Thursday, 5 July 2012

Looking in the mirror (Κοιτάζοντας τον καθρέπτη)

On the facebook profile of a friend, I recently came across some kind of cyber-meme which floated by me while I was wading through cyberspere. It did not have a title, but I presume that it if it did, it would be something like "I love being Greek because ...", as it contained a list of supposedly uniquely Greek elements that boost Greek people's pride. Some of the statements in the list did not make my humble self feel very proud; this is probably because I don't often look in the mirror, so to speak, preferring to look out to the view from the window:
Ο Έλληνας, όταν βλέπει τον εαυτό του στον καθρέπτη, αντικρίζει είτε τον Μεγαλέξανδρο είτε τον Κολοκοτρώνη, είτε τουλάχιστον τον Ωνάση. Ποτέ τον Καραγκιόζη. (When a Greek sees himself in the mirror, he sees either Alexander the Great or Kolokotronis, or at the very least Onassis. Never Karaghiozis - Nikos Dimou)
Nor was I very sure of their uniqueness to Greek people - possibly, if any group of people from the same country were asked to sit down and write a flattering list of what they think are their compatriots' chief virtues, they'd come up with a list containing similarly flattering statements. My friend Stephen pointed out that he could raise an objection to pretty much everything in that list but he didn't want to be a spoilsport, so I have decided to do the honours instead (the blue statements were in the original statment that I came across, while the remaining part of the same point forms part of my addenda):

