Thursday 13 May 2010

Absorbing cultures (and a sort of self-portrait)

I was thinking about writing a post on my particular fondness for some cultures since I blogged about tea. I have discovered tea recently, but I don't drink it like an Englishman: I don't put milk in it. And the addition of milk is probably the contribution of England to the tea drinking ceremony. In a way, I drink tea like a Chinese. As a tea drinker, I am therefore a cultural Chinese, or close to it. As a beer drinker, I am unambiguously Anglo-Saxon, as a reader too, although my love for crime fiction is definitely American. As a music lover, I am all around the map, or at least all around Europe. As a semi-competent linguist, I am an Italophile. As a man interested in mythology, I am an Ancient Greek and sometimes a Norse.

Allophilia is the term used to describe a love for a culture or group that is not your own. What makes one love another culture? My love for England predates my marriage with a British woman. But I say this and I love aspects of England: the beer, the tea, the writers, the food even. And this is true for all cultures: one takes the parts that he likes, and easily ignores the rest, or even show contempt for parts of said culture. Take Italy for example: I love the language, which through opera became the language of music (maybe undeservedly). I love its food, its architecture, I love spaghetti westerns, I am also fascinated by many aspects of Italian history. But I am appalled by its culture of political corruption and by the strong, oppressive influence of the Catholic Church. But that actually makes me very similar to many of my Italian friends, or indeed many Italians. I am relatively indifferent towards Germanic culture, although I absolutely love many of its composers.

I think I can understand why I have a particular attraction to Ireland and England: almost every Quebecker have Irish blood and they strongly influence our culture. England, the conquering nation, managed to influence us strongly too, in spite of ourselves so to speak. I find in those nations something akin to my own, yet with the charm of the exotic. Unlike many Quebeckers, I am not particularly attracted to French culture. I love some of its music, its poetry and especially its secularism and republicanism. My atheism is pretty much French existentialism.

This is mere rambling, but the topic raises many questions that would each require long reflections: do you belong more to the culture you come from, or to the culture(s) you adopt, even if you do so partially? Is allophilia always selective? Is it entirely consciously chosen? I am curious to have your thoughts on that.


Jazz said...

Well my love of crime fiction is most definitely Scandinavian. Otherwise, I'm all over the map when it comes to literature.

Food-wise, though I like continental European, I most definitely tend towards Asia - Vietnamese food, Thai, Indian - though it took me a while to "get it" when it comes to Indian. The combination of tastes was so foreign go a girl raised on steak, potatoes and chicken...

I love tea too, but I'm definitely anglo-saxon, i add a touch of milk to my black tea. But only in the morning...

I definitely belong to the culture I come from, I think we all do, it's ingrained, it's what we are. On the other hand I think picking and choosing stuff from other cultures to integrate into your life makes it that much richer. Although you can pick and choose things from other cultures to add to your own "personal" culture, I don't think you can ever really leave yours behind.

Guillaume said...

I think you are right. Usually, we adopt small elements of a foreign culture, and very often nothing beyond the cliché or the false perception.

suzanne said...

I agree that everyone is a composition of the culture they were born into and the various elements of other cultures they have encountered or embraced as they move through life.

As for crime fiction, I'd have to say I'm mid-20th century English. Impossible murders in large country houses. Tea, probably English as well; black tea with milk, with occasional forays into green. Foodwise, I'm all over the map, but if forced to choose, Mediterranean.