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How to tell if you're a middle-class ethnic Charyan from
started this by presenting an encapsulation of American culture. Others in
the series are about French culture, Scottish culture, Brazilian culture, Finnish culture
culture. It's a compact, if not completely serious way of
characterizing the average features of a culture...
If you're a middle class ethnic Charyan from Broi
- You first and foremost belong to your clan. Your clan will help you
when you're in trouble, offer hospitality when you are travelling, help
you educate your children and give you a name and gods to be proud
- You're familiar with Magistrate Hamal, Emperor Murzi and other
legendary figures from street theatre, which you're immensely fond of.
You know the Brother and Sister of the Kirimanya, and pray to them, and
you know a lot of the currently popular gods. You know who the current
emperor is, and who his
favourite concubine. You might have heard the names of the most
important families in the country, the lua Erlo, lua
Nyria and a few others. For the rest, you might have heard the
names of other important people at court, but you wouldn't want to be
familiar with them.
- You know that some rich children play games in groups with a ball,
but you're shocked at such a waste of time. There are also people who
train with swords and sticks on the training field near the theatre, but
those are dubious folks.
- You count yourself fortunate if you can eat meat once every nine
days, if you can stop working when evening falls, and if you can afford
to celebrate the major festivals.
- You detest eunuchs, soldiers and merchants and think priests are a
dubious lot. You hope you will be able to get a job as a clerk with a
merchant or a rich priest, but until that time, you may work as a street
seller yourself, or have a trade like baker or whore. Maybe your
children, or your grandchildren will be able to get an appointment as a
civil servant at the Emperor's court.
- You think that most problems can be solved with a little patience
and the help of the gods.
- You don't trust doctors. You're afraid of people who claim they can
do magic. You do trust astrologers, but not to the extent of blowing
money on their forecasts.
If you died tonight...
- You're sure to have believed in the gods, prayed to them and sacrificed to
- If you're poor, your body will be sold or stolen to cook glue from,
or to make soap from or for other purposes. If you're not poor, your
body will be cremated and the ashes dumped in the harbour.
- You know you will go the afterworld where Yergorn reigns. If you've
been decent to the people you've met during life, you will be welcomed
as a friend. If you've cheated, murdered or denied help to people, the
pre-deceased will punish you.
- If you've been murdered you will be a spirit until your relatives
have avenged the murder. You can help with that. As soon as your
murderer has died, he will be in your power to torment until it bores
- Your children will pray to you, and if your descendants keep it up,
in the fullness of time, you might become a god yourself.
- You will have been abysmally poor twice or thrice in your life, and
been moderately affluent just about as often. You will have had direct
experience of war, famine and epidemics, divine wrath and sheer injustice. You
will also have seen outrageous generosity, admirable follies, exuberant
love and divine miracles.
- Your possessions, such as they are, will be shared by your partners
and your children. If you were rich, you would have needed a will to
Your next meal
- There's a fairly large chance you can be sure that you'll be able to
afford two meals, today, and tomorrow too. But you've gone hungry before
- when the emperor messes up again, or because your purse was stolen or
just because of a bad day.
- You consider food bought at street stalls dear, but it's cheaper
than cooking yourself, unless you've got a family of two spouses and a
- Children are very important to you. Everyone spoils their children,
and other peoples children. Killing a child is the ultimate crime.
Pregnant women are almost sacred.
- You don't consider humans, rats or milk food, but everything else is
- You might kill your own food, if you're lucky enough to have a
backyard where you can raise a few chickens, a goat or perhaps even a
- Your water is supplied by the nearest lauye, or public
fountain, and you assume that it is fit to drink.
- But mostly you prefer wine or small beer, made from bread soaked in
water with honey. Tea is a luxury, and you've heard about
- The biggest meal is at evening, after sunset. You'd expect some
bread, wine, fruit and perhaps a bowl of soup or a dish of stewed or
fresh vegetables. Meat only once a week, and it will most probably from
the extremities, the skin or the innards of a pig or chicken.
