Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cultures and Traditions

One of the many wonderful things about living in a multicultural city such as Vancouver is the food. We have hundreds of fabulous restaurants, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, Russian, Mexican, Greek, Italian, Iranian, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Turkish, Hungarian, oh, I could go on and on... At the top of my list of favorites is Japanese, followed by Indian as a close second.

Where I live and work, I am a quickly becoming a minority. It's very strange how that happens. But an interesting side effect of that is how other cultures have taught me to respect my own culture. I have had folks from all over the world ask me about my family customs and traditions, and I have to stop and think ... what are they? We never really give much thought to these things here in North America. We have a culture and traditions? Yes, I guess we do.

I remember as a child dancing the Maypole dance in the May Day Celebrations. No, that isn't quite the same as the pole dance done in certain clubs. Maypole dancing is an old British tradition, and it is done to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday around May 24th. We have a big parade, and one of the little girls is crowned "Queen of the May". It's a lovely tradition. It's silly, I know, but it is a tradition, it's a statutory holiday and we get the day off work and school.

At work, we celebrate the festival of Diwali, which is known as the festival of lights or sometimes as the festival of sweets. You cannot even imagine the wonderful treats people bring to work for us. Omigoodness! And Chinese New Year ... the same thing. Fabulous food, and a big parade winding its way through Chinatown. And the feasts that mark the end of Ramadan, scrumptious! One of our Iranian doctors is a fabulous cook, and she brings in all sorts of exotic treats made with honey, and filo pastry and pistachio nuts. Yum!

I think it is very important for an ethnic society to have common customs and traditions. It's what binds us together and defines whom we are. We risk losing our identity otherwise. What is Canada's ethnic dish, aside from perhaps poutine? McDonald's hamburger? Kentucky Fried Chicken? Do we even have one?

When people from Iran or India or China ask me about my cultures and traditions, I want to have something to tell them. Our cultures and traditions are slowly being eroded from us, generation to generation. We have to learn to keep them and respect them and cherish them, just as we do with other cultures and traditions.

What are some cultures and traditions that you don't want to lose?


Avril Fleur said...

Jo! The traditional Canadian dish is a Tim Hortons double-double! Come on now! :)

Lorna said...

Jo, the strength of the United States has been in our united mentality that we are Americans, not hyphenated Americans.

In the 1960's, this attitude began to change and now I and many Americans believe that too much emphasis has been on each individual difference and not enough on the fact that we are all Americans.

I think that the biggest mistake that early America made was not including the Blacks into society as Americans immediately. Instead, they kept them as slaves and began the fracture that seems to have picked up a lot lately.

A country that shares the same language and the same identity is a much more difficult country to defeat. When there are factions within the country, different languages, and different loyalties to different countries, a downfall is sure to begin.

I hope that it does not happen to America.


Anonymous said...

Whenever I see "food" and "Vancouver" mentioned together I think "sushi". I haven't had good sushi since I left Halifax.

TheChicGeek said...

Nice post, Jo. Now I wanna come to Vancouver and EAT! Yum!! You are so right about traditions getting lost. We have to work at it to keep it going....my house, my Grandma MeMe's peach cobbler on 4th of July...that's my favorite :)

Russell said...

You asked what are some traditions we don't want to lose where we live.... well, Iowa is primarily a farming state. One tradition we have out here is having steam engine and old tractor shows (I know, you are yawning and going "boring, boring, boring"!!!!!).

But... many older men and women who lived when we used horses and primitive machines help the young people learn what life used to be like in the old days. Even though today we have big modern machines that steer themselves with GPS units - many people are trying to preserve a knowledge of the historical past.

I love the smell of steam coming out of those old big tractors and it is somewhat magical...

Take care.

PS I think Vancouver would be a pretty incredible place to visit, too.... for lots of reasons.

Jo said...

Avil, oh goodness, how could I forget Tim Hortons! And of course, Hawkins Cheezies! :-)

Lorna, well said! Yes, for a country that is based on the premise that "all men are created equal", it has not been that way, has it? Perhaps it's not too late.

XUP, the best sushi restaurant IN VANCOUVER is near where I live. AND it has the best gomae in the city. Yum!

ChicGeek, peach cobbler? Now you're talking my language! Do you have it with ice cream or fresh whipped cream? :-)

Russell, those steam tractors sound amazing! We have preserved some of the old steam locomotives here in Vancouver. We could go for sushi, and then go to a steam locomotive museum. :-)

Arley said...

I myself, had to stop and think about what traditions we had growing up. I was born and raised in Arizona. My family is half Irish and half Polish and Ukranian. We celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the 4th of July like every other red blooded American. For the life of me, I can't think of a single tradition that was unique to my family alone. That seems pretty sad. At what point in our existence did we lose site of our heritage and traditions? I know so little about my family beyond my Grandparents, much less my customs. I don't even have anyone left to ask. If I can't even think of an answer for you, what am I going to tell my children when they are old enough to ask?

Franco said...

