You’ve dreamed about it haven’t you. It’s ok, we’ve all been there. It happens on days when you’re sick of cleaning, sick of working, sick or running your kids from one activity to another. You imagine yourself free from every tie that binds you, traveling wherever your heart leads, living for yourself and your family instead of your mortgage payment. You see yourself out in a meadow, your kid’s playing happily by a winding creek where willow trees line the bank. Somehow the theme to Gone With the Wind is coming down from the heavens, you raise your fist and shout I‘ll never be modern again!
Well before you leave, I’ve gathered some information you might find helpful in your new life. Now I normally sell this for 3 billion dollars, but I like you, so today I’m going to give it to you for free. Better get some paper and a pencil to take notes with, there’s no internet where you’re going.
First off, you’re not a Gypsy, that’s actually a derogatory term. It would be like me going around calling myself a greaseball because I’m Italian. The people most of us think of as Gypsies are actually the Romani or Roma. If you are someone who associates with the Romani and speaks their language your a Romany Rye. If you don’t fit either of these categories, or you’re a Romani who gave up his traditional ways, you’re a Gadjo. You don’t want to be a Gadjo because who wants to be considered impure. More on that later.
The name Gypsy comes from the belief that the Romani came from Egypt. Egyptian was shortened to Gypsian, which was shortened to Gypsy. Now this “misunderstanding” was actually encouraged by the Roma entering Europe in the 1400s. It seems telling people you and your clan were actually the disposed rulers of Little Egypt led to better treatment and safer passage. In actuality, the Romani heritage is Indian. They left their homeland about 1500 years ago using the name Dom. The Dom counted among their people entertainers and musicians as well as farmers, herdsmen and traders. Dom later morphed into Rom.
It’s not good for you to remain single, and not just because you’ll be lonely. Unmarried adults are often thought to be a little off balance, like maybe you have some issues you need to work out. Don’t worry though, married life is going to be o.k. Women are treated as equals with men, you just have different roles to play. Start doing some voice exercises now because one way you’ll earn some money for the family is by singing or telling stories. Dancing works too if your voice isn’t so hot. If you’re really not one for preforming arts you might take up the role of door-to-door saleswoman. Finally there are the age old arts of fortune telling and palm reading to bring in a buck or two.
Whatever your occupation, you’ll be happy to return to your large extended family at the end of a long day. Romani families are very close, so when you get home they’re gonna treat you like you’re the Queen. As a matter of fact, work hours are often limited because time spent with the family is more important than economic gain. This is why most Romani choose to work for themselves, and not an outside employer.
For the most part the Romani adopt the dominant religion of the region in which they live. There are, however, religious traditions that have been handed down for generations. These are an important part of Romani life, and must be adhered to. Universal balance is one thing you’ll need to understand. Everything in its place, and a place for everything. Otherwise things are just out of whack. An example of something not in place would be flightless birds. A birds place is in the sky, and if a bird ain’t there, then he’s square. Out of place things are unlucky, so you should stay away from them.
Another idea is that of keeping balance between the pure and polluted states. This comes into play in things like ones behavior and appearance as well as the topic of your conversations. As far as your body, the upper half of you is good to go. It’s free of shame and nice and clean. You’re a go for showing parts of it to the world. Everything in the lower half—forget about it. That half of you is unclean so be sure to keep it covered. You can even defile a guy if you let your skirt come in contact with him in public. If you don’t keep the balance, you’re gonna be in trouble and can even risk being kicked out of the community.
By the way, you can’t remain clean if your constantly with you’re non-Romani friends, that’s a no-no. Worried about your own non-Romany blood? Well, don’t. As long as you marry a Roma man, you’ll be able to become clean. Whew!
Cause your man’s not really going to do it for you. Foraging is a good place to start filling in your pantry. There’s nothing like food the way God intended it. From there you could move on to something like cabbage rolls, or stew. Then there’s grilled meats, they’re always welcome on the dinner table.
