Back home

By Published On: August 29, 2006Categories: Living in Bolivia3 Comments on Back home

The glass crunched under his nicely-polished black shoe. A yell of "maslutov" rebounded from the crowd. I sat in warm Bolivian sunshine slightly light-headed on the usual wedding concoction of rum and champagne

I was back in Bolivia, after a long break away, at a wedding of two good friends, Julian and Marioly, a London British Jew and a Cochabambina Bolivian Catholic respectively. It seemed a suitable occasion to mark my return to Bolivia – bridging Bolivian and British culture and marking my arrival by celebrating their wedding through dancing the afternoon away as only Bolivians can.

The wedding attracted a good crowd from not just England but all over
Europe and even Israel. It weaved in traditions such as the breaking of
the glass marked in Jewish weddings to symbolise amongst other things
the need to protect the fragility of marriage.

I wondered how many
weddings in Bolivia are conducted bilingually, switch from Macy Gray to
Bolivian folk music in a flash, and end up with Bolivian mothers and English Dads arm in arm. 

Yet what perhaps struck me more were the similarities with a wedding in Britain: the bride delayed from entering the church by late-coming guests, pristine white table cloths glinting with silver cutlery under large marquees, men dressed up in suits with women in slinky dresses on their arm, touching speeches welling tears up in parents’ eyes, slithers of wedding cake eyed warily by amply-filled guests, awkward attempts to create new romantic liaisons.

As I talked to Bolivians and Europeans the conversations were also remarkably similar: recounting stories of travel, talking about professional qualifications, sharing hopes of finding a job in Europe, chatting about the latest Almodavor or Hollywood film. It reminded me that for upper middle classes of whatever country, aspirations, expectations and even our consumption are fairly identical.

Later I headed to a concert with some newly-made Bolivian friends by an excellent band who reeled off a rock classics album of the 70s, 80s and 90s. As my Bolivian friends sang along far better than me to anthems such as INXS’s New Sensation, Elton John’s Don’t go breaking my heart and Gloria Raynor’s I will survive, I felt at moments I could be back in Britain.

It was obvious that globalisation has led to the spreading of a common set of cultural values and reference points across the world. Perhaps Marx should have talked about middle classes uniting as they seem to have much more in common culturally than an indigenous farmer and a working class man on a British housing estate.

The common reference points make it fairly easy to get to know people here who are middle class, but far harder to get to know the vast majority of the country who have never watched MTV and may not have even been to La Paz. I certainly haven’t managed to break those boundaries with any depth in my last year and half in Bolivia. I wonder if I will manage it in my next year here.

BTW, I will be posting a number of stories of the next few days which won’t be in chronological order as I have lots of thoughts that I am longing to get down on screen.



  1. Carlos August 31, 2006 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I am Carlos, a friend of Marioly. You have interesting points of view. Now I am living in London for 5 months, before coming here I was living in Cochabamba as well. Here I have found a lot of differences with Bolivians rather than similarities. One of them it’s the difficulties to socialize with people. I have found very cold and distant looks in the eyes of the people here… Everyone is so individualist that really scares me… I would like to share my thoughts with you but it will take a long chat… Thanks for writing about the wedding of Julian and Marioly, two of the nicest persons I have met…

  2. matias September 1, 2006 at 10:24 am - Reply

    i like youre viewpoints on bolivia.
    It seems to me that you are doing the right thing: instead of observing bolivian reality you are trying to “live it”. You are completely right uppermiddle classes are similar in many parts of the world. nonetheless bolivia is just another universe. London and Lapaz have only one thing in common: miserable grey weather!

  3. roger_c October 5, 2006 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    It was really great to catch up with you, during the Nick Buxton ‘Blighty’ tour 2006. I have been catching up on your blog this evening, and enjoyed some quiet reading through your perspectives on life, always stimulating! Although I did notice you didn’t mention whether you heard the comb woman playing by Brixton underground? … More power to everything you do!

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