Monday, June 23, 2014

Well, I Don't Know Exactly How Much Melange Is In This Post ...

... but it's Monday, so time for some blogging from yours truly.

Last week's book review as well as a few recent Twitter exchanges has had me ruminating on words and culture and political correctness. I cannot be certain how Ann Mah has received my review (cause it's not like I'm expecting her to fill me in or anything), but I do know that my review had a slightly different take than most others out there (which are solidly focused on food). Part of living and/or working in a foreign country (or even just traveling for a short visit) is dealing not only with the cultural miscommunication that invariably will occur, but also with cultural norms that are outside one's comfort zone. Ann had a whole year of dealing with it, by herself no less. That takes real courage. I've done it for several months at a time, as well as several weeks. Sometimes it can be scary, but in many instances just plain hilarious (there's a fine pronunciation line between the French words for beer and butter [although I expect the French don't think they sound anything alike] - as a fellow American in a French dining experience one time found out. It was funny at the time.) 

I was part of a Twitter exchange recently where we were discussing how a recent U.K.-based crafty magazine had a headdress project that another designer found rather abhorent (with good reason, really), and that exchange led to a well-intentioned publisher apology. An offshoot of that discussion also focused on the word "gypsy," which this same designer also commented was culturally and historically loaded with meaning. Here in the U.S., our use of the word gypsy isn't quite so culturally loaded (think gypsy jazz, that 70s Cher tune Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, heck, even the current issue of Interweave Crochet contains two designs from Doris Chan (!) using the word gypsy in their respective titles - see them here and here, staged in a camping story line); however, the Roma culture in Eastern Europe has a long history of being persecuted, discriminated against, and exploited. It is from the Roma that we get our word "gypsy" as well as a "bohemian" lifestyle (since many Roma work in non-traditional occupations that require travel - musicians, artists, circus performers, carnival workers, etc.). To be clear, though, Bohemia was also an actual historical place in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Roma culture and tradition is still alive and (we hope) well in Eastern Europe.

I mention that Cher tune because, in fact, she was trying to highlight at minimum, the double standard, at worst, the exploitation, of traveling people:

          gypsies, tramps and thieves/
          we hear it from the people of the town they call us/
          gypsies, tramps and thieves/
          but every night all the men would come around/
          and lay their money down.

I think it's perfectly fine to absentmindedly sing that song (we've all done it - in fact, I wrote the above from my childhood memory, no Googling the lyrics necessary); I also think it's fine to use the word gypsy to describe a form of jazz or even a design. I am absolutely not here to play the political correctness/thought police. Well meaning and well-intentioned people can get it wrong; but their benign meaning can also be misinterpreted. The best I can do is remain authentic, design and write in a clear voice, own up if and/or when I get it wrong, and hope my audience will understand. After that ... well ... all bets are off. No money laid down.

Isn't this just the most gorgeous Dream In Color Starry colorway?

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