I cannot find Bisto* here, or any other kind of gravy for love nor money. I have even managed to find pretty good teabags, but no gravy. I know I may sound very boring, but I do miss Bisto, my food is not the same without it.
Here in Latvia Bisto has come to represent – difference.
The language is different. It makes me so dependent on other people. In the supermarket I can’t read the labels so have to ask complete strangers to confirm that I am buying what I think I’m buying. When I get the packets back home I have to ask Iveta, my long-suffering translator, to translate the instructions for me. The brand names are different. I can’t take comfort in the familiar brands of products, clothes etc, and confess to having gone to the Riga branch of Marks and Spencer’s (yes, there is such a thing!) to get a nostalgic ‘fix’ and, I’m ashamed to say, get the brand of tights I’m used to buying. The layout of the supermarket is different. Large and fully stocked, my local ‘Rimi’ does not have the regimented straight lines of shelving which I’m used to. Instead there are little nooks and crannies which surprise you as you wander around the shop.
None of this is meant to be a moan about Latvia, far from it. On the contrary it is my reaction and response to ‘different’ things which has surprised and alarmed me. I consider myself to be a fairly tolerant, flexible individual, but have found myself getting irritated, even angry, that things are not the same as I’m used to them being, or would like them to be. Frequently, I’ve found myself, at an emotional level, instinctively equating ‘different’ with ‘wrong’, although intellectually I know that such a response is ludicrous – and potentially dangerous.
Now I don’t want to get overly solemn about what is, after all, pretty trivial stuff in itself and very possibly part of the normal reactions of learning to live in a different culture. However, there are serious implications to all this. A I reflect, I have to ask myself if what I have discovered about myself is also, deep down, below the facade of politeness and political correctness, my real response to more significant differences that I encounter.
You’d expect me, as a Christian, to reflect theologically on this question. As I’ve been writing this, the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well recorded in the book of John (chapter 4) in the New Testament of the Bible comes to mind, along with the famous story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan recorded in Luke (chapter 10). In both of them, it seems to me, Jesus is at pains to point out that ‘different’ is not necessarily ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. The Samaritan woman was seen, even in her own cultural context as an outcast and ‘bad’, but Jesus saw her potential to be good – if different. In the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus challenges the preconceptions of his listeners. The ‘good’ familiar people become the ‘baddies’, and the ‘different’ person becomes the ‘goody’.
Hmmmm, food for thought here – a work in progress.
* For those of you who don’t know, Bisto is an icon of British cuisine, particularly the famous Sunday dinner!