I really like this idea! What is our traditional meal? There isn't one, well maybe pies, but instead its the fact that we combine those traditional meals. We can make something new, or we have the luxury to be able to experience all those different cultures and traditions within a small area. It's nice, but to me it will never be as authentic as it would be in the original country.

As for traditions I still do, and probably will do forever. The classic Italia Christmas Eve dinner with the ENTIRE family. Seven types of fish and much more haha. Also there is La Befana. She delivers toys and candy to young kids, just like Santa Claus.

Good ideas in your post. I liked it a lot!

Wolynski said...

I live in Vegas - shooting cheats and debtors in the back of the head and burying them in the desert is one of our finer traditions.

As for cuisine - all you can eat buffets - doesn't matter what it is, as long as there's loads of it.

I've never been to Vancouver - I hear it's beautiful and damp.

By the way, I love Somerset Maugham, especially his short stories.

Firefly said...

As an Afrikaans speaking South African, one of my biggest cultures is my language. I love Afrikaans music which has seen a huge revival the last 10 years.

Jo said...

Arley, yes! "Phinnaeus" was asked to do a school project about his family's cultures and traditions. He goes to a very multi-cultural school, and many of the other cultures had specific things they could write about, while many of the Canadian kids did not. That was very sad.

Franco, I love your Italian Christmas Eve dinner. I do hope you keep it up through the next generations. I think it will be very special for everyone. Wonderful!

Wolynski, LOL! All you can eat buffet sounds pretty good to me. Maybe you will have to start some traditions to pass down to your family. And yes, Vancouver is beautiful, and wet... *sigh*

Firefly, I love Afrikaans music. I remember my mother had a record of Josef Marais, and I used to play it all the time when I was a little girl. Oh, gosh!

nomore said...

I reminded the " The crash of civilizations and the remaking of world order" by Samuel P. Huntington....in his book 1996.....
I used to try the Kimch and rice...sometimes love to Boolgogi.....But I also love to try Mcdonald's Hamburger, Kentuckey Fried Chicken, Sushies too....not shush...lol

DUTA said...

Food is perhaps the only good thing about a multi-ethnical society. Let's hope there will always be plenty of it.

Veronica said...

Jo, I was born in Malaysia with English and Scottish parents (and no, they are definitely not one and the same! :)), moved to Australia aged 9 and now live in England. All have such different traditions and foods. As a family, our one big tradition was to prepare a cook a lunch every Sunday - it was always a fabulous meal of curries and other Asian foods which we all adored. It was time to catch up, talk about the plans and ideas for the coming week, tell each other of the joys or sorrows of the past week. A time for bonding as a family.

As my brother and I grew older, that lunch on Sunday became an irritation, a disruption to the fun of our weekend. Eventually, the family stopped coming together in this way. An iretrievable loss of shared memories and information from grandparents and parents.

Eating together as a family is one tradition I feel we should all try to keep - no TV or other detrimental distractions - just a great way of building more traditions for all of us and one great way of learning about the past ways of our families and countries. A way of buiding those ways and traditons into the future.

Sammi said...

Recently I went back to the UK for the first time in three and a half years. I talked to my Nan about things that have changed since she was little whilst she was holding a little black doll with wool hair, round eyes and a big red smile; a gollywog! She bought this one recently & loves it to pieces, she can't see how it can offend people and to be honest I can see her point- its not like she's sticking needles in it as it if were a voodoo doll!

Traditions I miss from home are Country Fayre's, the way Christmas is celebrated (its just not the same here) & New Year!

Things I would miss from here would be Virgen de la Pena festival and Canarian Day if I went back.

Angel Helen said...

Jo, dancing round the may pole still happens in the country here in UK but I must correct you on a point. Maypole dancing happens on the 1st May or the nearest Sunday these days which is the MayDay bank holiday. The may blossom or hawthorn to use it's other name, appears at the start of Spring and MayDay (1st May) was the traditional start to Spring, hence the dancing to celebrate.

We also crown a May Queen and usually a King now too to make sure the boys aren't left out! We also have Morris dancers (too hard to explain, perhaps you could look it up on Wikipedia)

We have a MayDay bank holiday at the beginning of May and a Whitsun bank holiday at the end.

A. Kichu said...

Am not a big fan of Indian food.. But I love Japanese. Sounds like the Maypole dancing is fun!

Mahesh Sindbandge said...

Hi Jo, I feel the same when i live in my hometown.I am an Indian and i live in Hyderabad.Hyderabad is such a wonderful city where you can find most of the regional languages,cultures,communities of india mingled all in one.Irrespective of what others think,feel every culture's lives in itself with people.Its we who make our cultures live after all this years right?.
Nice post...liked it very much.

Trojan Gayle said...

I just read your blog and i like the way you write and it has given me some food for thought - especially as i am from the UK and i am black.

Any how, my friend has a blog that you might be interested in reading... its called Sally's World.. please drop in and have a read when you have a moment.


I hope you enjoy it


Nathan said...

Cultures evolve, society evolves. Cultural identity isn't as important as it used to be, although saying that, I never want to loose savoury pies (being British) or scones. mmmm, scones.

SarahAB said...

"When there are factions within the country, different languages, and different loyalties to different countries, a downfall is sure to begin."

