Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: Do you have any cheesecloth?
Scottish lady: Cheesecloth?
Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: For wrapping my Christmas cakes.
Scottish lady: Ah, muslin squares! I think we have two packages left. I'm making my cakes this week. What do you soak yours in?
Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: Brandy.
Scottish lady: Oh, I find brandy too bitter. I use port.
Scottish husband of Canadian lady: I like port.
The conversation had a slightly rocky start as I asked for the Canadian "cheesecloth" instead of the local "muslin squares." However, you will notice that the woman knew at once what I meant by wrapping my Christmas cakes, and that she herself was making them. It was all very chatty because Scots are chatty and obviously we had something in common. We have something in common with thousands of women all over Scotland in that we were making a traditional British Christmas treat that has to sit around in booze for weeks on end. Also, of course, we speak English, celebrate Christmas, are open to small talk about our domestic baking, wear ordinary western dress and had our faces uncovered in public. Our discourse was--despite my colonial diction--friendly, easy and celebrated sameness even more than diversity. I use brandy; she uses port. But the fact is, we both make Christmas cake.
[Update: Thanks to an email from a reader, I realize I should explain that what I find so amazing in this is that it is increasingly unlikely I would have such a conversation with a woman in a shop back home. I imagine a third-generation Lebanese-Canadian in my parents' intensely diverse neighbourhood would have a similar feeling of epiphany and connection in Lebanon. When I write about these issues, I am doing it from the point of view of a person whose home neighbourhood is in constant cultural flux and who is now an ethnic minority in that neighbourhood..]
Of course, I was educated in extraordinarily diverse Toronto, so I do value diversity. I think that it is okay to have highly multicultural towns and countries as long as there are also relatively monocultural towns and countries. How boring--and non-diverse--it would be if all towns and countries were as multicultural as Toronto and Canada--although possibly boring is not the word I want.
For example, despite the fact that it is over 90% Catholic is due to a hideous catastrophe wrought upon the country by invading foreigners, I think it is very interesting--and diverse--that Poland is such a Catholic country. (I have never been to a country so wedded to Catholicism as Poland, unless you count Vatican City.) There is a diversity to Poland's Catholicity, too. I will give two examples just from the past two days.
My Polish teacher writes monologues and dialogues about a Polish family of four, and the father is having some sort of mid-life crisis. In the monologue we were assigned for last night's class, the father reflects on a homily he has heard at Mass about how real love--love of family, love of Christ--is not like "Hollywood" love. After four years of class, this is the first time I have seen Chrystusa in a lesson, so I was quite thrilled. There are two Catholics-who-are-Catholics in Polish class, another Trad Mass-goer and I, and our classmates look somewhat blank as we answer the question "What do you do this weekend?" with "I went to church" or "We went to see our friends, who are nuns, in their abbey in the Isle of Wight." I can reassure the secular powers of Edinburgh Uni that our teacher is not evangelizing her post-Protestant and indifferent-Catholic students.
So I was thrilled again when our teacher played this song, whose title means "Be not afraid"--a phrase that should make any adult Catholic-who-is-a-Catholic think at once of Sw. Jan Paweł II:
So yesterday I mentioned the Polish Independence Day March in Warsaw, and it turns out I had friends among the 50,000 there. This was not a surprise. What was a surprise is that a young priest there gave a homily about preserving the Catholic nature of Poland and the Polishness of Poland with great noisy vigour, leading the crowd in such religio-patriotic slogans as "God, Honour, Fatherland." I've never heard a priest--let alone a young priest in a cassock--shout like that before. Here is a video of him:
"The Gospel, and not the Koran!"
Depending on how you feel about priests shouting and large crowds holding the same flag, you may find that video unnerving. Personally I am impressed that people care that much about their social cohesion, their ordinary life, and their freedom from the challenges of Islam. What shocks me so much about the "migrant crisis" is that what started as acute anguish and anxiety for the Christians and other religious minorities persecuted (e.g. robbed, raped, tortured, killed) by Islamists has become a flood of Islamic migrants into what remains of Christian Europe.
This is a scary T
Update: I have just received an outraged how-dare-you-you-are-not-a-Christian email from, I think, an American not up-to-date on the migrant crisis Europe is embroiled in. For one thing, she doesn't seem to realize that the migrants aren't all refugees. (I have linked to the most sympathetic-to-the-migrants article I've found so far.) Just a reminder that I usually publish comments of people who disagree with me, as long as the language is suitable and you all don't call me names.
Update 2: Incidentally, I am sympathetic if you are shocked to your marrow at the idea of a country not wanting to take in people very much different from themselves. The majority of my readers are in Canada and the United States, and so most of us come from immigrant stock. We're used to the "Here comes everybody" approach to nation-building; at least, we're used to it in Toronto. What we're not so used to, of course, is open provocation and challenge of what turns out to be bedrock values shared by almost--but only almost--all the other ethnic/religious groups. And that said, what has hitherto worked for Canada and the USA will not necessarily work for European or Asian or African countries.
Update 3: Also, I will point out that there is a difference between a refugee who has the good fortune to get to a safe (if not ideal) place like peacetime Turkey or even Greece or Italy, and the one who leaves the safe space to seek his fortune elsewhere. Once you cross from safe country to safe country to safe country, you're not usually a refugee anymore. This is why I have donated to charities working in the Middle East but not, for example, in Calais.
Update 4: Speaking of France, a terrorist attack is taking place in Paris right now.