Creating characters from ethnic backgrounds or cultures different than our own, or that we do not know well, can be difficult. Many of us hesitate to create characters that are too different than us out of fear of offending someone, getting things wrong, or accidentally promoting stereotypes. This often happens when people create Gypsy characters for films, novels, and songs. Here are a few things you may not know about Gypsy people.
Gypsies are a race of people, not a clothing style, lifestyle, or decorating style.
The people we call “Gypsy” are more correctly called “Romany.” Gypsy/Romany people originated in India, but have traveled for so many centuries, most Romany peoples’ dna originates from an area stretching between the Middle East and all over Eastern Europe. Most Rom identify as both Romany and of the country where the majority of their Romany ancestors settled. They may say they are Polish Gypsy or Hungarian Gypsy or Croatian Gypsy. A person can be Gypsy and also be someone who has never left their hometown.
Gypsies are not white people.
Television shows devoted to “gypsies” tend to show some Romany people, and some Irish people who are part of an Irish traveler society. The race of people we call “Gypsy” are not white people. They originated in India, and typically have the same brown skin, coarse, thick black hair, and dark or bright eyes we associate with people from India. Not all Gypsy people look this way of course, as appearance varies among Gypsies as much as it does among any other race of people. You can also be part Gypsy and part something else, or several things.
The stereotypes you probably learned about Gypsies result from centuries of discrimination.
Traditional Gypsy food is cooked outside over a fire. Real Gypsies have, and in some cases still do, lead a nomadic lifestyle. This is because they have not always been welcome in villages and towns. Gypsy fortune telling began to be practiced when the Gypsy people were prevented from making an honest living. That’s how we got the stealing, scamming, and cheating stereotypes as well.
All Gypsies are not okay with these less than honorable parts of their culture.
Every culture has made its contribution to the world. And every culture has added in some things the world would be better off without. Some people embrace some or all of the good in their culture, some people embrace some or all of the bad. Some brush off the bad, and some speak out against it. The same is true of Gypsy people.
There is a Gypsy language, called Romany.
Most Gypsy people do not speak it today. It contains several dialects, all of which are close to being dead. Most Romany people speak the language of the country their family settled in. If someone is Polish Gypsy, for example, they are more likely to speak Polish than Romany. The Romany language is also extremely difficult to learn.
Romany/Gypsy food is known to be heavy and to rely on meat.
Most people who have eaten Romany food do not report enjoying it much. It tends to be very heavy, and Gypsy people eat a lot of meat. The only well-known Romany dish seems to be Joe Grey Stew, a heavy, starchy, potatoes and meat concoction.
I have never tried Joe Grey stew. The only Romany food I have tried was a dish made by toasting a thick piece of bread over a fire, adding charred bacon, fat and all, then topping it with onions, green peppers, and cheese that are also allowed to toast and melt over the fire. That was tasty, but quite heavy.
Some Gypsies are not offended by the word “gyp,” though that is a racial slur.
The word “gyp” is commonly used to indicate a ripoff. Some Gypsy people use it too, and some are not offended by it. But it does originate from the word “Gypsy,” and is just as racist as using the N word before the word “rigged” to indicate something is set up for questionable purposes, or to use the word “Jew” as a verb meaning “talked into a much lower price.” As with any term originating from a racial slur, it is best to just use a completely separate term.
Romany people were one of the groups targeted by the Nazis for extermination during the Holocaust.
This is something that a lot of people do not know about the Gypsy people. They were rounded up and killed at the concentration camps along with Jews, gay people, and the disabled. Anyone from any category who dared stand up to the pure unfiltered evil that is nazism during Hitler’s reign was also killed.
There are Romany/Gypsy celebrities.
Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth, Charlie Chaplin, and of course, Django Reinhardt, were all of Romany descent. Modern celebrities who have mentioned being of Romany descent include Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones and actress Fairuza Balk.
You can attend Gypsy cultural festivals.
There are Gypsy/Romany festivals throughout the year. They are held across the United States. The New York Gypsy Festival was held on September 6-October 5 2018, in New York City. Djangofest Northwest is held in Washington state in the fall. There have been Romany cultural festivals in California in the recent past as well.
Gypsies are not necessarily pagans or new age practitioners, and “gypsy goddess” and other new age festivals and practices are not a part of real Romany culture.
The image of a Gypsy with a crystal ball and tarot cards telling your future is one of those stereotypes born from centuries of discrimination mentioned above. If you do happen to meet a Gypsy who practices any of these things, it’s a scam and the person knows it’s a scam.
Festivals titled “Gypsy Goddess” or books offering to teach you “Gypsy magick” are no more real than any other claims that you can be a goddess or turn yourself magic by reading a book. Most Gypsy people practice the religion of the people around them. A large percentage are Christians.
You read a Gypsy’s artists’ web site.
You’re reading it right now. My ethnic background is made up of Hungarian, Russian, Greek, Italian….and Gypsy. My grandfather on my father’s side, Steve Szabo, was a Hungarian Gypsy.