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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Adapting to New Surroundings

Mulberry Street, New York City, circa 1900. Library of Congress [Public domain]

When a large population, with its particular cultural attributes and lifestyle, is relocated to an entirely different region, it generally adapts itself to its new surroundings by abandoning certain former customs and traditions, and appropriating aspects of the lifestyle it now observes. For example, Dutch, British, Irish, Italians, French, Spanish and other immigrants who settled in the United States, retained large parts of their former cultures, dispensed with others, and adopted many new customs from what they saw around them. An Italian Catholic immigrant in the 1930s might, in his new surroundings, continue to eat pasta and pizza, but also perhaps, hamburgers and French Fries. He might hang a crucifix above his bed, but would also paste to the wall a photograph of Jean Harlow. He might use his mother tongue when he felt the need to swear, but otherwise would attempt, to the best of his ability, to speak English. He might drink grappa with his fellow expatriates, but would go with his son to baseball matches, and perhaps he would silently feel admiration when he heard news about the achievements of the Duce back home, but would feel emotion welling in his chest when he saw the Stars and Stripes or heard the Star Spangled Banner. With his children it would be a different story. They would acclimatised much more thoroughly and only some of the old-country customs would be retained by them. In subsequent generations, the customs that were rooted in the past would diminished still further or vanish altogether.

In the Latin East this process of acclimatisation was observed by Europeans visiting the crusader states who noted and often condemned the way in which the settlers took on elements of an Eastern lifestyle, and by Muslims who mildly expressed their approval at those who did so. The best known of the former was James of Vitry, the bishop of Acre who did not hold back on his harsh condemnation of the Frankish settlers. And he was far from alone. The patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius, when he headed a delegation to the West to raise money for the kingdom in 1184, was strongly censured by the Anglo-French theologian, Ralph Niger. According to Ralph, the patriarch would, among other things, jingle his gold and silver which prevented people from hearing his words, and if that was not bad enough, he wore perfumes that caused dizziness to everybody who met him.* Such criticism was not exceptional and perhaps the settlers were just misunderstood, as immigrants often are by those they had left behind. John Steinbeck put it well in East of Eden: In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture?

Of the Muslims, Usama Ibn Munqidh, in his Book of Contemplation included chapters titled "Newly Arrived Franks are the Roughest" and "Franks that Acclimatised are Better" in which he describes, Muslims (including himself) being, on the one hand, manhandled by newly arrived Franks, and on the other being rescued from them by established Franks.**

The acclimatisation, in some eyes "orientalisation" of the Frankish settlers, had begun very early on, as can be seen by the frequently quoted passage by Fulcher of Chartres (1127) in which he speaks of Occidentals who had become Orientals, of the Roman or Frank who had become a Galilean or Palestinian, of the citizen of Rheims or Chartres who had become a citizen of Tyre or Antioch, of the stranger who had become a native.*** In the words of the historian Hans Mayer: “They looked to Outremer as their home and developed their own sense of political identity”.**** This is perhaps a cautious and expedient way of saying that they had developed a national identity. But it was only ever a work in progress.

* Radulphus Niger, De re militari et triplici via peregrinationis Jerosolimitane, ed. L. Schmugge, Berlin, 1977, pp. 186-187, 193-194. **Usama Ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation, trans by Paul M. Cobb, London, New York, 2008, pp. 147, 155. *** Fulcher of Chartres, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127, trans. F.R. Ryan, ed. H.S. Fink, III.3, pp. 271-72. ****Hans E. Mayer, The Crusades, New York and Oxford, 1972.

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