- Being clean is important, and you go to the bathhouse daily, if you can afford
it. In the better quarters, like Nenyra and Heaven on the Mountain there
are free bathouses, founded by rich people. In the poorest places there
are no bathhouses - people might even have to do without a
lauye. If there isn't a free bathhouse in the vicinity, and you
have money for only one of two, you will take a bath instead of taking
breakfast. You know there are people who have baths in their own houses.
One day, you will be rich enough to afford one, too.
- You will most probably live in a rented room or apartment, but if
your family is large, you might have your own house. It will have two or
three stories, but probably no inner court - that's for rich people, who
might have several. At the front there will be a porch where you can sit
with guests. There will be a large room with the family altar and a
cooking place. Bedrooms upstairs. The bedrooms on the third story,
you'll try to rent out.
- There's no source of water in your house, and just a bucket to collect
the night soil in. It will be collected in the morning by the dung
- You walk barefoot over the dirt-covered streets, so, as soon as you
enter your house, a shop, a tavern or a brothel, you wash your
- You own the maile on your
back, and perhaps one or two to spare. If you've got a house and a
family, a small altar with statues and pictures of your favourite gods,
else you will have an altar scroll. A good, stout knife. Bowls, spoons
and knifes. Perhaps some glassware.
- If you've got a place to cook, a pan, a large spoon, a chopping
board and a kitchen knife.
- Luxury items are the combs, the cheap jewelry and one or two
booklets with bits of poetry
you have been given, have inherited from your parents or have bought
yourself on an unusually good day.
- You spend your money, such as it is, on
rent, food, wine, buying flowers and presents for the gods and your
lovers, gambling and going to the theatre.
- From what remains after that, you might have saved some money, and you have shrewdly converted all the
copper to silver, since copper decreases in value all the time.
- The current emperor, Rordal, is a welcome change
from the previous sixteen madmen. He's a fool, but a real emperor. Of
course, you wouldn't want to have anything to do with him or his
- You don't pay taxes, but you know that if the tax gatherers come
along, you'll be beggared, if you're not murdered. It's probable that
your parents or grandparents fled from the countryside to Broi when the
imperial army burned and looted their village. You can't imagine a
- You don't know who governs the city. You know there are four
magistrates that hold court, and you keep away from them. Justice is
something you have to do yourself, helped by your clan. You haven't got
a clue what the magistrates are for nowadays, but in the golden days of
Magistrate Hamal, the magistrates cleverly caught and punished
- The streets are repaired by the owners of the houses on the streets.
The rich people who let lots of houses evade that duty, and while you
grumble about that, you know that it isn't going to change.
- The eunuchs rule the Friendly Society, and they are really
dangerous. They control the brothels, the gambling (a pity! there's
almost nowhere to go where there's a honest die rolled.) and trades in
luxuries you can't afford anyway.
- Your father or mother have probably taught you reading and writing.
If your clan was rich, and you were a promising child, they might have
sent you to a temple school, or put you in a group of clan children and
hired a teacher for you. If your parents were relatively well off, you
might have finished by studying a year with a scholar, who will have
taken you in his own house, where there would have been a couple of
- What you know of history, you've learnt from tales and theatre,
not at school. You don't know how long ago, exactly, the exodus was. You don't know what
year you live in.
- You know four or five languages. The
colloquial dialect your parents taught you, that is, the dialect of the
quarter where you were born. Denden to talk
with people who don't speak your dialect. A bit of Archaic Charyan (but
not much) for your prayers. Some classical phrases and a bit of the Broyan stage language so
you can follow the street theatre. And then, a bit of Matraian or
Barushlan or any of the hundreds of non-Charyan languages spoken by all
the other peoples in Broi, depending on whether they were your
neighbours or youth friends.
- The streets are full of other people, people who are not Charyans.
That reminds you of the days the Charyan empire had conquered the whole
world, and besides, strange as they might look like, most of them are
handsome or pretty, and good neighbours. And their customs bring a bit
of variety. The very white people from the north are ugly, though,
especially when they turn red. They even think they're Charyans, too.
You're afraid of Matraians as a lot, but the ones you know personally
are good people you can trust.
