From dialects to museums
Throughout its long and tumultuous history, Normandy has been the meeting place of different peoples whose splendid assortment of customs, dialects and traditions have contributed to the region's matchless cultural heritage. From its local dialects and place names, with their vestiges of Celtic, Roman, Frankish, Viking and Middle English, to its traditional costumes and architectural styles, Normandy can boast a truly unique regional culture, which has been further enriched by the many artists, writers, and composers it has attracted and inspired.
One of the most distinctive features of a people, and therefore of its culture, is its language, and for centuries the Norman dialect, and the written language (Normanno-picard for linguists), have reflected the complex history of the region and the origins of its people. Many local words still in use, such as "berca" (sheep, derived from latin), "angobilles" (pork tidbits, from Celtic) and "floquet" (a little herd, from Scandinavian) illustrate this linguistic diversity. Pronunciation within the region varies from north to south, with latin and germanic influences dominating in the north, and French in the south. In more permanent form, toponyms (place-names) and patronyms (family names) retain folk-memories of the passage of Celts, Vikings or Franks. The many towns and villages with the suffix "bach", "baix" or "bois", derived from the Germanic "baki", meaning a river or stream, reveal their Frankish origins, while those ending in "bec" (which also means a water-course) show their Viking past, as do names with the suffix "beuf" (shelter), "fleur" (river), "tot" (village) "tuit" (from "thwaite", clearing) and "londe" or "lon" (forest).
Architecture, both official and individual, is a very visible expression of local culture. When you think of typical Norman houses you probably picture half-timbered cottages or farms, with thatched roofs and irises growing along the rooftop. In many ways you will be right, for until the industrial revolution people built their homes from the materials available nearby, and in much of Normandy the local materials were wood, straw and thatch. Dressed stone was expensive, and in short supply, but rocks and pebbles cleared from fields were never lacking. So in areas such as the Auge country, the Marais Vernier wetlands, in the Eure region and in the west, timber-framed buldings abound, with local differences in structure and half-timbering, constructed on base courses of undressed local stone or bricks. In the north, and to the east closer to Paris, where stone and good bricks were more readily available, traditional building styles make more use of those materials, and less of wood, with tiled roofs instead of thatch.
Before the twentieth century brought improved communications and the spread of virtually the same style of clothing across Europe, it was possible to tell where a person came from by his clothes, and in common with other essentially rural economies, Normandy has a long tradition of weaving, lace-making and embroidery. Until the 19th century, men and women wore locally-produced costumes, often home-made from the raw material, linen, hemp or wool, to the finished garment, which naturally varied in style and conception from one region, and sometimes from one village, to another. Weaving, sewing and embroidery were the domain of every matron or lady and their daughters, and the Bayeux Tapestry bears witness to the embroidery skills of the women of the 11th century nobility. Costumes evolved over the centuries, as tastes and materials changed, and the Museum of Normandy in Caen has a fascinating display of costumes from all parts of the region. Industrialisation, and the arrival of quantities of cotton imports from the 18th century, gave rise to the mechanisation of crafts like lace-making and the development of new activities such as the production of ribbons and printed cotton cloth in the towns, but in the west traditional cottage industries survived until the early 20th century, as did the everyday wearing of the typical bonnets, "coiffes" and skirts. Traditional costumes can still be seen today at festivals and ceremonies.