English and Provençal landscapes are quite different. The same is true of the weather, language and food. It’s hotter and drier down here, whilst the coastline is indented with creeks and sandy bays. Furthermore, the French accent is markedly different from dialects further up in the north and the sea-food is fresh, with mussels a very common restaurant dish being cooked in a variety of ways. As an inhabitant of Provence, I now ask myself whether a cultural difference exists between English and Provençal personalities and life-views?
Outwardly, yes. The southern European, mediterrannean culture is quite evident, to a northerner at least, in its infamous slower pace and lack of urgency. In fact, often quite frustratingly so! Then again, mediterrannean hospitality is reknowned for opening its arms welcomingly wide, even if it doesn’t then close them so fast. The family is central, like in all of France, but here even more acutely so: It’s the latin way. Hence boundaries between ‘family’ and ‘community’ are distinctly marked. Shutters remain shut and back-door appearance by friends ‘popping-in’ less common than is my experience in England. In fact, visits by ‘guests’ are controlled in an almost ceremonial way. Tasty nibbles are brought out in small bowls and placed on the table with the pastis, beer or fruit juice. Then we sit and talk, rather than just slumping on the sofa together to watch the latest soap-opera – as so often happens back home!
But inwardly, no. Despite our diversity, we are all human beings – meaning that we all respond to personal needs, whilst protecting and nurturing those for whom we care. We laugh and cry, in different ways and on different occassions for different reasons. We have fears and joys, upon a wide range of issues. We love and hate, a variety of different things. Deep down we are all the same.
Provence has it’s own language. It’s a derivative of Latin, quite different from French, but like Welsh and Gaelic struggling hard to stay alive. There are now no mother-tongue speakers of Provençal left. Provence also has its own history, being closely involved in Mediterrannean trade and a ‘province’ of the Roman Empire from very early on (121 BC). It’s a history that distinguishes the area from the rest of France.
As an English teacher, I am particularly interested in the English language. I don’t mean just the grammar and vocabulary that I teach to my students, but also to its origins, evolution and global spread. Then again, I’m also a social anthropology graduate and in this regard I’m interested in the semiotic and semantic nature of language in general, for without language the world would be vastly different!
These areas of discussion are vast and I simply scan the surface by reading the occassional academic work or article, visiting local museums, or surfing through the resources contained on the net. Armchair theorizing, it might be disparagingly called. So be it. Sir James Frazer, possibly the world’s most famous anthropologist (‘The Golden Bough’), progressed precisely in that way.
That’s all this blog is intended to do, in a relatively light manner – for the moment and when I have time.