What does it mean to be Greek?


This September I celebrate 20 years in England. It seems like a good time to reflect on identity and culture.

People easily spot I am Greek, it’s the middle-Eastern looks and the Yannena-meets-Essex accent. But do I feel Greek and what does it mean to be Greek?

Such an obvious, redundant question for those still living ‘down there’, but a perplexing conundrum to all long term expats.

If you take some distance from schooling, religion, culture and ‘common’ sense (in its local variant), you begin to doubt who you are, or who you are supposed to be.

Even though I am a permanent resident of the UK with no intention of going anywhere, I feel Greek. I listen to Voularinos every day, I watch the news, I am a constant critic of political developments on my blog and on public and private platforms. I cook Greek food (only) every day.

Yet, I shudder in horror at the blackened medievalism of the orthodox church, I despise the homophobia, intolerance and misogyny that defines so much of every day Greek life. I do un-Greek things like walk places (no car you ask?), take the tube (no fear of terrorism?), use a microwave (no fear of cancer?). I don’t take antibiotics every time I have a sore throat (I am still alive) and go out without a jumper if the temperature hits 18° (my mom doesn’t know).

Why am I here and not in Greece? I am an intellectual refugee, not an economic migrant (nothing wrong with the latter BTW). I decided to settle here because I could not adjust to life in Greece after studying here for 4 years. When i tried to resettle there people were rude, unstructured, irrational and disrespectful.

Yet, Greeks are warm people who will chat to your kids and will make a fuss if they take a tumble in the park. People take pride in things, have knowledge and compassion. Strip away the propaganda, anger, war-lust, nationalism and all the rest that define every day nastiness and there is a lot to admire in being Greek.

Am I less proud to identify as Greek after the last 6 years? I joke to my bosses that I would be great in a fund raising role ‘Greeks have a knack for asking for money’. Why are we great out here and so terrible in running our own affairs down there? This is a question often asked.

Perhaps the intellectually curious leave. Perhaps the rotten work culture and a vortex of corruption and semi-legality corrupts even the well intentioned. What we have seen over the last few years is that when expats went back to help they failed or got booted out. I don’t mean my fellow academics like Varoufakis, Lapavitsas,Tsakalotos, they are a different breed.

Being Greek means a lot of things. I am proud to be Greek even though I have difficulty defining what it means. Should I try to save the rest of you from a distance? No, I don’t think so. I can say what I think, but saving Greece is a job for the people who live there. We out here will be proud of who we are regardless.




8 thoughts on “What does it mean to be Greek?

  1. What is identity, anyway? More generally, don’t we all necessarily have multitudes of identities not a fixed specifically national one only? One of yours surely is the identity of someone versed in law.

    I loved GB, I loved London the time I lived there. It felt home. The experience you get when you return. Could be anywhere really that is familiar, the same feeling then while getting closer to “home” ideally not by plane and tube but by train. Same feeling approaching Cologne now as it felt approaching London then. Home is where you live. Home is the place that is familiar to you.

    But what is the British identity, anyway?

    In hindsight my absolute favorite Englishman was a man on the streets selling newspapers. Due to troubles with our headmaster, who was also my English teacher I had to give up English at one point in time. Since I had a really good relationship with my math teacher at the time I choose physics. But in Britain this may have made me feel slightly insecure initially. Or our struggles left some type of insecurity, I wasn’t really aware of. After all I loved English.

    Without being aware of it, I must have whispered. I never forget his: “Why don’t you speak up, so I can understand.” That sure was a revelation for me at the time.

    Now on the other hand, the class system in England. There is also this stilted classy English, I never felt I wanted to imitate.

    I worked in a pub while student, serving both sides. Does this custom still exist? Thus there we go, another identity. I felt drawn more to the locals or the rough side there.

    There was one day though, when I overheard sentences while leaving a Werner Herzog movie a friend had invited me to see. I guess expecting me to explain it to him after. No doubt Herzog is slightly crazy, in a from my own perspective nice way.


