The numerous gypsy myths point to the issue that gypsies are a much misunderstood ethnic group. In some cultures – too many - they are looked down upon, scorned and ridiculed and shunned – including in my own country, the UK. This prejudice usually stems from us not really understanding them and that they live a different lifestyle to what most of us would consider “normal”. I’m going to try and dispel some of the gypsy myths here.
1. Myth - Gypsies Possess Supernatural Powers
One of the greatest universal gypsy myths is that the people possess supernatural powers, such as fortune-telling and cursing at will. Sure, some gypsies may possess the average seemingly psychic intuition of any other human who walks the earth, but they’ve no particular aptitude for fortune-telling. And as for the dark arts, apart from cursing up a blue streak, they’ve no inclination or ability to voodoo-curse their fellows. That being said, these silly superstitions about gypsies have largely been advantageous to the gypsy community, allowing the army-less group to defend itself through the ignorant fear of their counterparts. Some have even cultivated the myths and now tell fortunes in order to earn a living.
2. Myth - Gypsies Are Foreigners and Criminals
It’s astonishing how many jump to these conclusions, when the fact of the matter is that the gypsy “invasion” is no invasion at all. Gypsies have long been part of the societies and the historical foundation of the lands of which they inhabit. In Britain, for instance, gypsies have been around for 500 years. Many gypsies believe that inherently racist legislation is often passed to smother their traditional lifestyle. Interestingly, statistically, gypsies make up a low percentage of the prison population.
3. Myth - Gypsies Are Dirty
One wholly discourteous gypsy myth is that gypsies are dirty due to their nomadic lifestyle. In all actuality, the gypsy culture enacts strict cleanliness codes which have been established across centuries of nomadic living. For instance, mahrime and mokadi are methods of washing which dictate the sorts of objects that can be washed in various bowls. Actually, gypsies believe non-Gypsies are rather unclean or live in unclean environments. Pets and animals are rarely permitted in a gypsy home, for example, because animals are believed to carry disease.
4. Myth - Gypsies All Live in Caravans
While this myth is grounded in some historical truth, only around 50% of present-day western European Gypsies live in caravans, while around 90% of the world’s gypsies live in static housing. The recognized ethnic minorities of Irish Travellers and Romani Gypsies have established distinct languages, culture, and beliefs, which includes housing developments. However, law designates gypsies as nomads, so this is one of the gypsy myths that persists.
5. Myth - Genetic Wanderlust is Inherent in Gypsy Blood
As revealed in the previous myth, the nomadic lifestyle of gypsies is not nearly as true as it’s believed to be. Rather, the persecution of the gypsy minority culture has always influenced their nomadic heritage. Another factor which pushes gypsies to wander is economic opportunities. Being as such, the culture works in highly mobile trades, which in the past often meant agriculture, while presently it takes the form of building trade as well as creating or selling transportable products. Additionally, gypsies often start work at a young age, learning traditional skills which are passed from generation to generation.
6. Myth - Gypsies Avoid Paying Taxes
Many gypsies are traditionally self-employed, and they pay taxes just like their non-gypsy counterparts. Gypsy culture values portable wealth, and their homes’ capital is far lower than the equity of their non-gypsy counterparts, but its value also depreciates at a much higher rate.
7. Myth - Gypsies do Not Contribute to the Local Economy or Culture
In recent history, gypsies died alongside their non-gypsy brethren while fighting for their countries during World War II, so to claim they contribute nothing is incredibly disingenuous and petty. Their culture has contributed and continues to contribute to the arts and sciences. Included amongst the gypsy population, musicians, artists, journalists, historians and academics have all thrived. Hopefully new research and knowledge and better general education about gypsy culture will positively affect stereotypes and the general attitudes towards gypsies and their lifestyle.
I hope you will now no-longer believe these Gypsy myths. There are a proud people, just as proud of their heritage and culture as any of us and we should understand and celebrate their differences. Agreed?