Aiyar is an Indian journalist who moved to Brussels in 2009 with her family when her husband, who is Spanish, took a position with the European Commission. This exceptionally engaging book records her impressions of Europe from the distinctive perspective of someone who was brought up in India and also spent a significant portion of her career in China. Most interesting are her street-level insights into cultural difference. To someone accustomed to the logistical chaos and conversational informality of Asian streets, the manicured boulevards and airy stores of Brussels appear cold and dead. Attuned to an informal economy, she investigates the traditional cheese industry in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna and discovers that around 100,000 nearly invisible Asian workers support it. (The title of the book’s British edition is Punjabi Parmesan.) Aiyar, who is accustomed to living in a riotously multicultural and multilingual country, questions Belgium’s stated commitment to those forms of diversity. Not all of her points ring true—for example, she exaggerates Chinese influence in Europe—but this book will offer any reader fresh insights into not-so-old Europe.
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