    While leaving the movie theater I overhead serial statements along the lines: The Germans are heavy. It may or may not have triggered an earlier encounter. Down by the seaside I once met locals that during a conversation I told I was German. That was in the early 70s. They seemed pretty serious when they told me they expected German Nazi-type of soldiers, shouting: Achtung!, immediately shooting anyone approaching the frontier. I found out they never once left the Island. …

    I guess these and other encounters resulted in some type of modified German identity being born. It was no doubt still somewhat rebellious, after all my city library research of my school’s history had got me into troubles with my headmaster and then English teacher, but it made me accept who I am or one central part of my identity to return to the above argument.

    Mind you, most of the time I left people guessing concerning my accent in London. Earlier it was, are you Irish, later no doubt due to my own private-school-of-English it was: Are you from Birmingham? Put more generally: Concerning identity or identities there is always the insider versus the outsider perspective.

    I was amused about your reassessment of the technocrats on our more general issue here.


  2. Notice, Böhmermann added the stink-finger to confuse “the Germans” or German media in an earlier production and succeeded visually. But no doubt the narrative without the visual image wasn’t manipulated. It’s still interesting that Chomsky in a recent talk at the NYC public library with Varoufakis has gotten the message that the Greek crisis or Greek loss is the equivalent of the profit of German and French banks. Thus it must be some type of neo-colonialist-exploitation in which the French and the Germans more generally profit from exploiting the Greek. Thankfully Chomsky added the French. Thus at least we aren’t alone.

    What I am worried about in this context, is to what extend this narrative, even if we leave the larger item: refugees and missing administrative tools to deal with them for a moment, can be used as argument for a Brexit now. Apparently the members of recent attacks in Belgium and Paris where somewhat registered in Greece. But to what extend was that a chance event?

    You made me return to the blog of Klaus Kastner, which I found helpful in my more confused moments concerning the euro-crisis moment, not least since an American on a blog I follow for a decade now alerted me to prophet Varoufakis:


    “It is almost 6 years now since I have been waiting for that magic moment where someone would stand up and present a long-term industrial development plan for Greece, particularly for the Greek private sector. A plan which would be designed by Greece but which would also carry the full support of the EU. I had high hopes that Mr. Papandreou would come forward with such a plan. Afterwards, I had high hopes that Mr. Samaras would do it. Frankly, with all the early hoopla about SYRIZA and after having had several exchanges on the subject with Yanis Varoufakis, I even had high hopes that SYRIZA would come up with such a plan. That hope, too, has now gone to history’s waste basket but the truly discouraging fact is that I don’t even see any such initiative being put together by the largest opposition party. Even though that party is now led by a designated Wunderkind who was expected to reform and turn around the entire country in no time.”


  3. Lykinos says:

    Has it ever occurred to you that you have “exiled” everything laughable, uneducated and parochial to this so-called “Greek” side, constructing a very nasty and condescending stereotype against which you measure yourself and always come out the winner? Seems to me that this is a strategy (conscious or less so) all too dear not only to expats (essentially self-aggrandizing) but generally to those who engage in vigorous ideological wars (while accusing the other side of doing so). And although i may be suffering from the same self-inflicted blindness, I’m very happy to have never come across this full-blown “Greek” you’re talking about, despite the fact that it seems to be ubiquitous in Greek or Greek-related public debate. And therein lies the gist of the matter.


  4. This is an interesting comment. Am I constructing an ‘identity’ that does not really exist? I am extrapolating from the people I know, which may or not be representative of Greek middle class (if there is such a thing).

    As to ideological wars, I think I have moved some distance from ideology.

    Food for thought all this.


    • mikenetherlands says:

      “Has it ever occurred to you that you have “exiled” everything laughable, uneducated and parochial to this so-called “Greek” side, constructing a very nasty and condescending stereotype against which you measure yourself and always come out the winner?”

      He Lykinos, I am a simpel, uneducated handscraftman, and had many thougts about your posting, but what for the hell are you trying to say? Can you explane what you want to say to me in normal words? What is a “laughable, uneducated and parochial to this so-called “Greek” side?” And do I have a laughable, uneducated and parochial to this so-called “Dutch” side? In my uneducated opinion you are just writing “something” what maybe can hurt. Do you also have any argument? Ore this is it? And what has the same self-inflicted blindness to do with the rest of your posting? In my uneduceted opnion you are writing complet nonsens, you know.


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