Monday, July 19, 2004

Traditional dress and a p.s. on language

There was a pleasant surprise in the mail today. My sister, ever encouraging of my linkage* to my home country, sent a colorful little text on Polish folk culture.

From the point of view of an American, I suppose folk culture is quaintly foreign. I don’t even know what it means to recognize American folk culture – I would probably associate it with Woody Guthrie folk songs and Old World Wisconsin Outdoor Museum, though that’s a cheat since much of the folk traditions on display there are direct imports from European countries.

But for a Pole, folk culture has rich associations: it’s Highland music and dance, colorful religious processions, painted houses and wooden carvings. It’s sculptured gingerbread, thatched cottages and delicately designed Easter eggs. And it’s traditional regional dress.

You have no idea how much I loved my very own Polish outfit. I wore it at every opportunity – anytime you were asked to wear a costume or dress up, there I’d be, dressed in my full flowered skirt with a ribboned apron and my beaded vest over a starched cotton blouse with puffy sleeves. [The shoes were never quite right, but I’ve already posted about the odd shoe choices of my youth.] It was a long time before I understood that this was perhaps not what was expected for Halloween trick-or-treating.

I copied just one or two pictures of traditional dress from the Folk book and I appended my own photo from a 1959 party in Poland. It is a forerunner to the clash of cultures that was to be mine in a matter of months. My friend Janek is the cowboy. Me, I’m proud as anything to be in my own little heaven of  lustrously shiny beaded flowers and ribbons. Bliss.
* A famous blogger recently deplored the use of “linkage” and “signage” in everyday speech (here), arguing that they provide no additional benefit that would cause one to abandon the old stalwarts, links and signs. Having learned English later in life than 95% of the people reading this blog, I have to say that my hypersensitive-to-nuance understanding of it (fueled by the late-bloomer complex) leads me to respectfully disagree.  And I am using linkage here to exactly demonstrate my point. Linkage, to me,  bespeaks of a series, a system, with a common thread running through it. The same can be said of signage. It’s not just signs, it’s the signage in a given town or along a certain path. It’s the signage, not the pavement or the trees that grow by the roadside. This is a classic case of a word having an almost identical meaning but setting for you a different idea because of the context. In my sentence, nothing works as well as linkage – not links nor link. They would be okay, but linkage tells more – it emphasizes the system of links that I have to Poland. Or at least that is what my slow and shade-sensitive learning leads me to envision for the words under fire.

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