“Multicultural Monday” is a space where I introduce other Australian families of mixed and diverse backgrounds and their version of what it means to be Australian.
Opening the conversation leads to the understanding that multiculturalism is not a concept easily defined but a way forward for modern Australian society to accept and understand differences in race, religion and culture. Following the feature on Emma, in this instalment, Angela from School of Mum candidly talks about her strict Orthodox upbringing, introducing her future Australian, Catholic husband to her parents and the great lengths she takes to cook Egyptian cuisine…like her mum’s!
Raised as an Egyptian Australian, what were some of the major Egyptian cultural rituals your family observed and how did they clash or just differ to every day Australian life?
The biggest one was Christmas. We celebrate Christmas too as Coptic Egyptians. But we celebrate it on the 7th of January. Growing up, we would go to Church on Christmas Eve and leave around midnight to gather at a family member’s house for a feast of food. Yes we ate dinner at 1am! Then the next day we would meet somewhere to feast on the leftovers. I always tried to avoid telling people that we had Christmas on the 7th of January, because children automatically assumed that it ‘must not be Christmas’ but something else that we celebrated.
You said that your parents weren’t initially impressed when you brought home your (future) Australian husband. How did you manage both your husband and your family’s cultural differences? Did you have to play “mediator” a lot? Was there a lot of explaining as to why the other party did certain things?
My parents were never going to be impressed with who I brought home. I was the baby of the family and my father’s only daughter. They were always going to be a tough crowd to please. Luckily my husband has one of those natures that are so likeable, that it is very difficult to hold anything against him. He didn’t take long to win my parents over. He has always been open to our cultural difference, not just with acceptance but with ENJOYMENT. He loves the food, the celebrations, everything. And that is so important.
It’s more than just being ‘tolerant’. The cultural mish-mash of events that took place in the course of our engagement period were both funny and terrifying to me. Some of them were the simplest of things, like my parents forgetting to give Steve a knife and fork when we ate – I don’t know why, but Egyptians tend to eat with spoons or their hands.
Then there was the countless “Pardon? What was that?” as the language barriers posed a threat to people actually getting to know each other. Or of course, when my dad tried to translate Egyptian phrases into English except the exact translation didn’t sound quite right. For example, instead of saying that someone shouldn’t talk rubbish, my Dad said, in his best, words-of-wisdom voice, “Shit. It should never come from the mouth” Steve laughed so hard at this while my dad looked utterly confused as to why this was so funny but pleased he had amused him so. It’s now a staple phrase in our house.
They are both really similar fundamentally and we support each other and attend both as a family. It gives us the opportunity to expose both faiths to our children and give them the richness of tradition that both provide.
How do you bring your Egyptian culture to your children?
It’s difficult. Living rurally makes it hard. I try to take them to church when I can and Tom is starting to pick up some Egyptian words when around my parents. We will never miss an Orthodox Christmas so they are lucky to have the best of both worlds with copious amounts of food and family time, twice!
My mum sends me Egyptian food ingredients because I can’t find anything here and I call her and she describes to me how to cook it. I don’t cook to recipes and neither does she so it’s all “A dash of this and a bit of that” It never tastes as good as hers but it’s good enough and the house always smells awesome!
What is your definition of a multicultural Australia? And how do you hope it will serve your children and their multicultural backgrounds?
I want my children to believe in harmony not tolerance. To me the ideal multicultural Australia is one where we are fascinated by other cultures, their foods and their way of life. We don’t necessarily need to participate in their traditions, but just be in awe of diversity, rather than thinking of ways we can all ‘accept’ it. I want my children to be friends with people from as many different cultures and religions as possible. Life’s too short and the world is too big to only experience one way of life.
Would you like to be featured on “Multicultural Monday”? Feel free to email me at: email@example.com
Angela’s Photos by: Clare Metcalf