A lesson in how not to pull on the dance floor

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Different cultures must be respected, not least because they might actually have something to teach us. Writing from a New Labour perspective, it is clear to me that arranged marriages, for instance, are probably a far better idea than we romantic Westerners have been prepared to admit. Infatuation and sexual attraction wear off. What matters (as Tony has said) is the ability to provide a stable home for the children, and - let's face it - one's parents may well be better judges of long-term compatibility than one's callow self. They have been there.

But sometimes it is hard to look at other civilisations with the open mind and clear eye that true tolerance requires. And so it was yesterday with me and the Turkish wedding. The celebration in question took place over the weekend in a small town close to the Iraqi border, and ended in tragedy when a hand grenade exploded in the middle of the feast. As the incident was being investigated, however, it was discovered that this had not been - as was first thought - an attack by Kurdish extremists, but was the consequence of a terrible accident. Apparently, a grenade worn by one of the men attending the wedding had gone off after the pin had been pulled out - probably snagged on the clothing of a passing dancer.

Try as one might, it is hard to recognise the utility in a custom involving the wearing of volatile explosives at crowded functions. When you hire a harmless tuxedo for a cousin's wedding, the most offence you will cause is down to your misjudged, violently coloured waistcoat, or that nasty- looking cummerbund. Down on the Iraqi border, however, as the donkey cart awaits, Kemal is giving a final polish to his grenades. Perhaps his wife even adjusts them slightly, getting her husband to do a quick - but careful - twirl. When they arrive at the feast he is the object of admiration. "What a fabulous outfit!" his relations all tell him. "And where did you get the grenades?"

"In town. They're live, you know," he proudly informs them. "Oh!" they reply, impressed, "and now you must come on to the crowded dance floor and do some very energetic folk numbers. But mind the pin." Kemal, whichever way you look at it and whatever allowances you make for cultural idiosyncrasy, is a cretin. Or, rather, was a cretin. And any so-called civilisation that allows someone like him to play hopscotch dressed in bombs is surely deficient. Perhaps other guests arrived festooned in land-mines, or with rockets in their belts. Which, naturally, brings me to the late William Burroughs. Burroughs, you may recall, outlived the woman he called his wife by 46 years. He pulled off this impressive trick of differential longevity by shooting her in 1951. In a flat above a bar in Mexico City - during a party - the inebriated writer produced a gun (he loved guns in his life), informed those present that he was about to repeat his famous William Tell routine, put a glass on Mrs Burroughs's head and fired. The glass remained intact.

Burroughs, however, was not a cretin. He was a great writer: Edith Sitwell didn't like him, which proves it. If it was Kemal's stupidity and predisposition towards reckless violence that, predictably, killed the wedding guests, it was Burroughs's dangerous, rebellious and admirable spirit that - unfortunately - killed his missus. This same awkward relativism was also apparent in some of the reporting of this week's American Indigenous Games. The Games include successful sports like football (invented by the Tolmecs), volleyball (the Aztecs), lacrosse (the Huron), and some less well-known ones such as war canoe racing (first one to the waterfall gets to kill the Jesuit). But there is also a rather unusual, silly and slightly laughable game involving lying face down on the ground, putting all one's weight on one's knuckles and toes, and, from this bizarre position, springing forward as far as you possibly can. Pretty daft, eh? No wonder that one never caught on. "Barry, look at those superbly developed knuckles. And there he goes! Oh, it must be close to 1ft 3, a world record!"

But wait a minute. If you think that sounds mad, then imagine yourself trying to explain to a Mayan or a Seminole, the rudiments of the triple jump ("well, first you hop on one leg as far as you can, then you do one of those little coltish springs that small kids do, and finally, you ..."), or the pole vault ("take a 10ft pole, run, stick the pole in the ground, and use it to lever yourself over a high bar, falling to the ground on the other side"). Let alone synchronised swimming.