Tell me, what do you think of Gypsies? Or should we even say Gypsies? Roma people is the more pc name I’ve heard. I live in France right now and a recent discussion about the Roma people made me think of my own experience a few years ago, and the story I wrote about it.
Growing up in Holland I heard a rumor that there was Gypsy blood in my family, on my mother’s side. Apparently this expressed itself in my grandfather’s behavior since he was of a roving sort. Is it true? I have no idea, but it rather appealed to my childish sense of the adventurous as in my mind I saw beautiful exotic horse-drawn houses on wheels. Of course in due time I became familiar with the infamously negative stereotypes, stories and prejudices that I won’t need to elaborate on. Sadly, the only Roma people I ever encountered were the tragic beggar women with their babies sitting in the streets of Naples, Belgrade and other big cities.
Well, until a few years ago when I was in Transylvania, Romania and had the opportunity to learn more and to meet a lovely Roma family.
As I was writing the piece below, I could hear your collective groans about how I was sucked into a tacky tourist trap, so let me tell you, I am no innocent when it comes to tacky tourist traps, but this one stole my heart, so shoot me.
Tzigania Tours is a project started by an American journalist from New York who fell in love with the Roma people he was studying in Transylvania. He stayed on with the hope of creating some understanding and respect for their culture and life style. It was fascinating to hear him talk with passion and thoughtfulness about the people he is now living with. It’s easy to be a cynic here, but I refuse. I’d rather be a
I’m not in any way qualified to tell you about the difficult and complex history of the Roma people. You can find it all on the Internet. Just let me say that Europe’s largest Roma population lives in Romania. Although many still trek around in their wagons and are not assimilated into Romanian society, the majority of the Roma people here are settled and live in villages, have jobs, live respectful lives and send their children to school. It’s one such family I visited with my eight travel mates when in Romania.
The family consists of a father and mother, a young daughter of nine or ten, a small son of about five and a grandmother.
A little shy, but he loosened up a while later
The father has his own metal workshop and car repair place. They live in a normal house that has been furnished and decorated Roma style with lots of color everywhere – on rugs, wall hangings, pillows, blankets and curtains. Several rooms sport china cabinets filled with large collections of dishes, teapots and cooking pots, none of which are used. These are a show of wealth and status. No, this is not trendy Western décor, but where does it say it has to be? I thought it was fabulous and cheerful and fun. Go for it if that’s your bliss, that’s my philosophy.
Roma kitchen, lots of colorful pans and dishes
We were told that the family is considered “middle class.” Some families live in much bigger houses and have more elaborate possessions. The poor Gypsies are the only ones most of us “outsiders” are familiar with: The beggars in the streets of big cities.
After the presentation and questions, meeting the family, and a tour of the house, we moved to the courtyard where appetizers were served along with shots of a homemade hootch so strong I worried it would make my hair fall out (so far so good). The nibbles included chunks of roasted pork fat we were instructed to impale on sticks and roast over an open wood fire. Delicious! The best bacon I ever had!
In the dining room we were given a plate heaped with the traditional fare of pork and cabbage stew along with a helping of polenta with local white cheese melting into it. Cake finished off the meal, served by the sweet young daughter, who had fun helping out (not in school because it was Saturday).
Afterward, and here comes the cheesy stuff, the women were given Gypsy skirts and music was put on in the courtyard so we could dance. Tell me, what’s wrong with a little fun?
The Roma people are a very diverse group of people, spread out all over the world. I’m happy to have met this hospitable family in Transylvania, to get a peek into their lives and to learn something positive.
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Have you ever met a Roma family? Have you ever learned something that did not fit the stereotypes so many of us have of them? Or have you met other people in the world who surprised you?