Cultural snapshots

Cultural snapshots

The other day my neighbour popped around to borrow something, and what he borrowed got me thinking about what people have borrowed over the years and what that little snapshot tells us about the culture of the time.

In the Bible, Jesus told the story of someone going round to his neighbour late at night and asking to borrow bread – why, because he had an unexpected visitor and needed to feed them. The culture was one of hospitality and basic needs – no freezers, no 24-hour supermarkets, no fast-food places you could pop out to for a late-night smackerel – just bread, borrowed from your neighbours.

Jump forward a couple of thousand years and the saying was that you would pop round to your neighbour’s to borrow a cup of sugar. That’s more of a luxury item – maybe it was needed for baking a cake or adding to your tea, but it’s not a basic need. It does still speak of a time before the easy availability of supermarkets or local grocers’ shops, though – it was far easier to pop next door for just one item than to walk all the way to the shop – especially if you were a stay-at-home mum with small children. Perhaps, too, it speaks of days before credit cards – perhaps you had almost used up that week’s cash and were borrowing just the amount of sugar you needed rather than having to buy a bag.

In a book I edited recently, called He Chose to Roll the Dicethe author tells of her life in a small Israeli village 30 years ago. In one scene she receives a phone call and has to go next door to the neighbour’s house to take it. Technology was on its way, but for now was shared between neighbours. I remember it here as a joke about neighbours borrowing your lawnmower (and never bringing it back), and as an advert in which a lady came and asked her neighbour ‘Can I borrow your new Vileda SuperMop?’ – why a mop was being marketed as an expensive, exclusive piece of equipment I’m not sure, but it was. This was the era of new technologies, to which not everyone had access.

And what did my neighbour borrow? Our wifi password! Their internet was down and his wife had an urgent piece of work she needed to get finished. He told me we had borrowed theirs in the past for similar reasons.

A loaf of bread, a cup of sugar, the phone, and internet access. Fascinating how our needs have changed. But how lovely to know that in this day and age we do still need our neighbours for something!

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