Academic journal article Romani Studies

Bargaining to Win: Feminine Dealing with Outsiders in a Group of Settled 'Voyageurs'

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Bargaining to Win: Feminine Dealing with Outsiders in a Group of Settled 'Voyageurs'

Article excerpt

This article will set out the contradictions between the way in which women affirm their femininity using violence and seduction with outsiders before they get married, and the constraints and fears surrounding their bodies since childhood. It will draw attention to the importance of competition and rivalry between families based on reputation and economic success. Since men can prove their individuality by buying and selling antiques, women try to demonstrate their own skills by obtaining gifts, money, credit and bargaining in prestigious stores downtown. All these types of behaviour point to the conflicts inherent in their self-ascription as 'middle-class Travellers'.

Keywords: Travellers, Voyageurs, ethnicity, femininity, enrichment, bargaining, consumption, education

Introduction

The Traveller community which I will concentrate on here originates from Germany, but left the Alsace region in 1870.1 Their origins are quite difficult to establish, but they seem to descend from poor, sedentary peasants who joined other Gypsy groups after the Thirty Years' War during the seventeenth century. Many of these groups intermarry with Manouches and are very close to them (Reyniers 1991: 11-14; Williams 1993: 76). Others, like those discussed in this article, form a specific group, more distinct from Manouches. This group tends nowadays to claim its origin in southern Germany (in the district of Freiburg, county of Baden), at the end of the eighteenth century. Archive data suggest that they were quite close to peasants in Alsace2 and travelled short distances in the plains of Alsace during the nineteenth century. After having crossed several departments of eastern France, they gradually settled in Burgundy in the 19208 and 1930s. After the Second World War they started building houses near a small town, specialising in second-hand furniture trade since the 19608. Subsequently, in the 1970s and 1980s, their social and economic conditions improved significantly.

This article sets out the contradictions between the way in which women affirm their femininity using violence and seduction with outsiders before they get married, and the constraints and fears surrounding their bodies since childhood. It will first illustrate the way young girls escape downtown, going out together, joking and laughing at outsider men. Then, it will draw attention to the bargaining habits that women practise and the specificity of teenage behaviour. These habits manifest themselves in a context of competition and rivalry between families based on reputation and economic success. In this context, women have a specific role: they try to prove the economic superiority of their own family through the way they consume. Since men can prove their individuality by buying and selling antiques, women try in their own way to demonstrate their skill by obtaining gifts, money, credit, and by bargaining in prestigious stores downtown. Putting these habits into a historical perspective, women in the past used to have more freedom in moving around, since they had to provide for their entire family, selling goods and asking for food. But the present behaviour is also connected to the way women are expected to interact with men, both within and outside the group. All these types of behaviour point to the conflicts inherent in their self ascription as 'middle-class Travellers' who have 'made progress'.

Presentation and description

In this little town of Burgundy, tourists arrive looking for excellent wines and gastronomic specialities. All is so quiet: old houses are shut, streets are very clean, the old city centre is dotted with luxury shops. Sometimes a big crowd of foreigners swarms into the town. The townspeople lock themselves up in their houses. When grape pickers arrive, it is as if clouds of grasshoppers invade the town. More prestigious events attract stars, politicians, kings and queens. A chosen few enjoy grands crus and gastronomic specialities in prestigious village castles. …

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