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Friday, 14 July 2017

Filotimo (Φιλότιμο)

The BBC recently put up a discussion about a Greek word that can't be translated: φιλότιμο (fiLOtimo). The reason for this probably lies in the fact that Greeks can't quite themselves decide what it means:
"It seems that not only does the word remain untranslatable, but even Greeks themselves have trouble agreeing on a single definition."
As a linguist, I would say that there is a translation into another language for every one-word concept into a given language. For this reason, for 'filotimo', I would translate it as 'being noble': "having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles", according to Oxford. To paraphrase: 'being horourable without asking for reward'. So you will do the right thing, and you hope someone will notice, even though you know that it is also probable that no one will notice. Below, I describe my own unique example of filotimo.

Today, I visited the tenant of my house who can't afford to pay the rent. Yani's been living in the house for a long time now - honestly, I forget how long it has been, but it's well over a decade (it must be almost close to two). For the last two years, I've let him live there for free because he has been unemployed. But in truth, nothing is free these days - everyone knows that, and so does Yani. So every year at Christmas, he calls me up and asks me how much I paid in property taxes. Yani is showing filotimo: if he didn't call me, but waited for me to ask for the money, he wouldn't be called filotimo - he would be called πονηρός (sly, cunning). The first year I asked him for €400; the next year I asked for €300 (the taxes decreased). Because I have filotimo, I didn't lie to him to pocket a higher amount; in turn, Yani's level of filotimo is so high that he would never ask to see the paper that the taxes are written on.

Yani's filotimo doesn't stop there. Every summer, Yani phones me up and asks me what paintwork and minor renovations I'd like done on our house, the one where we live. That's why my house always looks freshly painted. In fact, this is why I saw Yani today. He called me to come to our house and see what work needs to be done. Note that I didn't call him. I have too much filotimo to treat him like my unpaid slave. Last year, he fitted a brand new aluminium window in our bathroom (the old wooden one had rotted). All we paid for was the window: he knocked out the old one, plastered the brickwork, placed a new one in, and then plastered and painted the chipped walls.  That took three days of his time. Yani has too much filotimo to pretend to ignore me.

Our shared sense of filotimo doesn't stop there. While living in my property, Yani has been doing it up slowly to his liking. My property is the best looking in the street. He explained to me that when he's out of work (he is a painter), he likes to keep himself occupied so he doesn't have to think about his unemoloyed older son, his younger son who is doing his military service, and his beloved wife who is forced to live away from her husband, in a village where she found well paid work looking after an old woman (she too fell into the hands of a family with a high sense of filotimo).

Today, Yani called me to pick him up (he can't afford a car) to bring him to my house so he could see what needs fixing this year. This gave me a chance to see the transformations he had done on my own property.

The story I have told you could have a different version: I would ask Yani to pay rent  - or leave. I could then rent my house (beautifully done up by Yani) via airbnb and demand €1,000 a week from tourists, to live in an 'art deco bungalow' (read: old-fashioned lower middle class small house) in a 'genuine Greek neighbourhood with authentic local character' (where the pavements - save my own - are still awaiting the council to pave them) with 'fruit trees' in the garden (old mandarin trees whose productive season is over), and ten minutes walk to the town centre (that is really the only bit worth advertising).


I have too much filotimo to throw someone like Yani out of the house, just so I could live in the hope that my lil' ol' house would be the one that an airbnb client would rush to rent, as if €1000 a week is a bargain. That's practically what I get paid in a monthly salary, yet this is the kind of price some properties in the town are going for at the moment. Filotimo has been lost among most home owners in Hania. If filotimo had an opposite, ie someone "having or showing BAD personal qualities or LOW moral principles", I would say that the word for this concept must be σκατοψυχιά (skatopsiCHIA), which comes from σκατό (skaTO), which means 'shit', and ψυχή (psyCHE), which means soul.

I dont know where the story of Yani and I will stop. One day, I expect to be needing the property. Or I may end up needing to sell it. And of course, we both hope things will be good enough one day so that we will all have work and we will all be able to pay our bills fair and square. I think Yani sounded optmistic when I spoke to him today: "Things seem more stable, Maria," he said to me, adding that he felt more at peace with his choices.

It's my understanding that not many people could display this level of filotimo for various reasons, even if they had a house to spare. Perhaps they are afraid of being regarded as too easy a walkover of some kind, and regard the person doing the 'walkover' as a kind of scrounger. Yani tells me that he sometimes feels that he is looked down on. I think I know what he is feeling: that as a pauper of some sort, certain segments of society may be thinking that he doesn't deserve to live so well. As for Maria, she seems to be having all the luck. Σκατόψυχοι όλοι τους - they lack filotimo.

I shared this story because I believe people should know that there are many ways to deal with the modern world's major problem of inequal wealth. I also shared it so that the σκατόψυχοι who read the story can rot in their own misery and jealousy even more. There are too many heartless people in the world that are simply thinking about how to make more money from their money so they can leave lots more to the kids - so that their kids can continue to be wealthy like them, and they won;t have to work. They are simply trying to ignore the fact that their kids won't necessarily have the chance to work because jobs are fast running out. Eventually, this problem will catch up with all of us.

Don't for a moment think I'm trying to show piety of any sort. Sometimes, enough is enough. Through a formal court injunction, I evicted the previous tenants 15 years ago, precisely because they were σκατόψυχοι.

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