian restaurants, but that's as mixed as it gets.

My interest in the content of your piece rather diverted my attention from all but a cursory look at the photo. I now see the menu is in 5 languages, with reference to a 6th country (viennoiseries)! I noticed this type of menu when I was in New York last year. It's something you don't see in London. There seem to be a lot of Spanish and Portuguese people working and mispelling things in Italian restaurants, but that's as mixed as it gets.

It was all white where I grew up in New Hampshire, but my neighbors all spoke Canadian French at home and my father's family spoke Polish so at least I grew up hearing other languages. Like many people, college was where I met and lived with people from more diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Learning Spanish more recently, spending time with immigrants and being exposed to their cultures was a joy. Full-time work has since afforded me almost no time for practicing Spanish, but moving to a more ethnically diverse area makes up for it somewhat in exposure to a wider assortment of people.

Though I grew up with white English middle-class people like me, it was always somehow stressed that kindness, fairness etc was very important where anyone of different race was concerned, with, it must be said, self-conscious if well-intentioned colour-blindness! As a young adult, anti-racism was very important, if a little doctrinaire, so any fears and uncertainties about exactly how one should best be anti-racist were rather suppressed. But it was race rather than religion or ideology that we thought of. I visited the new London mosque, and was delighted with its beauty, with the open and friendly impromptu welcome given by a young Muslim man, I didn't worry about being there as an unaccompanied woman or non-Muslim. I taught English to a young Pakistani woman at home ( she was in Purdah, which was sniffed at a bit by the other Pakistani women at the centre who sent me to her), and came to love her and her children, and to admire her intelligence which she had fed with little outside stimulus except TV, from which she had picked up a good level of English already, and the range of cultural experience she brought from her family background. Apart from thinking it was a bit hard to be unable to go out, I didn't think much about what it meant to be a Muslim.

Now, observing myself, I find I am uneasier about the matter of Islam than I ever was before, and recognise how easy it would be to slip into a state of reaction and pessimism. (The 'Muslim-a-day' website is a good one, btw). I do feel perhaps there are certain things fairly basic to Islam (attitude to homosexuality, a womans testimony being worth less than a man's...) which no amount of cultural relativism will make negotiable, and wonder if by saying 'I can accept you if you'll drop these', I'm not simply asking them to be less than Muslims... I don't know.

The comments to this entry are closed.