In the following interview conducted by Marzena Zbierska, dr hab. Hanna Mamzer, a sociologist and a psychologist, a professor at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, is talking about the benefits of living in a multicultural society and building proper communication between people of different nationalities
We are used to the presence of foreigners in large metropolises, but in smaller towns, such as Września, multiculturalism seems to be a quite recent phenomenon. Is it true?
Not exactly. It is known that in big cities multiculturalism is more visible. People from various parts of the world come there more frequently in order to look for a job, go sightseeing, etc. Less foreigners visit small towns, but they have always been present there in fact, e.g. look at the seventeenth and the eighteenth century. At that time, Poland was regarded as a very liberal and tolerant country. Hence, a lot of people of various cultures settled in our homeland as they found here a place for living. In Września district we had the “Hollander colonisation”. The Jews and people of other nations lived here as well. Multiculturalism has always been present, yet it had various facets.
If multiculturalism is nothing new, maybe only our perception of this phenomenon has changed?
That’s right. Nowadays we simply perceive it in a different way. Multiculturalism has accompanied people since the dawn of time, yet its character has been changing throughout the centuries. In the past, contact with other cultures used to be established for economic reasons, either trade (built up thanks to merchant journeys on such routes as the Silk Route, or the Amber Trail), or war (aiming at conquering attractive terrain abounding in valuable resources). Those were the circumstances in which contact with other cultures was made. However, it was occasional and involved few people. In modern times, economy and international trade are not the only grounds for multiculturalism, as people look for their own identity in it as well. They want to explore new parts of the world, learn; they go abroad, for example, for entertainment. These are new phenomena and thanks to them, contact with cultural diversification has intensified and has become something common. It can even be claimed that multiculturalism is trendy today and that the lack of a friendly attitude and tolerance towards cultural diversification has become inappropriate.
Nowadays, the presence of foreign investors and foreigners employed by these companies constitutes a source of the city’s economic development. Are there any other benefits?
Sociological studies show that diverse, heterogenous environments are more creative, also in economic merits. The outside capital and investments enrich the local colour, although it does not come without any difficulties. Cultural differences cause problems in communication. Building a multicultural society is not a painless process, but undoubtedly, it is beneficial for economic, creative and cognitive reasons, and for the sake of culture as well. It needs to be emphasised that the benefits include not only these that have a material character. The mutual observation of people – their behaviour, culinary customs, religious practices – improves the understanding of other cultures and challenges stereotypes. In other words, thanks to living with foreigners, not only do we learn more about the outside world, but also about ourselves. These are immeasurable benefits, but they constitute a kind of cultural capital. Multiculturalism is a cultural-educational value, and not only economic.
Can it be stated in this context that culinary diversity of the local society is becoming an ally for the promotion of our Polish tradition, in this case culinary? In other words, can multiculturalism present in small towns become for us an opportunity for highlighting our own identity?
Paradoxically yes. On the one hand, we, as the Poles, adjust to the needs of foreigners: local companies offer products and services that they look for, we start speaking foreign languages in order to communicate with them. Yet, on the other hand, we should remember that foreigners visit Poland not only for professional reasons. They also want to explore our culture and customs. They want to know who we are, how we behave, and they want to discover Polish cuisine as well. Undoubtedly, culinary customs play a crucial role in mutual discovering each other. It works both ways – firstly, it allows reinforcing one’s own identity, but at the same time, it also enables openness for otherness.
Can we, the Poles, the German, the Indians, the Spanish, as the inhabitants of the same city, despite differences, facilitate mutually the process of integration, communication, etc.?
At this moment, we are addressing not only the issue relating to ethnical differences, but the diversity of people generally. In multicultural societies, an effective communication between people is possible only when it is accompanied by openness and kindness. Adopting the attitude that we are all people, but we differ to some extent due to holding different values and having other customs, etc., certainly facilitates people-to-people contacts.
Is there any way of dealing with cultural differences that would allow people leaving for a foreign, unknown country to experience them less painfully?
Initially, it needs to be highlighted that both natives and foreigners undergo the process called “culture shock”. For those who start living in a different culture, some phenomena are not at all clear and they frequently cannot deal with them. Even a small defect, such as the malfunction of an electric installation, can pose a problem – foreigners do not speak Polish, they do not know an electrician, who they should call, how much fixing the problem costs, or whether a specialist is honest. What can be helpful in this case is participation in trainings for foreigners in understanding cultural differences and dealing with difficulties.
Where do you see social space for activity in the case of foreigners living in Września oraz Poznań?
The answer to this question depends on individuals – their competences, interests, likes, etc. I think that every community can offer a lot. Foreigners can visit, for example, pre-schools or schools, where they can talk about their culture. They can also cooperate with the elderly and people who are professionally active. People can learn a lot on the basis of their common interests. If I like cooking and someone who arrives at my home likes it too, we can teach each other, for example, how to cook our local dishes. Such exchange of experiences should be based on common passions.
Then, barriers, for example linguistic, take the second place and motivation for overcoming them emerges…
Yes, common interests constitute the basis for building small communities. Foreigners can enter all areas of our lives with their culture and offer us their values. An example? The inhabitants of Denmark or the Netherlands can be for us the experts in the promotion of cycling and they can share their knowledge with us in this field. Will we, the Poles, use it? It is only up to us.
Hanna Mamzer, a sociologist, a psychologist, she gives trainings in cultural differences (mamzer.pl)
Fot. Piotr Robakowski