Sunday, April 4, 2010

Gypsy Fashion, Myths and Reality

I have been calling my colorful bright patchwork tiered skirts "gypsy skirts", my fringed wrap scarf "gypsy scarf" and I have written about the inner gypsy soul in my product description.
Somehow it has bothered me to just jump on the costume train and talk about my handmade clothes as "gypsy clothes" and just leave it at that.
I'd like to tell a little story instead of writing an anthropology or social piece here.

When I was a little girl my grandmother used to tease me "The gypsies have lost you when they came through the village. (I had real dark hair as a toddler)
Or if I was running the streets "The gypsies will snatch you and take you away.
I have always wondered about these folks who apparently concerned my grandmother so much, and not in a very favorable way.
It was the 1960 in rural Bavaria and tolerance to anything strange was not anything the villagers would worry about, leave alone political correctness.

When I was in grade school I met the first gypsy girl, a classmate who would attend school on and off. Her name was Maria. She sometimes would disappear for weeks or months, "when she was on the road with her family". As a little girl who had never experienced anything but the tight knit and very opinionated small town people she was of great interest to me.
Her long dark her and slightly tanned skin made her a pretty girl, her long skirts all year around and her colorful combination of patterns set her apart from the rest of us.
Needless to say she didn't make any friends in the class room, we stayed away from her and she kept to herself.

Later we sometimes drove out of town where there was a dwelling with caravans, cloth lines and a bunch of metal crap in the yard. Out of the city limits. I asked my dad who lived there. He said the "gypsies".
I often wondered about their freedom of traveling around, living without nosy town neighbors, fantasized about being free to live however I wanted but yet was scared of being an outsider.

Later as a grown up woman I have met several "gypsies", and by that time I knew that they didn't like to be called by this derogative term, but considered themselves Sinti or Roma, depending on their branch of heritage.
Most of them were not nomads any longer, but the assimilation was never 100%, you just could tell by their clothes and a certain life style. Yeah, and they like to haggle and I learned not to get insulted by "hagglers" when I was vending on flea markets. That's just how biz is done:)

After the opening of the borders of former Soviet block countries, the South Eastern European Romas have traveled traveling all over Europe and caused a lot of animosity among non-Romas.
I have read a lot of news about racial prejudice and even attacks towards Roma dwellings, very disturbing articles about Napoli, Italy and the Balkan states. But of course my home country Germany has been in the news as well for intolerance. Most Europeans who have inbred the values of the Lutherian thinking of hard work, living at one place, obedience towards law and authorities, have a hard time with women sitting on the side walk, infants on their laps and holding out their hands for money. Or kids running after tourists and ask for money.

It's not always a prejudice, but often it is the reality to survive poverty and keep up old traditions of independence from state and main stream society.
If you have visited a large Southern European city like Rome or Barcelona then you probably have experienced begging on the streets or even pick pocketing at tourist magnets. It happens, and it happens among other ethnicities as well.
But, we are humans and we are all people (=rom) and neither one of us is without flaw. Some countries and nationalities fight wars, kill their enemies, oppress their minorities or enslave their females.
So, who are we to judge?

Some of the internet message boards against "gypsies" that I came across during my little research were down right hateful, ignorant and frightening.

The following blog is a good source for more information and is an advocate for tolerance and ending the racial discrimination.