Globe Trotter: Valentine’s Day all over the World!

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Roses are red, love is in the air, it’s Valentine’s Day! And to celebrate this lovely – … – opportunity to spend time with those we cherish, Babel Tower Keepers invite you to join them on a cruise from Oceania to Africa, from South America to Europe, to discover what the 14th of February looks like in Australia, Benin, Costa Rica, Honduras and France!

 

th-2.jpegAUSTRALIA, by Siobhan Reardon

I’m sure people are expecting something extremely interesting when it comes to dating in Australia. Maybe riding to the location of the date on the back of a kangaroo? I’m sorry to say that this is not the case. When it comes to, pretty much everything, Australia mostly follows the rest of the world. 

As in other countries, when it comes to a heterosexual couple, the man is usually expected to pay for the date (however as society becomes more progressive I would say this is definitely changing). It’s also looked highly upon if he takes the woman to the date and, if this is the case, he is expected to drive her home as well. Other than these things, there isn’t really a special event or gesture that is made by either partner on a date in Australia. 

One thing that is different between dating in Australia and other countries is how dates are generally a lot more laid back and casual. I think people are a lot more open to group dates than in other parts of the world, say like the USA, most likely just to make people feel more at ease in a dating environment. Honestly, the dating scene is pretty relaxed in Australia and is primarily based on what makes the couple comfortable and happy, rather than conforming to a kind of idealised image of dating. It’s, honestly, pretty simple, I would say. 

 

th-4.jpegBENIN, by Iman Eyitayo

I’ve never celebrated Valentin’s day, since I grew up in a city where, I think, nobody cared. I only learnt about that celebration though TV and books, and how people would give their loved ones chocolate, roses, or other kinds of gifts or rituals. I’ve often wondered why was that, and I have a double theory : first, most Beninese do not spend money on « unnecessary things » (so most commercial celebrations are not a « thing » back there), and second, we do not publicly express love. It’s sort of taboo, I think. For instance, the first thing that shocked me when I arrived in France later on was people touching and hugging and kissing in public : this was impossible where I come from. However, since we are being influenced by Western culture, if you happen to be in Benin at this time of year, inviting your loved one to dinner would not considered a bad thing : food is the best celebration you can find in my country, so every occasion to do so is celebrated !

 

th-5.jpegCOSTA RICA, by Pablo Castro

I think of two major environments when I think of Costa Rican couples: a festive party scene and a calm nature one.

Festivals, communal activities and loud bars allow couples to enjoy music in large cheerful crowds. It goes without saying that dancing is a central part of most of these outings. At Las Fiestas, yearly carnivals that travel around towns, the dancefloor is invaded by couples of all ages, ranging from awkward teenagers to experienced 80-year-olds. It is common knowledge that dancing skills are necessary for anyone trying to charm a partner, be it at a bar or at a relative’s wedding. Bachata is known to be the most sensual of dances and if someone invites you to the dancefloor when it plays, you can tell what his or her intentions are!

People who are less interested in crowds, may look for some of the many scenes of picturesque landscapes or simply surround themselves with some of the rich biodiversity the country offers. With many people living close to beaches, mountains and even volcanoes a date can often be a hike, a picnic or a simple sunset-watching session.

If you ever date in Costa Rica, then, be ready for a routine of Salsa, Merengue, stargazing and sunrises.

 

th-1.jpegHONDURAS, by Ana Catalina Espinoza

The red roses, absurd overuse of cologne, the DIY cards, and who knows even mariachis could get into the equation. Valentine’s day is either a day many are waiting to ask a girl to be their girlfriend or the day to make a grandiose declaration of love to your ‘already’ girlfriend. Hondurans are mad romantics that will gift you 100 roses on your first month-versary. But they could also just forget you birthday… so don’t get too excited. Valentine’s day can get cheesy. Back in the day, serenades were a very popular form to demonstrate a boy’s love for a girl. A serenade consists of a group of singing mariachis, which are singers, guitar players, accordion players and some other instruments as well. The magic of the serenade is to have it delivered to your house, you open your window to one of the most romantic gestures ever to exist. (I must admit I am a sucker for romantic musical gestures) The mariachis usually sing songs about how beautiful a girl is or how the man behind the gesture is madly in love with the girl. Now, the usual starter pack for Hondurans lovers includes red roses, a love note, and grooming up in your best formal clothes.

