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.