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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Beach (Παραλία)

Women baring their boobs these days is often viewed as a sign of the equality that the sexes enjoy in modern societies (as long as they stay topless and not bottomless, it's kind of OK), and Greece is no exception. Generally speaking, unlike ancient Greek statues, Greek women don't actually bare their breasts. They often have big boobs, and they wear low-cut clothes, but anything below the 2cm-nipple standard is considered unacceptable ("they may as well be wearing nothing," you might hear people saying). But as a modern European open-minded country (which is what Greece is, if one cares to take a closer look), we know how perfectly normal the idea of baring one's tits is in other countries, which one can witness in common places like grassy London parks, as soon as the sun appears. This is not necessarily done here, but I'd say we don't judge people negatively when they do this kind of thing outside of our country's borders

Showers and changing rooms (separate from toilets) clearly signposte
On the beach, we (the locals) have come to accept it in foreign women. It is not thought of as overly provocative if it stays on the beach. But sometimes, it doesn't stay there - it goes as far as the little canteen selling ice-cream, toasted sandwiches and drinks. Swaying boobs, open to all the senses, make their way to the canteen, forcing the shop assistant (it makes no difference is the assistant is male or female) to make a choice about where to look: at the boobs, or the boob owner's face. If they choose the boobs, they will be regarded as sexually deviant, perverted in some way, or maybe even prudish; if they choose to ignore the boobs, they are clearly pretending to ignore a basic premise - that sort of thing happens among 'others', and not their own kind.

Summer lovers
There's also a similar problem with the madly-in-love couples who we are required to tolerate while they're making out in the water and we're just relaxing on the beach with our kids (usually after work). There must be something about that warm Mediterranean sun, the crystal blue sea and a cloudless sky that raises people's levels of horniness, and makes them forget that people are watching them, including children; my own are now completely immune to any such scenes, because, I guess, they've seen it take place often enough. They were especially intrigued by the two girls they saw kissing (repeatedly, for at least half an hour continuously, without a break, in the water). My daughter pointed it out to my son (but not to me): "Did you see that?" she asked him. "Yeah, they're lesbians. Do you know what that is?" he offered to explain. I'm kind of glad this happened - no doubt, discussions about sexuality crop up among their classmates, so they can just add this episode to their experiences, which will hopefully eventually teach them what is and what isn't acceptable behaviour, depending on the place and circumstances.

Iguana Beach - the ladies' loo.
A Barbie doll sits on the handle.
Although I've come to accept certain kinds of behaviour in our tourists, in the same way that they accept certain aspects of the Greek identity, I can't help feeling a tinge of annoyance when people take it for granted that they can do whatever they feel like doing when they're here. Just yesterday, while sitting on a deckchair in the late afternoon, as my kids were enjoying that damned good family-friendly beach we are lucky to live close to, a slim middle-aged red-head had just come out of the sea and returned to her deckchair (on my left; on my right was a woman wearing a triangular piece of fabric over her front bottom, with a few strings round the back). She scrubbed herself down with a towel, then rolled her one-piece off her shoulders right down to her (similarly coloured) pubic hair, and slipped on a bikini top. I wouldn't have noticed any of this if I had stuck to reading my book the whole time, but as a mother with young children in the sea, I don't have the luxury to do that. I was required to see this take place because I was looking up and down from my book to the sea after each paragraph that I read. At any rate, I would not have been able to avoid seeing her after she wrapped a skimpy little towel round her butt because she left the deckchair area and went close to the sea, where she slipped the remaining part of the one-piece off, in full view of other sun-loungers. When she returned, she put on the bottom part, packed her bag and left. If she had wanted to be discreet about it, she could have just gone to the changing rooms that were provided on the beach.

Iguana Beach at Agious Apostolous
Big deal, I suppose you would all say. She didn't show the bits we generally don't expect to see except at a nudist colony. To me, it felt like watching someone who was changing her underwear - something we rarely expect people to do in public. Since she was thinking about leaving the beach at that point, she really should have gone to the changing sheds. Iguana Beach at Agious Apostolous is fully equipped with changing rooms, super-clean and tastefully decorated toilets, a first-aid room, reading material, a children's toy box, a lifeguard working until the start of the Greek siesta, a cafe, beach gear for rent and souvenirs for sale, all found in a landscaped shady cove; a live iguana often frequents the area, and there are facilities for beach volley, tennis and football, close to where you can also go jogging, walking, do yoga and tai chi.
To date, we can still enjoy this beach free of charge - it is not compulsory to rent out deckchairs and you can sit anywhere you want.
This incident reminds me of our next-door neighbours in New Zealand. From our kitchen window, while we were cooking or having a meal, suddenly we would be looking out to see, not the garden, or the sunny sky, but a group of naked people (they were flatters, meaning they rented the property and filled extra spaces in the house as people chose to leave), sunning themselves in their birthday suits at the most unexpected moment. At that point, my mother would get up and draw the curtains. There was no law against being naked in your back yard, but there was no law against not wanting to view other people's nakedness, either. Coincidentally, if I saw the nudists before my parents did, I would draw the curtains out of respect for their feelings, so they didn't have to see them first. That doesn't mean I'm a prude; it just means I was showing them some respect. As an inter-generational Greek-NZ immigrant, I knew that my parents were sometimes overwhelmed by the very different levels of acceptability that they were often forced to accept in their adopted homeland, but never really could.

Kudos to those liberated neighbours for having no inhibitions. After all, we were born naked, and there should be nothing to hide or feel ashamed of: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if others don't want to see a naked body, they should simply not look that way. Tough luck for us Greeks whose cultural leanings made us believe that baring one's body in this way was not for public viewing, carrying the same taboo as walking around in our underwear in front of strangers, wearing swimsuits while shopping, and entering a public space barefoot. Obviously, the problem with these kinds of behaviour lies with the person who doesn't want to accept them - but if I don't really want to be around nudists, then surely I shouldn't have to be, and the laws of most countries do actually protect us against this. It's all about that democratic right not to have to feel bothered by other people's lifestyle choices. 

If those former neighbours (the problem was eventually solved when someone else bought the property) had ever given some consideration as to how their Greek neighbours felt, they would probably have scoffed at us for being so prudish and old-fashioned - but I believe that they never needed to worry about how we felt because they never bothered to ask us about our feelings on this issue. Similar to the case of the lady changing her bathing suit on the beach, if these people had thought about respecting other people's point of view, perhaps they might have acted differently. The general instinct is to keep our eyes open and look at the world around us, not to look away and pretend to ignore the obvious.

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