if you hold on to tradition too tightLY, it will slow you down THE BALANCE NEEDS TO TIP IF STAGNATION IS TO BE AVOIDED
Before I launch into this month’s column, perhaps it’s worth reiterating why I decided to call it The cultural tightrope when I first started writing it many years ago. Knowing that I was going to be writing about differences in culture as a foreigner who had settled here in Catalonia, I decided the title had to convey the idea that telling people about their own culture from an outsider’s perspective while living among them was a very delicate matter, and that if one is not extremely careful when commenting on a culture that is not one’s own, one might overbalance and fall off what I perceive to be a tightrope... hence the metaphorical name.
Anyway, having attempted to ameliorate what comes next, I think I should also add that I see my writing this column as an opportunity to act as an impartial commentator on my adopted culture, and when reading it you should bear in mind that my son and my deceased wife’s family are all Catalans. So my interest in making these observations is in fact to help my adopted country and culture progress.
Let me start, then, by stating that I believe tradition and knowledge of the past have a very important role to play in any society, and what I am about to say does not contradict that. I also believe, however, that if you hold on to tradition and the past too tightly, it will slow you down and even lead to a form of stagnation, which is worth avoiding in this rapidly changing world. As ever, balance is the key.
The thing is, after living here for 25 plus years, my impression is that for the majority of Catalans, although inclusiveness – by which I mean the way outsiders are welcomed into society – necessarily involves exposing the outsider to Catalan traditions and ways of doing things – as in any society, of course – it does not involve enough of a reciprocal interest in the outsider’s traditions and ways of doing things. And this differs from other countries and cultures I have lived in, such as the US, and my own native culture, the UK. I also fully understand why this is the case: it is the natural outcome of a history of repression.
But what I’m trying to say to the natives of my adopted country is that in order to foster the much-desired coexistence that we rightly hear so much about, it is important to make cultural exchange a two-way street. Perhaps more foreigners here would learn to speak Catalan and take more of an interest in Catalan issues if inclusiveness more resembled what I have tried to express above. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve met plenty of Catalans who have shown themselves to be very open to foreign influences, but the balance needs to tip more in that direction if stagnation is to be avoided.
Now I’ve opened that little can of worms, let me just say that my – now adult – son thinks my views apply more to older generations of Catalans, and also areas outside the metropolis that is Barcelona, rather than the general population; that being said, many of my non-Catalan friends who live in Barcelona agree with me on this one. Either way, it is worth noting that none of the above is a statement of fact or truth, merely the observations of an outsider who has lived here long enough to be able to make them with some confidence.