Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Routines and Rituals

One of the 'rituals' here that I like is the way people greet each other. This seems to be quite a normal routine pretty much everywhere except the U.K. Certainly in much of Europe it is commonplace. It may be a formula but I love it. I like the fact that in shops, at the bank, in school, office you always say good morning, afternoon, night (you do have to wear a watch to ensure the correct salutation) and on leaving you always say thank you, AND good bye. Even to the check out girl. It just seems a decent human interaction. It starts things off on a good footing, and brings things to a satisfactory conclusion. And for me it gives me a confidence in a foreign land, which comes from 'knowing the routine'.

People also shake hands which I like. (Though not so much when they're in the car in front and are greeting a pedestrian. Traffic stops for the ritual) The men also kiss each other and do manly clasps. I'm not sure about the women, they do sometimes but not as often as the men. I need to research further. I feel less confident about all this, (see post Birthdays, Beer Cake and Bow Ties June 07) but hand shaking I can do.

The only time in the UK it seems when you absolutely always say hello or good morning is out in the country when walking. This seems to be accepted that us hitherto taciturn Brits immediately become cheery and halloo each other (even making eye contact, heaven forbid) the minute one is striding out over the green stuff. I have never understood this.

When I go back to the UK I'm always much more chatty in shops (not local shops where you might know them) & say good morning, goodbye & thank you. I endeavour to engage people in conversation. It does seem to create suspicion or bemusement at times. I like to think it's a lesson learnt from another friendlier, perhaps more ritualised culture, but actually I think I've just turned into that lonely, old woman on the bus, who strikes up conversation, as if she knows you, the minute you sit down next to her. I know now how she feels.

I might have said before that I am involved in a Roma 'hand made' card making project Mangava. I help out one afternoon a week. The Roma and the 'Poor Albanians' are being trained (& paid) in developing card making skills. The Poor Albanians as they are known, live in an abandoned tractor factory, and dig for iron to exchange for money. It is unbelievably hard work. Incidentally that is why there are no man-hole covers in this country. (They are nicked as soon as laid and sold for scrap metal) The card making project is offering them an alternative.

Anyway because I can only help one afternoon a week, & because they have so little of anything good in their lives, I always bake something to take along as a tea time snack. Sounds silly, but it's all I could think of.

Last week it was Lemon drizzle cake & two of the ladies almost came to blows over the last piece. One of the helpers who speaks fluent English said to me;
"Bless your hands"
I beg your pardon? " I said.

She explained this was what the women were saying. She explained it is what you say to someone who has cooked you a meal, or prepared you something . Isn't that just lovely?
Makes me want to bake just to get such a beautiful benediction. Not bad I thought either for a country that had all aesthetics, artistic & spiritual expression & culture pulverised out of it for 40 odd years. A resilient thing, the human spirit.

Maybe it's just a formula, but you know, I think they meant it.


Potty Mummy said...

How lovely. I shall remember to say that to my mother when she next cooks for us...

As for saying hello and goodbye, I agree, it's a forgotten art in this country. Living in central London though we're surrounded by non-brits and it seems to go down a little better when I insist my boys say hello, thankyou and goodbye to the people in shops etc. Unlike in the 'burbs where you're treated like a madperson!

Great blog. Hope you don't mind but I'm going to add you to my blog list?

Charlie said...

In Canada the checkout girl always asks "and how are you today?" always a little alarming to my suspicious reserved British psyche!! And always followed by "Have a nice day"!!!

Millennium Housewife said...

That was a really interesting post - cheers! MH

Iota said...

"Bless your hands" is lovely. More meaningful than "bless you" when you sneeze.

astrid said...

I'd better send some more baking powder!