Thursday, 18 February 2016

But it's traditional

I'm always suspicious of the word "traditional". It's so often used negatively, to malign someone or prevent them doing something.

If it means enjoying yourself and having a good time, fine. Nothing wrong with wanting, say, a traditional family Christmas or a traditional seaside holiday. No harm in that (unless you can't stand your relatives or you can't swim, of course).

But when people bang on about "traditional marriage" (i.e. a man and a woman, or a breadwinner and a housewife) or "traditional British values" (i.e. what immigrants need more of) or "traditional British cooking" (i.e. none of that foreign muck), I cringe. It's just a sign of blinkered intolerance and inability to accept other people's tastes and preferences.

In any case, a lot of these supposed "traditions" are either being hugely misrepresented or are actually quite a recent thing. Single parent families have always been common. British values have always pillaged values from other cultures. And British cooking has always used foreign ingredients. So where are these much-vaunted traditions that are always being waved in our faces? They're mostly mythical.

But it sounds good, doesn't it? If something's "traditional", it must be based on long experience, tried and tested methods, solid common sense etc. Except that if you look more closely, it's just as likely to mean nothing more than force of habit, sticking to the status quo, and running away nervously from anything unfamiliar.

We could do with a bit less tradition and a bit more eagerness to try something new.


  1. I'm afraid I've never been a big one for traditions, especially when it comes to celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm more of an explorer and experimenter.

  2. You hit the nail right on the head! My next door neighbour is like me, lives alone, same age but was brought up by "traditional parents" and "Britishness" was drummed into him from an early age.

    To give you one example. He only cooks traditional British food, and always has. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, bangers and mash, fish and chips etc (boring!). Whereas I, having spent a lot of time in France and Germany, tend to cook food from there and Italian, Indian etc. Whenever he smells food cooking coming from my house (especially when I use oodles of garlic!) he shouts across the gardens "Are you cooking that foreign muck again? You should be locked up for stinking the neighbourhood out!" Ooops, there goes the neighbourhood. . .again!

  3. Jean: I'm not much of a traditionalist myself either. My Christmas is a very minimalist affair. And I never have seaside holidays - sitting on a beach gets boring very quickly.

    Keith: When I was a kid, it was always traditional British cooking in our house. Even when my parents started visiting Italy regularly! My father was wedded to his meat and two veg.

  4. i was thinking london was now VERY continental and varied in its cuisine!
    we have lots of territorial cuisines... the southern dishes ...
    new england... western tex mex ... california and east coast... all oriented by the area in which they're popular. and not to forget the chinese restaurants serving dishes that the average chinese person wouldn't even recognize! LOLOL.
    as to holidays... i'm also non traditionalist. being a fellow minimalist. and people just don't get it. they can't believe it can be a happy occasion without all that stuff!
    and keith just cracks me up every time. LOLOL.

  5. Tammy - Thank you for that compliment.

  6. What I'm up against - in a similar vein - is "But we've always done it that way!"

    What a killer of innovation and trying something new and yes, like you say, barely concealed racism and prejudice.


  7. Tammy: Things are very different now. London as you say has every cuisine you could think of. Ditto Belfast. I like the idea there are Chinese meals the Chinese wouldn't recognise. The same goes for Indian meals, I suspect.

    www: People here don't actually say "we've always done it that way". But there's a general assumption you do things a certain way and you'd better not question it or you'll get a frosty reception.

    As you say, a lot of concealed racism and prejudice under the guise of tradition.

  8. Ah.... British tradition.
    Christmas, Easter, bank holidays, St George, roast dinner at midday on Sunday, and invading countries across the globe to impose our will and shooting anyone carrying a spear who objected. We have so much tradition to be proud of. NOT!
    Sod tradition. Saying it's traditional is like people at work who say "but we've always done it this way".
    While personal traditions can help us feel comfortable and safe (many of us enjoy aspects of our daily routines) but for the big stuff, clinging on to tradition is basically either a fear of change or a complete refusal to accept that there may be a different or better way to do it.
    As you say there's always the issue of misusing the term (we did that last year too, so now it's tradition), and a sort of perceived romanticism surrounding the whole idea that you're sticking with things the same as countless generations before, as though by doing so it makes you a part of history.
    No thanks. If something's traditional, I'm usually the one looking for an alternative. I like being an individual.

  9. Dave: I hadn't thought of the romantic idea of being part of history. Except that it doesn't seem very romantic when everyone's doing the same thing!

    Indeed, the great British tradition of invading other countries and imposing our will on them. Or trying to and as usual getting egg on our faces.

  10. The worst tradition here is the Thanksgiving dinner, but boy, you will never talk 95% of the people out of it. I've tried!

  11. Off topic - Dave said "shooting anyone carrying a spear" reminded me of my Granddad telling me that his father was in the Zulu Wars, but he deserted eventually because he got fed up with having to black up every morning!

  12. Bijoux: I quite like the idea of a day when you give thanks for all the good things in your life. But then, I haven't been subjected to this yearly ritual over and over again!

    Keith: Ha ha. The Anglo-Zulu war was a nasty business. British imperialism at its most ruthless.

  13. apparently tradition is a great tool for bonding people. I like lots of traditional things but i dont stress them the way other people do so it has occurred to me that my children are left without family traditions and i think that is a bit of a pity.
    They do tell me that we always eat a lot of cheese on holidays, do you think that counts?

  14. Kylie: Not sure about that. I suppose in some ways tradition bonds people by sharing something they have in common. But the bonding might be quite shallow and not lasting much longer than the wedding or the Christmas Day or whatever.

    You eat a lot of cheese on holidays? Is this a great Aussie cheese-eating tradition I've never come across?

  15. I cant afford to eat good cheese on a daily basis, not financially or calorie wise, but I will use anything as an excuse for some celebratory brie.

  16. Kylie: Good cheese is expensive here too, so we don't eat a lot of it. But I also love brie. And stilton.

  17. I am an anachronism! I am traditional in many ways but also modern in many. It is quite easy to manage the contradictions as long as it does not infringe on anyone else's life.

  18. Ramana: Well, as long as those traditions make sense to you and aren't simply tradition for the sake of it - no worries. Some traditions appeal to me too - like Valentine's Day.

  19. I keep the traditions I enjoy, ignore the ones I don't. But I'm a softy for Christmas traditions - I like the tree, the lights, the food. It's a warm, homey family time for me.

  20. Agent: I like a simple, relaxing Christmas, but not the over-blown, tinsel-with-everything sort of jamboree the retailers would prefer us to have.

  21. Rather like the English language, made up of much older ones.

  22. Re-reading my comment I'm not quite sure what I was relating it to.

    I like our own family traditions best. Made up as we go along.

  23. Liz: Well, the English language is a good example of something that keeps on evolving and isn't stuck in some "traditional" mould.

    Not much family tradition left in my case. There's only my mum and my sister, and we don't see each other very often as they both live in Cambridgeshire.