Word of the day: provincial

This morning, I took my kids down to Gökyüzü, one of the many amazing restaurants near where we live, for a Turkish breakfast. As you may have seen  from the featured photo, the portions there are so huge that the kids just shared one between the two of them. As I watched them devour the olives and grilled halloumi cheese and sucuk (Turkish sausage, made from beef, rather than pork), I started thinking about how different my own experience of the world was when I was their age. I grew up in the 1970s, with far less exposure to foreign food, far less opportunity to travel abroad and far less awareness of the sheer diversity of the world. I told my kids how lucky they were to be growing up in a time and place where they could eat Turkish breakfasts, pop into the local Polish shop, and then say hello to school friends with parents from Somalia and New Zealand, Ghana and Iran. They asked if I used to eat this kind of thing when I was a kid, at which point I started to try and explain how provincial England was back then!

Historically, the provinces were the parts of the country outside the capital. Those who lived and worked in the capital would often be fairly snobbish about them and would look down their noses at them, as the provinces were seen as lacking in culture and sophistication. It follows on from this that describing a place – or a person – as provincial means you see ideas and opinions that are old-fashioned and narrow-minded there. It also probably means that you see yourself as more cosmopolitan, as a citizen of the world at home in many different contexts.

I was recently asked by a Russian student what being a Londoner meant to me and one of the definitions I came up with was that it means being familiar with the menus of lots of different kinds of restaurants, knowing your injera (a kind of flat Ethiopian bread) from your tahdig (a kind of Iranian rice dish) and being open to new cuisines and experiences. For many of our English-language students who choose to come to London, it’s precisely this kind of thing that draws them to the city. Of course, those from outside the capital who feel looked down on and ignored, words like provincial can act like a red rag to a bull, but that’s a story for another day!

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  • Is there a divide in your country between the capital and the provinces? Which side of the divide are you on?
  • How has the kind of food people eat and the opportunity to travel changed since you were a kid?
  • Do you ever look at certain bits of your country and think they’re very provincial? Why?
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3 Responses

  1. alejandra says:

    Bullfighting is very provincial.
    Bulls don’t react to any red rag. They are kept in poor conditions and react to the threat of being attacked.

    • Jean says:

      I agree, it’s an unfortunate and distressing choice of photo. Yes, the phrase has become an English idiom which might be useful for people to know, but it has no grounding in reality, and the practice of bullfighting is not only provincial, it is truly despicable.

  2. Hugh Dellar says:

    Apologies for any offence or upset the photo may have caused. We;’re very limited in the choice of images available to us, as we always use open source pictures. Just wanted to make it crystal clear that neither of us in any way supports or condones bullfighting. Agree that it’s a despicable activity.

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