Gypsy Culture: Learning from the Romani

  Watching the non-documentary, Gypsy 83, for research purposes?  I must be a writer.  Research is essential to the book writing process.  No matter how much you DO know about a topic, you must garner as much outside information about subjects before writing the novel.  (Of course, that is both personal preference and my creative process.)  Some writers like to “fly by the seat of their pants” and just write the story…seeing where it takes them. The writing community dubs these authors “pantsers.”


The polar opposite, I am a “plotter,” though I do heed those unplanned visitations of the muse.  Plotting is anything but glamorous.  Instead of penning random hare-brained ideas into a novel, I feel more freedom for creativity in a workable structure.  Before I type that first word on the page, I want to know exactly how my story will end.  I even want to know what happens in the next book (or two) of the series.  My research files are mostly completed.  My summary outline weaves story threads from start to finish.  My characters morph into unique entities.  They tell me when and what to change about their personality.  I listen.  They are in charge.  Without them, there IS no story.  


My excuse for watching this 90s flick is directly related to one of my characters-in-progress. I searched for a streaming Netflix film that featured a Gypsy (Romani) woman, and none of my desired films were available.  I settled for Gypsy 83.  Though I was not impressed with the portrayal of the Romani, I garnered some inspirations through the dialogue and unexpected settings.   That notepad and pen captured my scrawls for my story revisions list.


This week, I began my research into the Rom (or Romani) culture.  I was only aware of their derogatory term “gypsy.”  Images of a psychic palm-reader distorted my perceptions of this populace.  I understood very little behind the Romani culture. As I began digging deeper into my studies, I uncovered five fun tidbits for you:


  1. Cats are taboo.  In Romani culture, some animals are also considered impure, for instance cats because they lick themselves.
  2. Don’t clip your toenails. Fingernails and toenails must be filed with an emery board, as cutting them with a clipper is a taboo according to the Hindu purity laws adapted by the Rom.
  3. Rom Version of the Godfather. In Roma communities in the United States (and still in Chicago), the rom baro is the tribal leader. Qualities expected of a rom baro include wealth, an aggressive wife, a large family, and a willingness to speak out and help.  
  4. Picnics in the Cemetery. At the turn of the twentieth century it was the custom for many Chicago families to spend their Sundays picnicking on or near the graves of departed family members.
  5. Method of Protest:  Flamenco.  The gypsies were known at “the lost flamencos after the Flemish Wars. They were forced to work as entertainers for the wealthy. Flamenco turned into a sort of protest music by the gypsies. The women danced with stern faces, not making eye contact or turning to face the audience. And the foot-stomping and guitar-pounding was not to keep time, but a sign of disrespect.


Are you a part of the Romani culture?  If not, just remember not to give a kitty as a birthday gift to a Rom friend.