Last Saturday, the 19th of September, my mother took me out to the Ethiopian Restaurant “Ethiopisch Restaurant Sunshine” when I was visiting her for two days. We spend approximately two and a half hour there, from half past seven till ten o’clock in the evening.
Whilst being there, I was not always aware of my role as researcher. Before going to the restaurant, I thought of using this visit for my assignment, but I had not made a final decision yet. Therefore, I hardly thought of myself as a researcher who is an outsider. In fact, I felt as if I belonged to the place. My role as a guest of the restaurant was a very natural one.
The topic which I wanted to research was the mixing of two cultures. The Ethiopian culture on the one hand and the Dutch culture on the other hand. Before investigating these cultures and the hybridisation thereof, I would like to explain how the notion of culture is understood in this text.
In accordance with Chris Barker and Emma A. Jane, culture is understood as a lived experience or as a way of life. (Barker and Jane 2016, 44) Given this definition, the lived experiences of one person can be completely different from those of his or her neighbour. What gives meaning to life is always related to the environment and other people. Therefore, an important aspect of cultures tends to be the interrelatedness or the shared aspects with other people. Often, people construct culture together. Because cultures tend to refer to (infinite) interrelatedness, it is inherently problematic to define them. Defining cultures involves including some and excluding other cultures aspects as well as stereotyping. Pointing down cultures also undermines the hybrid nature of cultures.
With regards to a national culture, we should not think of it as pertaining to one way of life. National cultures are made up by many different ways of life which can even be undermining one another. Acknowledging this, this texts wants to compare without juxtaposing the Dutch and the Ethiopian culture(s).
In the restaurant, certain aspects of Ethiopian culture were visible. Most significantly, the menu was Ethiopian, consisting mainly of injera. Apart from this, there were pictures displaying Ethiopian sites, some of the chairs and tables were typically Ethiopian and the bar contained a roof made out of straw.
Personally, I was more interested in behaviour of the staff and their relation to Ethiopia. In the beginning of the evening, an older man did the serving. Later, he was substituted by a younger man. Later, I was informed that he was his son. The young man was assisted by his approximately eight year old daughter named Tana. I believe the cooking was done a lady of the same age of the young man. When we payed the bill, my mother told him that we have been to Ethiopia. He told us that he is born in Bahir Dar. Bahir Dar is located to Lake Tana. This is why his daughter is named Tana.
One of the most remarkable things to me was the outfit of the young man. I am used to waiters dressing formal or according to a certain culture in the case of a restaurant providing food of a certain country. Whereas the older man wore traditional clothes, the young man wore a tracksuit.
Personally, I did not mind. In fact, I enjoyed his outfit because I think the regular outfits of waiters are pretentious and boring. I know that some people would call this unprofessional, but I do not. Something which I do regard unprofessional, is the card reader which had broken down. As a result, my mother and I had to go to an ATM to withdraw money. Fortunately, this led to the enjoyable conversation with the young man about his links to Ethiopia when we handed over the cash. Another remarkable thing was the presence of the little girl Tana. She was very cheerful and keen on serving and interacting with the visitors. Lastly, both my mother and I noticed the low and relaxed speed with which the old man did his job and the soft and sometimes unclear voice with which the younger man spoke.
In response to the research question, I find it difficult and tricky to explain these behavioural characteristics by pointing to culture. To show differences between Ethiopian and Dutch culture, I could point to the presence of family ties and the relaxed atmosphere. Yet, there are many other important factors which explain behaviour that I do not know. In order to expose culture effectively, I believe one should study a larger focus group. Moreover, I am convinced that a more suitable and objective way of depicting culture is through audio-visual ways.
Talking this way about culture, specifically Dutch culture, I feel stranded between the statements “all Dutch people are equally Dutch” and “people who ride bikes, communicate in a direct manner and know the Dutch language well are more Dutch than people who do not do so”. I incline towards the second statement. Next, I wonder: If so, does it matter that some people are less Dutch than others? No, as long as people know the language and respect basic norms and values they are Dutch enough. Moreover, I think that there is a common misconception that (national) cultures are inherently opposed to one another and that one can only be part of one national culture. Expanding on the notion of intersectionality, I am convinced that one can be both very Dutch and very Ethiopian/Ghanaian/Moroccan/Turkish at the same time. Of course, one cannot speak two languages at the same time or dress according to two cultures (or occasions) at the same time. Yet, when you know what to speak when, or when to dress according to what culture (or occasion), I believe one is competent of the culture at stake.
Barker, Chris and Emma Jane. 2016. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publishing.
Mirjam de Bruijn
September 24, 2020 (06:26)
Nice starting point to depart from culture and what it is,; in the end it seems impossible to describe culture as such; you use in fact the notion ‘cultural expressions’ that may be essentialising a culture. The search for social relations is interesting. Your observations come close to discussions that are referring to processes of integration. The essential culture does not exist, is that the conclusion in the end?