This post was inspired by Rarasaur’s post about her multicultural upbringing. http://rarasaur.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/the-7-habits-of-highly-cultural-people/
When I was a child most of the people I knew were British. Some of them had lived in the same place for a long time. The three places I knew best were my home town (which was becoming swallowed up in the London suburbs), a village in Lancashire (which I have written about in my childhood memories posts), where my grandparents lived and a village in rural Surrey, where we visited my other grandmother.
At school only a small minority of children were of other ethnic origins and as they were not in the same class as me or my sister, I never had any contact with them. There were over forty children in each of our classes to find friends among without needing to look elsewhere.
My parents’ friends included an Irish Roman Catholic family, a Welshman who told jokes, people who spoke with various regional accents, but no-one from abroad until we hosted a student for a day.
Our (Anglican) Church was running an event where foreign students were invited to have a meal with a family and attend a church service. We were told our student was from Fiji. When he arrived he looked Indian, because his grandfather had emigrated from India to Fiji.
We found him to be good company and the official hosting developed into a friendship. My parents invited him back for a meal from time to time. Later they found out he had a girlfriend and she visited us several times too, wearing a beautiful sari and sandals. She knew how to play with children, being from a large family herself. Her manners playing “Happy Families” were better than anybody’s. She could swing both of us round at once, when we played outside. She also showed us how to put on a sari. I can remember an outing with them to some beech woods.
The day which I remember best was their wedding day. They apologised that they could not invite us to the ceremony as at a Hindu ceremony they sat on the floor – something westerners did not do. However they invited us to the reception afterwards. It was held in an upstairs flat (apartment), which we had not visited before.
The bath was full of water and a beautiful garland of yellow (?) flowers, which the bride had been wearing earlier.
We were the only Europeans there. The food was Indian and delicious. There are some advantages to being a child. The adults had to balance a plate and fork, while standing. We two girls were allowed to kneel on the floor and use a coffee table. Being a target for accidentally dropped food could be overlooked in the circumstances!
There was a wedding cake with three tiers. The bride and groom posed with a knife for photographs. Then they lifted off the false icing and revealed neatly wrapped slices of wedding cake ready to be distributed! It was something we had not seen before. (I don’t think I’ve seen it since!)
I have never forgotten a conversation I had with one of the guests. It went along the usual sort of lines about what did I want to do when I grew up. I asked her what she did. “I’m a mingler,” was her reply. She certainly was good at mixing with people.
I learned a lot that day.