A culture of measuring twice and cutting once: Early years (Part 1)

Basically a culture is a way of living and it is specific to a community, be it a family, a region or a country. My first contact with a culture was with my family’s way of living, so the family culture, which is a sort of sub-culture, a part of a wider culture according to experts.

Little by little I learned the basic rules and habits from the elders of my family. That was a natural exercise which I took for granted. My parents and grandparents used to tell us: “Do this and that in a German manner”, which meant to do it as better as possible and leaving no room for superficiality, if possible.

I did not get upset hearing that around me. On the contrary, I tried to do my best to meet the “German” standards defined by the family adults. Year by year, I tried to understand what the “German manner” means and why my parents and grandparents were so keen on repeating that.

They were ordinary peasants with a solid set of values. They often told us that measuring twice and cutting once is something that can help us carry out the work properly. That was quite hard to understand at that age, but little by little I got used to the meaning. They actually wanted to make us aware of how important is to focus on the job properly to be able to then achieve the results you wanted or hoped for.

My parents built the house by themselves. There was no money for hiring people to do such a major project. The men in the house were skilled enough to handle complicated tools to make a window or a door. There was actually a sort of oral culture of building a house, inherited from a generation and conveyed to the next one. Nothing was written and I did not see any plans on paper with a mock-up or a model of the house at a smaller scale. The men got help from the relatives and the house was ready in some weeks, as I was told. And it is still in use today.

My parents in August 1953

My parents in August 1953

Talking about the German manner of doing different jobs around the house, I saw my father and grandfather making a carriage or building a grape crusher. At winter the women spent a lot of time in the loom combining colours and different types of stiches to prepare the textiles needed in house. We did not buy our clothes. Apart from the school uniforms, the clothes were homemade. Later on, this job was not performed in house any longer. With the economic developments of the following years, my family preferred to do the same as the other people did and bought modern clothes from the village shop or elsewhere. The tradition of making clothes in house died little by little.

During the 60’s, in my village it was common practice to make the food in house by using ingredients coming from your own animals and garden. Storing and preserving vegetables, fruits, cheese, meat and others was a priority of those times to make sure that the family needs are covered during the winter and spring until the next crops are ready in summer and autumn. Any family managing well that exercise was seen by the local community as a model of parsimony and welfare.

It happened to open the door to some neighbours who asked for some food provisions at the end of the winter. They were always helped. My grandmother used to say: “We shall never get in such a situation! This proves that they were either unable to make the right amount of provisions or they ate too much without thinking of the following day!”

The time to get familiar with the community rules and habits, in other words with the local culture, came quickly as soon as I went around. There were a lot of things to learn by heart: from the compulsory greetings when seeing someone on the road or street to the weekly visit to the church.

Forgetting to greet someone would have been a huge mistake; something immediately reported to our parents. And that happened often, I must admit. When we were children at an early age, we were too focused on our games.

I grew up in these cultural settings and tried to understand the little world around me in the village. My first steps to getting familiar with the community rules, habits and beliefs prepared me to get ready to extend the world around me and therefore to understand it and make the first tolerance exercise. I realised that the path to developing cultural understanding and tolerance starts at home.

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