I suggest picking from the group known as lucky foods: garlic, lemon, pepper, anything fermented. Of course bread is very important as well. It’s so important that if you drop it, you should apologize to it, and by all means, don’t step on it. That would be a sin.
For breakfast, how about some Blinis? They’re pretty much like a crepe and can be filled with things sweet or savory. Whatever you do though, no peanuts. That my dear, is funeral food. No matter what the dish, don’t cook it too far in advance and please, no leftovers.
Not that I think your cooking is bad. I would never say that about you, you know that. Still, people get sick, and in the Romani world there are two kinds of sickness, those that are natural, and those that aren’t. Those that aren’t come from the outside world, and you’re going to need an outside doctor to cure those things. I probably don’t need to tell you if you get a non Romany disease it’s not going to go over too well. After all, a lot of these things come with, well, to put it delicately, over familiarity with the opposite sex.
Now for your run-of-the-mill Romani type issues—like a rash, heart disease, tummy ache—you can go right to the communities drabarni. She’s the healing woman for your community. Now if—through some indiscretion—you have to go to the local hospital, don’t worry too much. Your relatives will come with you to keep the balance. This will prevent you from becoming unclean from all those non-Romani doctors and staff. Who loves you, baby.
We’ve heard the expression clothes make the man, well clothes make the Romani too. What you wear is going to say a lot about your culture and customs. Forget about running to the store in shorts and a tee-shirt honey, it’s not gonna happen. You’re good to go with pretty much whatever top you want.Your legs, however, are a different story. Generally legs need to be covered to the mid-calf, traditionally this is done with a long pleated skirt that’s tied on the left side. Remember, the bottom half is considered unclean, so you can’t go around flaunting your long skinny legs.
Accessories are a must, of course. Some nice golden bracelets will fit the bill, and a necklace too. Romanies like a bit of conspicuous consumption; so if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Now, if you’re married you’re going to need headscarf called a dihklo. Your head is pure, so it needs to be protected from contamination. The good thing is you can jazz it up with some gold coins to flaunt your wealth.
What you do with your clothes is just as important as how you wear them. Tops and bottoms must be washed separately. You don’t want to pollute what’s clean do you? Undies have to be washed separately as well, and none of it can be washed with your man’s clothes.
I know this may be a game changer for some of you, but it’s true. That beautifully carved, brightly painted wooden cart you see yourself stepping out of, it’s kind of out of use. The use of the wagon, known as a Vardo, had it’s heyday in the 1880’s and early 1900’s. If you had lived during the peak, you would have had six different styles to choose from. Usually built for newlyweds, it took anywhere from 6 months to a year for a wagon to be made.The Reading, which was one of the more commonly used styles, had a front and back porch, windows on the sides and back, and portable steps. Large models even had a cast iron stove to keep you warm as toast. Nowadays you’re more likely to live in a camper or even a regular old house.
The Roma had a lot of persecution through the years I’m afraid. It seems they had a knack for being hated almost everywhere they went, which is part of the reason they spent so much time traveling. In Romania, they spent several centuries as slaves, while European countries counted them as outcasts and intruders because of their dark looks and strange language.
Over the years their music, dress, and even their occupations have been outlawed. The worst persecution, however, came during World War II. The Nazis believed the Roma to be inferior racially and confined them to prison camps, killing thousands both in Germany and in occupied territories. It’s unfortunate that even in this day and age many people are still prejudice towards Roma, and often these prejudices result in violence. I don’t know when people are ever going to learn how to be nice.
Well there you go! You’ve successfully completed your crash course in Roma 101. I should mention these are just broad statements that pertain to most, but not all Romani groups. That’s the thing with nomads, their too spread out to keep their culture totally consistent. Still, if you follow these guidelines, you should be in pretty good shape. After you’re settled send me a letter letting me know how it’s going. I’ll read it in the Starbuck’s drive-through between karate class and ballet practice.