Across the world the Gypsies are most famous for their contributions as musicians. In America, Hungarian Slovak Gypsies have played Hungarian music at immigrant weddings. Django Rheinhardt is considered the all-time greatest jazz guitarist.
There are parallels between Gypsies and African Americans in their cultural history. African Americans brought African music to America, which in turn was adapted to the Gypsy culture. Interestingly, some Gypsies owned slaves or employed African Americans as laborers. Some of the African men eloped with Gypsy daughters.
Gypsies have dominated a niche for fortune-tellers, also known as palmists, readers, or advisers that serve non-Gypsies. Customers come only once while others return again and again - making them valuable customers. In order to maintain this relationship, the fortune-teller will do so in person, by telephone, or by mail. They will also try to use the customer's language. They set up shop where they believe that they can make the most money. Daughters of successful fortune-tellers usually become fortune-tellers themselves, whether or not they want to or are interested. This family business is part of their household.
The Gypsies maintain some interesting beliefs and traditions. Since they believe that the lower part of the body is impure or contaminated, the waist becomes the dividing point between the purity of the upper half, especially the head and mouth, and the impure lower half, especially the genitals and feet. A Gypsy who becomes impure or polluted can be expelled from their community. They try to avoid impure things that have touched a body's lower half, but if this happens, they must wash their hands right away. Also, an object that feet have touched, such as shoes and floors and things that touch the floor are impure. They mark the bottom end of bedcovers with a button or ribbon, to avoid accidentally putting the feet-end on their face.
Gypsies are puzzled by non-Gypsies who do not wash their hands after using public toilets. They often replace an entire kitchen area, especially countertops and sinks when purchasing a house, because the area has been polluted by non-Gypsies.
Childbearing tends to activate taboos of pollution for men and especially women. The newborn baby is regarded as entirely contaminated because he/she came from the lower end of the body. The mother, because of her contact with the infant, is also considered impure. It is traditional that mother and child be isolated for a period of time while other females assume the household duties of washing and cooking. Between birth and marriage this taboo is less strict for children. When people get older and are more separate as males and females, this taboo becomes more relaxed, and they actually become respected elders.
Gypsies traditionally eat stew and unleavened bread as well as fried foods. But leavened bread and broiled foods are somewhat avoided. They also tend to use the left hand during meals, either to eat with or to pass food along. Gypsies traditionally eat two meals a day, one when they get up in the morning and the other one is eaten in the late afternoon. They also tend to cook and eat foods of the culture among which they have lived, so for Gypsy Americans, who are related to the "slava" feast of southeastern Europe, they tend to eat cabbage rolls, cheese strudel and a sacrificed animal (often lamb).
Eating is important to Gypsies, thus the meals are often shared and enjoyed with others.
Eating together indicates that those who eat together trust each other. Taboos bar anyone sickly, unlucky or otherwise disgraced from joining in a meal. It is considered impolite for one Gypsy to refuse an offer of food from another, which would suggest that the offerer is polluted. Since non-Gypsies are considered polluted, they are served food from special dishes, utensils and cups that are kept separate, or disposed of and replaced. Traditional Gypsies will not eat in restaurants; they cook all their food themselves.
If food is lacking it is associated with bad living, bad luck, poverty or disease. Traditionally being over weight means good health and a good and successful life.
(Continued next week)