 

th-3.jpegFRANCE, by Camille Ibos

No matter the country in which I was travelling, I’ve always been greeted by people referring to Paris, capital of France, as the town of Love with a capital L. My Australian host sister kept calling Paris ‘la ville de l’amour’, and a Romanian friend joked that one could not tight their shoelaces in Paris without being thought of being proposing to the person in front of them. Another friend from Romania didn’t remember anything else from his French classes than ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?’, ‘Do you want to have sex with me?’. It’s true that in France, we take dating very seriously. It is common knowledge that the day after a first night together, the man of the couple ‘should’ buy a handful of croissants for his partner’s breakfast – which man should be in charge of the croissants in a gay couple, the story doesn’t say. In a country considering itself the ‘world center of gastronomy’, it’s no surprise that love and food often go hand in hand, and bringing breakfast to one’s partner is seen as a peak of cuteness and romanticism. For Valentine’s Day, it is a tradition to offer roses and a present, as well as to go to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Valentine’s Day being a huge thing in France, single friends often organize ‘alternative Valentine’s’ on that evening, and a harsh debate is still going on, on whether Valentine’s is nothing but a commercial celebration or is, on the other hand, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate love. Anyway, it’s at least an occasion to eat good food, and pâtisseries in Paris even offer to sell cakes two by two at this period of the year…

 

And you… how is it in your country? 🙂

Thoughts: Why Black Panther Mattered Against Under-representation

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« Some people wondered why Black Panther was such a fuss among Black people, and that all movies should be celebrated equally. I want to respond that I actually wish for them to never understand that whole fuss, because understanding it could mean that they have actually suffered from underrepresentation. »

You nailed it, I wore a Beninese traditional outfit to watch the Black Panther movie, even though the movie came out during the Canadian winter and that, since I couldn’t wear a warm coat, I had to freeze most of the way to the movie theater. The idea came from my brother and sister, and I wasn’t thrilled at first – it seemed very complicated. But, on the due date, the second I saw my sister in her outfit, I was so ready. I mixed up something and here I was, heading to the theater with my family and friends.

It was the most thrilling experience in my life. And I can’t even begin to describe it properly. The all Black cast, the story, the fun, the decors… Don’t get me wrong, the movie wasn’t the best Marvel I’ve watched, but it was the one that would mark a change in my life, and hopefully in my children’s life.

Why ? Because I was on the screen. Because I could be a hero. And because I would finally be able to find a cosplay that actually looked like me (meaning without looking completely ridiculous).

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In a traditional Beninese outfit. Credits: Iman Eyitayo

And why does it matter ? Well, most people, who do not have representation issue, can’t grasp the whole meaning of that question. Imagine being raised in a world where every movie star, every book, every manga and every TV shows only features people who didn’t look like you. It’s probably hard, right ? It is the life of most black people. Personally I grew up with books, films, series and cartoons that only features white characters. It’s not bad, really, but it never occurred to me, as I was growing up, that I could do all these things that my heroes were doing. It wasn’t even in my realm of the possible, in my reality. And even after I left my country, Benin, to come to France at the age of fifteen, it took me eight years just to realize that I could be a « successful » writer. And I only really realized that when I learned that Alexandre Dumas, one of my favorite authors and one of France’s big name of literature, was part Black.

Ps. For those who don’t know Alexandre Dumas, he is author of the three Musqueteers. He is also known for his interactions with his fellow authors at the time, who believed he had a ghost writer since he was writing way too fast. Nobody knows exactly if he had one or not, but according to my research (and Wikipedia), the term « nègre littéraire » which translate roughly to « literary negro » and actually means « ghost writer » was created for him, because of his origins and color. Recently the expression has been changed to « prête-plume », which is less racist and actually closer to the meaning of « ghost writer ».

So, Learning that Alexandre Dumas was part Black was such a shock to me that it actually took two tries for my brain to accept that. The first time I heard it, I denied it : it simply wasn’t possible (and if you think I have a problem, trust me, I told the news to all my Black friends and none of them believed me). It’s only the second time that I actually registered it. And it clicked. If he could be a writer, I could be, too. And you know what ? I’m a writer, today. But let’s imagine I never had that reality check ? I would have lived my whole life to the expectation of society : invisible, silent. And that’s why representation matters. Because it allows children to picture themselves as heroes, whether in real life or not. It makes them feel like they actually matter. It allows them to dream.

So, next time someone tells you that representation doesn’t matter, tell them the story of a black girl who, despite being very educated (I got my baccalaureate at fifteen and got three master degree), didn’t know she could be an internationally renowned writer until she realized someone had done that way before her.

And To those who will say that they know of many black successful writers and start naming them, I have to say this : if you are able to name them all, that means there aren’t that much actually. I couldn’t name all the white successful writers in history if I could, because it’s not something that « happens » from time to time for the world, it’s a reality. And that’s what we need : a new reality. In books, on TV, everywhere. We need to represent all sorts of people so that they can feel, from an early age, « real », capable, accepted in society : well, normal.

 

Credits for the photo at the top: https://teaser-trailer.com/movie/black-panther/