- You expect to marry before
you're twenty, and you marry because you love your partner. People can
marry two other partners, but there must always be both sexes
represented in a marriage. So, a man can marry a man and a woman, or
two women, while a woman can marry a man and a woman, or two men. Those
strange customs of your non-Charyan neighbours are manifestly
impractical. Who can earn enough to keep ten people in leisure, or when
you've got only one partner, who's to look after the children when one
person can't earn enough to keep a family?
- You go out in the streets wearing the traditional Charyan style of
clothing, and are proud of it. You make fun of those effeminate
Easterners with their elaborate robes. You don't go to the beach, the
sea is dangerous and wild. You don't mind people seeing you naked -
you're worth seeing, aren't you? But your head must be covered.
- When a man goes to bed with another man, they have fun. When a
woman goes to bed with another woman, they have fun, too. When a man
and a woman go to bed together, they will have slightly more fun,
because there's more variety in that bed. If you're married to two
other people, you make love all three together, and that's fun,
- A brothel is a place you go with your
marriage-partners or with your colleagues after sunset to have a good
evening, with or without meeting your favourite boy or girl. You wish
you could go more often.
Everybody knows that
- Most food is adulterated. But your personal fruit-seller, who grows
her fruit in an orchard in the city, can be trusted, and you've spent a
lot of time finding a good baker and a good wine-merchant.
- You get married by your nearest clan elder.
- Your children will start earning some money when they are eight or
nine. Or they will go out on the streets with some friends in a gang, and find their own food, and have a good
time, you hope.
- If you're a woman, you wear a navel-length maile, if you're a man,
a hip-length one. You try to always wear something on your head, be it
ever so simple.
- You've never had anything to do with big business or with the
government, the Gods be thanked, but you know you would need substantial
'presents' to get anywhere.
- Using werat to enhance your beauty is very dangerous, but
people who use it are beautiful.
- Gjivat (a kind of psycho-active incense) is completely
harmless. Cough, cough.
- Character will out. A beautiful person is a
good person, an ugly
person an evil one. Beauty is in regularity of features, softness
of skin and a pleasing manner. Plumpness can
be attractive too.
- When you get ill, or seriously wounded, you'll probably die. Your
parents will probably have died when they were about forty, and so will
you. There are elderly people, but they are very, very rare. Doctors
are ridiculous, and there aren't capable healers in the city, like
there are in the countryside. All you can hope for is a miracle,
- A woman will bear four to six times, and at least one of the
childeren will die before the first birthday, and another two won't
reach their fifth.
- You give what you can to the beggars you meet - you've probably
been a beggar too, once, and can become one again. All it needs is a
fire, a famine, a visit from the emperor's tax gathers or another
disaster. You might even have a couple of regular clients. Some might
have been brought to your attention by an earlier client, who knew
someone without a patron, while he had a few.
- You like bacon, when you can get it...
- Your boss can fire you when he wants - but he won't if you're good
at your work, or if you've got a few dependable friends to help you get
your own back.
- There are places in the city you won't go - not even with an armed
escort. And there are places you won't go alone. Chances are that
you've been robbed before.
Contributions to world civilisation
- This is a joke, isn't it? Everybody knows that Charya brought
civilisation to the world. Your people have the best poetry, paintings,
sculptures, music, theatre, gods and army.
- You have heard of Vustla, Wangla, Matrai, Barushla and the other
former dependencies, but apart from very general directions, you don't
know where they are, who rules them or anything. Your Matraian
neighbours don't know anything about Matrai either, and they
are Matraian themselves.
- Your country has never been conquered completely by a foreign nation
- but often by itself.
- You like to think you know something about wine, good food and
lovemaking, more than your neighbour, in any case.
- If you want to be a civil servant, you need someone to get you in,
and you need a good grounding in the classics. You must have some talent
for poetry, too. And you must be rich yourself, since the salary is
about enough to pay for the necessary presents.
- You'll patiently wait, drinking a glass of wine at a nearby terrace,
when you want to visit a friend, and he isn't home. You don't want to
leave a message.
- Except when visiting the closest of friends, you won't get further
than the porch, but neighbours can meet on their roof terraces.
- A lawyer? What's that? The last time there's been any legislation
was before the great famine, three hundred years ago.
illustration © 1999 Boudewijn
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