‘Always fresh cake’: on ethnography and the ‘exotic’

Ethnography, anthropology, classically brings the distant, the strange, the unusual to audiences and tries to lay it out to them, explain, represent, and make make sense for


In my own work, the women I am working with are confronting the strange, unusual, new, everyday, as am I for that matter


In England, a ‘cunt’ is a vagina, but in Glasgow a ‘cunt’ is just a person?


Migration problematises ideas of the alien, the local, the ‘indigenous’ culture, as people in one place daily negotiate the new, the unusual, the ‘exotic’


Dad! The beaches are like in Spain! I’d never been that far fae Glasgow before


As myriad cultural practices, values, and meanings are made and expressed on the same streets, buildings, cities, the familiar is thrown into strange light in relation to the strange, and vice versa


I am not a hen! I am a human!


Perceptions nudge what is normal to a place where it must be explained in order to make sense. Our previous experiences shape our current existences


I think younger people learn like that. If you are older it is more difficult


So, if I am locating my field sites within the historical study of anthropology and its roots in the ‘exotic’, then my argument would be that migration makes seemingly ‘ordinary’ places – from my Western, city-living perspective at least – become extra-ordinary


If nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?

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I might add too, that I have crossed the border from England for the first time in my life to find a new nest in which to settle for a while, and so in fact, as a friend of mine keeps jokingly pointing out:

you live in a different country now! They’ve got funny money and everything!


I am also aware of myself in relation to Glasgow given past relations between the country I hail from and the country I now live in. This shows that a historical perspective on who we / I / you / they are is an important one if we are to understanding feeling in the present


I have a habit of imitating (fairly successfully if a little over-simplistically I’m told) accents from around the world, but when I came to Glasgow on holiday years ago (that fateful holiday that made me fall in heady, giddy, exciting, unexpected love with the city), I felt that, by default of being English, any rudimentary / exaggerated imitations of ‘the Scottish accent’ might not be altogether terribly welcome


Safe to say, I only did the accent in the perceived ‘safety’ of the hotel room. By that I don’t mean the streets were unsafe, rather that this element of my identity in relation to the city I was holidaying in had an effect on the way I felt in that place, which I hadn’t experienced before


So what is exotic? What is local? How far do we have to travel to find something ‘out of the ordinary? What even is ‘the ordinary’? What about the rituals our everyday lives are punctuated by?


You have this wonderful ritual with the tea…taking time, to talk and sit…and there is always fresh cake!




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