Sunday, 4 November 2012

Values and valuables

A long time ago, when I was just a boy, I remember reading a book called The Diddakoi, about a young gypsy girl who lived amongst a society that generally distrusted and reviled her fellow-gypsies as rough-living, dirty and dishonest, and to be avoided at all costs. And no doubt some of them were dishonest and thieving crooks to boot.

But from the whole book, there is just one passage that I remember. It was a conversation between two non-gypsies discussing their differences. To paraphrase (from memory):
"Sure, you might think they are dirty, but they would say the same about you."
          "And how might that be," she replied haughtily.
"Well then, they'd think you were dirty cos you use the same bucket for washing clothes as you do for preparing veges. They would never do that, they have different buckets for each task."  
It's a question of culture.

I'm reminded of the true story of the Victorian women who begged to have their babies on the street rather than give birth in the hospitals under the care of surgeons proudly wearing aprons stained with the blood of their previous patients.

It's a question of knowledge.

I was taking photos during a powhiri once when one of the speakers said something in Maori, and they all looked at me and laughed. I felt stink. In contrast, I love visiting Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere, Hastings, where both Maori and English are allowed during the welcome and people of all races are made to feel at home.

It's a question of respect.

Language has always fascinated me, and the exceptions intrigue me. For instance, why isn't the 'au' in Paraparaumu pronounced 'oh' as in Taupo? I asked a woman that once, and thinking I was criticising her language, she got really offended and stormed out of the interview (much to the dismay of the reporter I was working with.)

Not to be put off, some time later I asked the question again and had it explained to me that the original translators had made a mistake. The city just north of Wellington should be called Parapara Umu - two words - i.e. the 'au' should not be read as one sound. Curiosity satisfied, and I just learnt a bit more about the history of my country. Win-win.

It's a question of tolerance of ignorance and security in ones own identity.

I've got to confess, I don't understand Halloween. Just what is the point of dressing up as characters from The Dark Side and playing Trick or Treat i.e. "Give me something I want or you'll regret it." The cynic in me would say it's just another retailer ruse to sell more stuff at a traditionally quiet time of the retail year.

And yes I know it's just a game, and sure the kids have fun, but do we really want to reinforce the notion that it's okay to beg for stuff without doing anything for it? Maybe my American friends can help me out...

It's a question of understanding.

Just five days later, New Zealand celebrates Guy Fawke's Day, as we have ever since I was a child, with fireworks, bonfires and guy competitions. It's a celebration of the 407 years since a plot to overthrow the King was thwarted. It's rather sad that such a colourful part of our British Heritage is slowly dying because of the minority who light fires irresponsibly and terrorise pets.

It's a question of historical significance.

And then we have the public holidays of Christmas and Easter. I remember being less-than-happy about having to work on a Good Friday, and one of my colleagues wondering what the issue was (after all, I got a day off later in the week didn't I?) until I explained a holiday was originally known as a HolyDay. He hadn't thought of it like that before...

It's a question of the truth behind the tradition.

Just recently a group of my friends were at a pot-luck lunch where, as per our normal custom, the women filled their plates first. The Indian women however would not go to the table until their menfolk had served themselves.

Similarly, some folks think it bad manners to look you in the eye, while others would consider it a bit dodgy were you to look away.

It's a question of custom and etiquette.

I consider myself truly blessed that I have a whole range of nationalities amongst my friends: English, Indian, Australian, Singaporean, Maori, South African, Cook Island, American, Zimbabwean, Canadian, Chinese, Kiwi and probably a good few more.

Invariably, our differences come down to our culture, our history and our beliefs. But we do have a few things in common: We are each unique, we are each extremely valuable and though we can't really know what's going on in each other's mind, and we don't always understand the way they react to various situations, we do at least try.

It's a question of values.

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