Gotta say, that churned my stomach a little. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Canada's greatest strengths is its inclusiveness and diversity.

Yes, the are issues that arise within a multicultural society, but in the end I would hope that what makes Canadians stand out is an overwhelming attitude of tolerance and appreciation for different cultures.

We are united, united in that we are all citizens of a peaceful, beautiful, and tolerant country.

And as far as our food and customs go, they obviously vary from province to province. We can all agree that West Coast culture is exceptionally different from East Coast culture, Mountain culture is wholly different from Prairie culture, all based on the history of each location. These cultures all exist and are just as strong as any others out there.

I do agree that we need to be more diligent in communicating these customs from generation to generation. As westerners we have absurdly short memories.

My culture (Alberta), includes summer canning, farmers' markets, 4-H clubs, Christian conservatism (which I no longer participate in), respecting indigenous peoples (which is improving with new generations), vast horizons, blue skies, summer storms, roast beef sunday dinners, cold, long, dry winters (accompanied by sleigh rides, tobogganing, ice skating on frozen ponds), hockey, Canada Day fireworks, raspberry picking, long days at the lake, fishing... it goes on.

That's my culture, and it's both similar to some and completely different from others. But it is a distinct culture.

Susan said...

It has been my experience that traditions are more easily recognized or remembered when we have to leave them behind for a time. Or perhaps when we are trying to make sense of a different place and culture. But when we are running about in our day to day lives many of those traditions (especially those not associated with major holidays!) are not considered tradiotions per se, just the regular way we do things.

My family has a tradition of all getting together to decorate my parent's tree at Christmas. Would I consider it 'Uniquely Canadian'? Probably not. But it is one of my family traditions and I certainly hope to keep it going for many years.

Rachete said...

Wish I hadn't come across this today..I'm on a diet. :)


Amy said...

My Mother told me when my son was old enough to say "What?' that I ought to correct him and not to let him say "yeah." I should have listened to her. It is easier to make a good habit out of good manners that break a bad habit of bad manners.

Being from the south we did not say "What?" when called by our elders, but said "Ma'm" or "Sir" depending on who was calling and we certainly never said "yeah."

Too many manners have fallen by the wayside in our culture. It is a shame. The lost art of civility.

Joss Albért said...

I have found through traveling and meeting various people that it is very difficult to describe being English in terms of events or yearly occurrences, yet we are so noticeably different.

Our overwhelmingly ever-present cultural baggage is our humour, our irony and our wit. Oh, and fish and chips. Our tradition is humour above success.

Our food is so bland because we were too busy making up mother-in-law jokes and stealing countries.

The Pink Cowboy said...

I am Spanish and French. But the Spanish side has taken over. On Christmas we still sing villancicos and eat turrón (almond nuggat) from Alicante, Spain. I am lucky we have preserved these traditions, it gives us a solid sense of identity.

kristine santos said...

Oh, well, no traditions for me. Except little ones, like baking cookies on valentine's. I just wanted to comment to ask: how can you possibly have so many followers? I just started my blog but I have none. Thanks! <3

California Girl said...

I would like to know more about the beautiful still life you've uploaded at the top of your blog.

California Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
introspection said...

Hi Jo, Your blogs are a treat to follow. This one's by far one of the most interesting and thought provoking.
I am from India though I keep travelling out to US a lot. Some of the best food originates from here; but we have such a fusion of cuisine that if a chinese local ate at one of our the chinese Resaturants, he would be apalled. We have 'The cheese pao bhaji, and cheese dosa' - obviously fusions of the western ingredients. In Bombay at Haji Ali Juice center you can eat Pizza with cilantro /coriander topping.
But I am a die hard fan of Tim Horton's French vanila coffe. It's a good thing you can order it online.
Chipotle is another one my favourites. Ooooh! yummy.

greengirl333 said...

I continue to enjoy, as my family has for years, the old southern tradition we call the potluck. This is a family/bonding get together where the women and more so these days, the men take pride in preparing their favorite recipe as they come together to share their special dish with the whole bunch. As you mentioned, what is especially exciting these days is the office potluck where we get to experience the multicultural dishes you talk about as we bond with our coworker families! Ah, food...the common language we all understand.

FoodB said...

Hi, Jo! I'm new to blogger and stumbled upon your sassy writing. :) I did not realize how interesting it is to read other people's thoughts...even more fun than people watching as you get to really "watch" people past their mere appearances. I live in Toronto, yes, another very multicultural city. Multiculturalism is celebrated by most here although under-handed typecasting still goes on. I'm of Korean descent and as I watch the Korean culture evolve here in Toronto, I have come to realize that cultures and traditions cannont be static through time. I enjoy seeing merging of cultures and traditions that embrace rather than ostracize. Thanks for your wonderful writing. See you again soon!

Anonymous said...

JO's daughter here again. Here's the hilarious part. "Phinneus" was able to come up with a lot of traditions that his family likes to celebrate like "Christmas" and "Easter" and "Thanksgiving" but was given a poor mark for not thinking harder about the exercise. Those were "too obvious", according to the teacher.

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