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Bo · writes


The blinding feeling of kinship

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Ravelry( the center of the knitting universe, in case you were wondering) was talking like mad about the sweater Sara Lund from The Killing wears in her fabulous detective series from Denmark.

I followed an impulse and bought the first season, and I'm blown away. You know why?

Because nearly every male actor I've seen on that series looks like my brother, or my uncle, or grandfather, or anyone from my mother's family. The foreheads, the cheekbones, the way their tall lanky bodies move. My mother's family is from Frisia, which is in the North Netherlands, not too far from Denmark, actually.

It's made me realize how different American and English faces are, as well as body language and culture. I watch so much TV from the US and quite a lot from the UK, since a small country like the Netherlands doesn't produce that much, and frankly, not always of the highest quality. Beside the point, probably.

It's the faces, and the bodies, and the body language. I love that recognition. I just love watching people who look like me and my family. It moves me. I feel more emotionally connected to what happens. The landscape, the light.

And at the same time, the Danish language provides  a little veil, which makes the similarities easier to see. When I watch Dutch TV, I'm so overloaded with the flood of information on their accents and looks, which tell me everything about their regional background and education and religion that it takes away this blinding feeling of kinship.

And now I'm wondering what it's like to be always watching people who don't look like yourself on screen. Because I think it distances you, makes it seem unreal, and yet TV is so real. If you don't look like the people you see on TV every day, what does it do to your self image? Do you still feel real?

And, to inject a dose of reality in here, I'm aware I'm talking about people of Northern European descent, who although they live in different countries, are no more than 500 miles apart. Yes, I  live in a country where most everybody is white and has lived there for centuries if not millennia.

But what is it like for someone who lives in a country with people from another continent? How big is the difference then? Bigger and deeper than the disconnect I feel when watching US TV, I bet.

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On April 2nd, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC), evilrooster commented:
Sometimes these intimate realizations that are the most jarring, aren't they?

I had a similarly odd experience when I first moved to Edinburgh from California, and discovered that I couldn't tell some of my Scottish colleagues apart. They were all from the same gene pool, and my face-distinction parser was expecting more ethnic variety.

Would you mind if I linked to this?
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On April 2nd, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC), bnbalder replied:
Yes, it was intimate and jarring and surprising - I hadn't realized it mattered. I'm just now beginning to understand what people in the US were always telling me, how European I looked.

And go ahead and link this, sure!
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On April 2nd, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC), lindenfoxcub commented:
I can't say I've ever had that experience. I'm a mutt from manitoba, canada, with ancestors of german, ukranian, english, a bit of albanian, apparently, and somewhere in the german, there's mixed in some Irish gypsy (pavee) blood. In canada they stopped caring who your ancestors were when you got married a long time ago, and I think the vast majority of manitobans are of mixed ancestry. I'm 5th or 6th generation canadian, depending on which side of the family you're looking at.

I can't even imagine living in a place where everyone is as similar as you describe. My first reaction is to think it might be a bit boring after a while. Here, I find, part of getting to know someone is learning what their ancestry is, whether or not they identify with it, and what effect it's had on their personality and beliefs.

But there's also the non-ethnicity related sub-groups of people, and I think maybe the diversity in the area, and the fact that we do not group ourselves by ethnicity and therefore have those types of belonging, partly drives the formation of groups like sports fans, con-going geeks, techies, goths, etc, to group more tightly than otherwise. Instead of having similar facial features to identify one another, they'll identify one another by features they can control, like clothing or makeup. They'll even talk differently; when I'm around my family, I have to remind myself that they won't get my techie jokes and code words, and obscure references to genre tv shows. I don't know, I've never seen a study done on it.
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On April 2nd, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC), bnbalder replied:

Well, it was the first time I had this experience as well, and I hadn't expected to be so moved by it. I have no special desire to be around people who look like me, at least, not in my head. So being moved by it feels surreal...
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On April 6th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC), bnbalder replied:
Another, less sleep-deprived answer. I think what you describe is where the Netherlands, and probably all of Europe, is heading. Identification by non-ethnic subgroup.
But don't think that NL is now divided by ethnic subgroup ( recent immigrants probably excepted). Our divisions used to be by religion ( Catholic/Protestant, to name the biggest 2 ), and not at all by ethnic subgroup. Although they might be visible on our faces for the very, very discerning person, we're generally just white mid-to Northern Europeans. Dress, walk, public behavior choices distinguish the Dutch more than anything else, although we do tend to be taller and blonder than our more southern neighbouring countries.
When we meet, it's indeed pointless to ask about our ancestry. Not a thing we commonly do. Since one either can tell/guess ( recent immigrants) by name/looks, or the looks aren't distinguishable...Or perhaps even not considered quite pc.
Interesting thought, that. While in CN it's obviously the thing to do...
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On April 2nd, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC), jonesiexxx commented:
When I lived in Charlottesville, VA for grad school everyone was white or black. It's a large town in the southern U.S. The only reason people go there from outside is the university. So the people who live there permanently look the way they've looked since the seventeenth century.