* flirting is our national hobby (that partly explains why most Greeks don't know how to swim well, despite the country being surrounded by sea)
* we always moan about the public sector and everyone seeks to get a job in it (only because we love the security it offers - a forever salary and a guaranteed old-age pension which is usually taken before old age; we're only in it for the perks) 
* we cheat openly, without trying to hide it (but when we are caught, we complain bitterly, insisting that we are not to blame, refusing to take responsibility for our actions)
* we never visit others empty handed (which explains the clutter we sometimes keep in our homes, due to never-ending gift-exchange flows - with the subsequent gift always being more expensive than the last one - usually of useless unattractive over-priced items, often accompanied by the classic box of creamy fatty expensive industrially-produced zaharoplasteio deserts) 
zaharoplasteo egaleo athens 
* there is no way to explain to foreigners what is 'kapsoura' (burning desire for someone) (as usual, Greks love exccess: kapsoura inevitably means excess sweat, excess nicotine, liver disease due to excess alcohol and crass lovesongs, preferably by Remos and Ploutarhos)
* in Greece family is still something valuable (the family's bank accounts often look empty on paper, but the coffers are always full for its members)
* we always make it, albeit in the last moment (in other words, only when we are being chased otherwise, the rest of the time is spent in λούφα)
* we were slaves for 400 years yet never bring that up as an excuse for our current state (that's a blatant lie - this was still being raised at the onset of the economic crisis)
* for the sake of a woman, the Trojan war lasted a decade (thereby defying the norm of 'make love, not war'; we preferred the opposite, showing that we went - and still go, and will probably always go - against the tide)
* we are everywhere around the planet (most countries are represented all over the place these days)
* we love and hate with passion (the word 'normal' often eludes us)
* the concept of φιλότιμο (helping someone because it is a shame not to) does not exist in any other language (it's called 'politically correct business practices' in other cultures)
* whenever foreigners cannot find a word, they use one of ours (when a concept is lacking in the Greek culture, the English word in transliteration is used)
* we spend our bad and low times with our friends and family (we are forced to, since there is no such thing as privacy in Greece)
* Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were Greek (so was Καραγκιόζης)
* we invented theatre (we also invented cynicism)
* we gave birth to Democracy (we also invented the concept of Chaos - to date, there is not other word to better describe this idea)
* we discovered logic (and we have recently proved to the whole world what excess means)
* we jumpstarted science (whereas other cultures surpass us in this field now, to the point that we will never be able to catch up)
* we are proud of our culture, not of our wars (which explains why we hush-hush them, and cannot provide neutral answers to the questions of subsequent generations)
* when we were building the Parthenon, the others were still sleeping in trees (that doesn't explain why we have so many homeless people now sleeping on the streets)
* we gave the light to all these leaders who are "striving" for peace by making wars (while we ourselves often live in darkness, looking out for the light at the end of the tunnel; we forgot to keep some of that light for our own use)
* we can give anything up just to make love (must we be so impulsive?)
* we distinguish between Eros (sexual love) and Agape (innocent love) while feeling both passionately (the Greek word for marriage - γάμος (GA-mo) - often gets confused with γαμώ (ga-MO), as in ρε γαμώτο)
* Eros was a Greek god (so was Hades)
* when others used to be clothed with wolf skin, we were weaving see-through linen (if you've ever travelled up north, you'd understand why they were wearing wolf skin - there was little use for see-through linen until air-conditioning was invented)
* 'Greeks do not fight as heroes, heroes fight like Greeks', as Winston Churchill said in 1941 (our fighting hardly ever won us anything - most of the time, we ended up losing something)
* we don't use ketchup with our food - it tastes good anyway (no, we don't use ketchup - instead, we douse everything with olive oil: sometimes, you have to fish out the tomato and cucumber slices in a Greek salad)
* we gave our ancient alphabet to the Romans and our Medieval alphabet to the Slavs (imagine the money we could be making on everything we gave away instead of patenting it)
* we converted all of eastern Europe into Christians (if only we had the foresight to convert the western part too - maybe we just didn't like the cold)
* we get angry quickly but we forget all about it even quicker (making our tempers constantly fray over spilt milk)
* we are not ashamed to cry (we know there will always be someone to feel sorry for us)
* we dance when we are sad (that's when the bouzouki really goes berzerk)
* we work to live, we do not live to work (and if we can get someone else to work in our place, we would just live)
* 97% of the stars' names are Greek (only in the sky - most Greek stars at ground level are practically unheard of outside Greece, for all intents and purposes)
* although we know danger well, we dare (our problems are often self-created)
* when you shout 'brother' or 'friend' or 'koumbaro' in the streets everyone turns around (they also do the same thing when 'malaka' is called out; although there is a severe lack of privacy in Greece, I can safely say that you can now read a book in a public space - beach, metro - without feeling like unique)
* we speak loudly and laugh even louder (the word κακαρίσματα comes to mind)
* the insides of all our churches are not dark, but full of light (we don't visit them any longer for spiritual reasons - and we only get married in them if we can afford it)
* we are direct (as in μονοδρομικοί - being narrow-minded often deems you a patriot in this country)
* we always have a solution to problems, even if usually indirect or illegal (that explains why Greece is one of the only countries in the EU27 which cannot claim that only a few spoil it for the most - ' a few' and 'the most' need to be placed in reverse positions)
* our parents do not forget that we exist when we reach 18 (they even pay for their kids' cigarettes right throughout their university years)
* we confront every difficulty with humor (often laughing at others, rather than with them)
* the Olympic games were born here (look where they got us in 2004)
* with our Olympic light, we unite the world and pass the message of peace (there go those Olympic games again - they are to very much to blame for our present plight)
* we live permanently in the country that foreigners dream to visit for a week (while we dream of visiting London for a week to stock up on branded clothing)
* our sky is blue, not gray (some people simply like to ignore minor details: Greece does go through winter, and it can be a heavy one, like last year)
* we have the cleanest seas on the planet (you can still find litter in them)
* 40% of Oxford dictionary is made up with Greek words (the transliterated English words in the Greek language are simply left out of Greek dictionaries - there is no need to include them because we are more likely to write them in English)
* we are a poor country with very rich citizens (does the EU/ECB/IMF know this?)
* we know the meaning of 'kefi' (propensity to fun) (we also know how to ruin other people's kefi to maintain our own one)
* we like to spend money and eat fish when it's still fresh (some fishmongers are still waiting to be paid by their 'best' customers)
* Homer wrote the Iliad 3500 years ago and Hollywood turned it into a movie just recently (we didn't even enquire about the copyright)
* we speak foreign languages - who learns Greek? (yeah, we speak English, French and German - in that order - while we don't generally speak Turkish, even though most shop owners in coastal Turkey speak almost fluent Greek: they fear less than we do)
* our 'model for life' has many curves (which explains why we generally seem slower on the uptake)
* we gave the oath 'freedom or death' (Greece seems to be destined to the latter these days)
* we have a small country full of people with big hearts (and big egos)

Most of my aunts and uncles lived (and some are still living) in village environments, off their own land, with no state handouts, except the most basic pension through ΟΓΑ . When they look(ed) at themselves in the mirror, it was only to check that their face was clean, or to ensure that they did not cut themselves when shaving. In the eyes of the tourists who passed their houses, trekking through their olive groves and orange orchards, they were an oddity to be photographed.

Despite not having a Greek word for the concept of 'image' (as in image-conscious), Greeks embraced it as soon as they learnt it: comrade Alex, a Greek working class kid of the 1980s, is seen here wearing a NIKE t-shirt and an 'electronic' watch. Note the map in the background - Europe can be divided any way she wants.

Most people are conscious of what the outside world thinks of them; in other words, their image: that's just one of many concepts that Greeks didn't invent (in Greek, we simply say 'ίματζ'), but embraced in a big way, thereby forsaking a part of their own identity.

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