Shoes or Shakespeare?

Now that I’ve been culture blogging for six months, it is perhaps not a good time to wonder what culture actually is. But that has never stopped me.

Found a blog in the Guardian about whether or not people read Dickens. That might be culture?

When Son was a baby, I was desperate to get out of the house, so joined an evening class with the WEA. It had to be something interesting, and something where I didn’t have to read a lot in between meetings. No time. I chose Current Affairs, which was led by a charming FE teacher from Belfast called Declan. I thought more about politics then than I had ever done before, and it was a really good class, with interesting people.

Anyway, one of the others was a retired teacher. She was very proud of her English heritage and pondered the meaning of English culture. She came to the conclusion that it’s Shakespeare. I didn’t want to disagree with her, but I don’t think so. She believed Shakespeare is the most English of English things. But I can quote from Hamlet in both English and Swedish. He translates well, and I think he belongs to us all, and not just to the English.

I wanted to suggest culture is more about whether or not you take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house. You need to understand the if and when and how and where. It sounds flippant, but most countries will have its Shakespeare readers. They can probably quote Hamlet, but won’t know what to do about shoes if they visit a random country.

Forty years ago I went to my aunt’s 60th birthday. I was going to say party, but reception is a better description, considering it was in Sweden. When you have a ‘special’ birthday and want to be left alone or have your party/reception on a different day or not in your home, you need to advertise in your local newspaper. Otherwise everybody will turn up at your house/flat in the morning of the birthday bearing flowers. And expecting to be fed.

That’s culture! Imagine sleeping in on your big day, wanting to do nothing at all, and finding hungry hordes outside your front door.

Anyway, we turned up late on my aunt’s birthday. Perhaps around 10.30 in the morning. The mezzanine landing just below her flat was full of shoes. This being Twelfth Night (morning of) people wore boots and galoshes to get there, so would pause outside and take them off. It being a proper kind of event, they would then change into nice, dainty footwear.

That’s culture.

The memory of that shoe-filled mezzanine won’t go away just yet.


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