That freaked me out a little. It seemed so narrow. According to the UN, Toronto has the highest number of ethnicities in the world. (I heard that datum years ago, so possibly someplace has surpassed us, but you get the drift). When I walk down the street I expect every complexion, bone structure, colouring, dress code, height, hair texture, eye shape that ever developed after the spill out of Africa millions of years ago. It's my norm.

When I visit Europe, I'm struck by how homogenous people look. But what really got to me last time was the art in the Rijkmuseum. Seeing people on the street, moving, cycling, talking gesturing was one thing. Looking at paintings that froze a moment in time, and in that moment every face looked related... that blew me away. The bone structure, the absence of aquiline noses, the fair hair and skin. It was overwhelming. Not in a bad way or a good way. Just so palpable.

I can understand being moved by feeling at home when at some level you didn't realize you'd been away. That would happen to me in Charlottesville when I'd run into another Jew. Or in Toronto when I'd come home on holiday from grad school. You just breathe in a different way. It's freer, more relaxed, more intimate. You didn't know you were holding back. And life was good. And you love people who aren't you. All that... But going "home" again? It's soothing and fulfilling in a visceral, atavistic way.
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On April 3rd, 2011 10:28 am (UTC), bnbalder replied:
Thanks for understanding exactly what I meant! Seeing those faces satisfies a visceral need I didn't know I possessed...
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On April 4th, 2011 10:02 pm (UTC), meko00 commented:
Hi there!

I haven't actually seen any of The Killing/Forbrydelsen, even if I have had the opportunity twice over on tv. I've just been out of tv-series watching on tv, having to follow a schedule and everything. Ahem. Of course I know what you mean, watching Danish television, even more intensely than you, perhaps, seeing as I'm genetically Danish (mostly, my motherx3 came from up north + my region was Danish until 1658 and it's not as if my ancestors had much reason to travel far and not come back unless the sea took them, which she did from time to time) and the fact that I understand most Danish dialects (some on Jutland aren't that easy).

Actually, for me it's the landscape and the light that touches me most... even though it's nice to see people that look more or less like me, too. Though, of course, even ethnic northern Europeans can look really different from each other, including the various Scandinavian subgroups (Eric Christian Olsen on NCIS: Los Angeles is ridiculously Norwegian-looking, and it would be impossible for me to see him as anything else, despite the fact that he apparently doesn't speak the language after three generations in the US). It's... we're always told that we need more diversity on tv, so on Swedish tv we mostly get foreigners of various hues and Swedish people that don't look like me. Of course, I'm rather prosaic and deeply rooted to the land, but I personally have a hard time feeling that I oppress other people simply by being white. I kind of need to absorb all the sunlight I possibly can. ;-)

Of course, meeting and seeing people that look nothing like you at all sometimes makes it easier to see universal human properties, even though it often is less of a struggle to decode facial expressions and body language if you've been exposed to them before. I do think that the bigger issue might be cultural differences, though I don't really know.

I think lindenfoxcub might be onto something about subgroups, above. I've never really felt the urge to join a community based on interests, I've just never felt I belonged in the ones I've tried... though I've always thought my left-handedness was the issue. Maybe it's rather my strong connection to the landscape? Or both? Hmm...
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On April 6th, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC), bnbalder replied:
Yes, I know what you mean about Northern European subgroups. I can see if someone has Frisian ( more the Norwegian type), Saxon ( germanic, English upper classes) or just general northern.
But I didn't know my mother's family's type was Danish/(Jute?).
Thinking about communities. SFF fans, writers. I would like to belong, but I don't feel I have that much in common with the Dutch kind, more with the US/CN/UK kind.
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On April 7th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC), meko00 replied:
Well, I'm not sure we know what happened to the Jutes, to be honest. Some went off to the British Isles mainly because the peninsula is too flat and covered in sand, and some probably were absorbed by the Danes. Some of my heritage is from Jutland, but it's hard to tell what kind. But from that current photo of yours, you do look really, really Danish, not all that unlike me, actually. Hee. Although of course there are lots of Danes who don't look that way. Or at least slightly different.

Hmm. Maybe the Dutch writers/fans are too insular? Maybe the geekiness gets more pronounced among people from a common background, the US/CAN/UK/AUS being more diverse?
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On April 5th, 2011 12:44 am (UTC), ayinhara commented:
I've only lived in the U.S., so I'm fairly used to a non-homogeneous population. However that said, the first time we traveled to the American Southwest, we felt like we were in a foreign country because the population mix is different there. In Santa Fe, the population was divided into Anglo, Chicano and Indian. That certainly did not look like NYC.

I've never found a population that looks like I could disappear into it. That must be an interesting experience.
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On April 6th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC), bnbalder replied:
Yes, exactly! Apparently human beings have a kind of population mix meter in their brain that makes them notice when the mix changes. I've noticed that before, that the more north I go in my country ( which still has a lot of the population mix it used the have the past thousand years) I can see the people getting blonder and taller and more like me.
But, that said, I'd never experienced a population that looked that<\i> much like me. Maybe I have Danish roots....
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