Gypsies are a people scattered through many countries. The name gypsy comes from the word ‘Egyptian’ because gypsies were once thought to have come from Egypt. Some people now believe that they originally came from India. In the US gypsies are called Roma, and in Britain they are known as Romanies or travellers, although the name travellers is more often used for Irish travellers, a group in Britain who, like gypsies, do not live in settled communities but travel about from place to place living in caravans. The traditional language of the gypsies is Romany, and new words are made up from Romany elements rather than borrowed from English.Roma or Romanies, like many other minority groups, have a strong sense of pride in their identity. In Britain, they are sometimes treated with fear and suspicion by the rest of the population and are often forced to move on from places where they stop.Gypsies usually make money by selling new and second-hand goods. Some collect and sell scrap metal, while others do agricultural work. A few make a living from entertainment and singing. The women are known for selling clothes pegs, ‘lucky’ white heather or bunches of flowers. Many meet each year at the Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria.Gypsies have always been associated with fortune-telling. They can be found at fairgrounds predicting people’s future by reading their palms (= examining their hands) or looking into a crystal ball. Because of the mystery associated with their origins and their magical powers, gypsies have a popular romantic image that conflicts with the reality of families living on dirty caravan sites and being moved on by council officials or the police. Americans have little contact with gypsies and think of the Roma only as exciting, mysterious people who wear brightly coloured clothes and gold jewellery and have unusual powers. The romantic image was taken up by the US striptease artist, Rose Havoc, who called herself Gypsy Rose Lee on stage. In Britain a character called Mystic Meg used to appear on television each week, dressed in strange clothes and with an extravagant air of mystery, to predict the winners of the National Lottery.
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