Sunday, 13 October 2013

Hyphenated Citizens

Hyphenated Citizens

As I’ve mentioned, my husband Takis and I were born in Europe, he in Egypt and I in England. And, as of 2004, we’ve found ourselves living for months at a time in both Australia and Greece.
This has meant having to interact with family long-distance; for instance, here is a digital photo of me holding a card with birthday greetings written on it – to be sent by email to my granddaughter. (I do not have an iphone and so still operate in this old-fashioned manner. Also ignore the date, as I haven’t managed to work out how to erase it!).

A Greeting to be emailed to a Granddaughter

I mentioned in my last blog that one of the problems of our new itinerant lifestyle was that we’d be taking up a long distance project. We’d not only be living a long way from our family when in Greece, but we’d have to put up with lengthy journeys each time we returned to Greece. And, as we did not plan to live permanently in Greece, we would have to accept and ‘in between’ lifestyle; and all that means. We would once again be emphasising that aspect of ourselves that has been called ‘hyphenated’. Have you heard of the title ‘hyphenated citizen’? I had not until I read an article in Melbourne’s Greek newspaper, Neo Cosmos. It resonated immediately with me. 

See on webside of Neos Kosmos, Australia’s leading Greek newspaoper,

Historically, often due to war or crop failures, Greeks have left to look for a better life in other countries.  I had previously considered the word ‘Diaspora’ was one that applied mainly to the Jewish race, but now I read that it is an old Greek word. In Greek it is mostly applied to those who have left the country and live overseas. In the ancient past the Diaspora set up Greek centres around the Mediterranean – nowadays the Diaspora live mostly to Australia, the United States or South Africa. And what strikes me about these ‘hyphenated citizens’ is that often the first emigration results in the possibility of further emigrations, ‘back to the old homeland’, or ‘back again to the new homeland’.

In one article I read a writer objected to the idea of anyone being a citizen of two countries, who he presumed would not be committed to either. He is right this does happen to a degree. I think the deciding factor for the two of us, as to which we will finally call ‘home’ will be the country where our families reside. And meanwhile, if you can call it an advantage, living the hyphenated life does make us more alert to disadvantages of each place and also to its benefits.
The current economic situation in Greece has meant that many Greeks are dissatisfied with their life in Greece, and so there has been a new wave of emigrants leaving. This,‘re-return’ of many hyphenated Greek-Australians to Australia, has recently been highlighted on Australian TV. 


From the Australian Broadcasting Commission interview by David Mark

DEMETRE KATSIKOPOULOS: It's strange. I'm still trying, you know to, trying to get used to Australia because two different countries. 
LOUKIA KONDOU: I don't know how to live in Australia yet, and I don't know how we will live. But I feel that Demetre wants some time, I want to make this for him.
DEMETRE KATSIKOPOULOS: I'm waiting to see, you know, I'm curious how it is going to be my future here. I didn't come to Australia to be rich, you know, I just came to live with dignity.

Even in 2010 wrote in Neos Kosmos of Greek-Australians who had left Australia to return to Greece only to find that the old country didn’t feel like home anymore. Yet one cannot deny ones place of origin. Both of us, for instance, count three countries in the list of countries that are to a degree ‘home’ to us, (one where we were born, one where we have worked, and one where we now live for much of each year). What it takes is an understanding that to a degree we will always live in a ‘hyphenated state’ and that each country is important.
We wryly laugh at the choice we make when our countries are facing each other in a sporting competition, or enjoy the competition when Takis and I are opposing each other! Because cultural difference is something we’ve lived with for a long time, this need for understanding is now a part of our marriage.

It all began with a Watermelon                                  

My husband is generally known as Taki, a very common Greek nickname. However I perversely always call him Takis, as ‘Taki’ sounded too much like ‘tacky’ to me. On his arrival in Australia he’d wanted to assimilate quickly so he’d exchanged his Greek name, Panayiotis Statiras, for a more Anglicised name, one that the locals would find easier to pronounce. Hence to most people here in Australia he became known as Taki, using his Greek nickname and, for a new surname, he ran his finger down the ‘S’ names in a telephone book and chose Stanton. When with trepidation he informed his father in Greece about his name change, his father wrote back saying the name he’d chosen was very acceptable.

Though a naturalised Australian, Takis often revels in his Greek nature, and as a reserved English woman I was surprised when once he sobbed uncontrollably after watching the death scene during a film about Beethoven. And I had to get used to those times when he waved his arms and hurled abuse at another driver who was obstructing his path. However, life was always interesting, and I enjoyed the way my acquaintances broadened as I was introduced to Greek, Italian and Russian business partners and associates, and to Greek and Italian factory workers in his food factories.

Cross cultural confusions

I had expected that, as in most cross-cultural relationships, there might be a few communication problems between us, but I soon came to see that even a simple communication could cause problems. My first lesson came when he gave a wordless response to my question about whether he wanted a second helping of dessert. It wasn’t a vigorous headshake, rather an upward tilt of the head with raised eyebrows. At first I thought that this might be a Greek gesture of disdain, about the meal or perhaps an uncertainty as to his state of fullness. So had he not liked the sweet? Perhaps he needed to be encouraged to take another serve? Gradually I came to understand this culturally codified non-verbal ‘no’ response and I’d pack the dishes away.

Another frustration came whenever he jumped in with a solution before I had even had time to finish the sentence. For instance if I said, ‘Tomorrow, before the guests arrive, I’ll get...’ he would immediately jump in and tell me that he would get the food from the freezer, though I was about to say I’d bring in some extra chairs. We had a few arguments about this with me snapping, ‘Let me finish the sentence and then you’ll find out what I want to say!’ Finally I realised that his response stemmed from another cultural habit; that it was more natural for him to state an intention before filling in the when and where details, whereas I’d naturally do it the other way about.

There were, of course, problems for Takis too with my English way of expressing things. I came to realise that often I’d make typically ‘English’ – roundabout and sometimes ambiguous – statements. For me turning a statement into question opened up the possibility of negotiation, but for Takis this apparent uncertainty indicated a frustrating lack of clear purpose.

 So, before setting out on Our Big Greek Adventure we had already experienced the cross cultural confusions, not only in front of a sports-cast on the TV.  It was a situation that we anticipated would continue exist for us in Greece.

Dreams ........of a Big Old House

While I had been homesick for England, a longing to returning there was not such an issue for me once I was married and had children and grandchildren. Though I will admit I did hold onto some of my childhood dreams, one of which revolved around the image of a large old house somewhere in England, or perhaps France. I had this picture in my mind of me as a housekeeper carrying a large bunch of keys at my waist (perhaps after reading Jane Eyre).
It was when we finally both retired from full time work and at the same time the opportunity arose to renovate an old family house in a Greek village it seemed that we might be able to fulfil a joint dream – that of acquiring a large old house and live in Greece. It was this opportunity that initiated...   Our Great Greek Adventure

 The Reality ........of a Big Old House

Currently it is October, and autumn in the northern hemisphere. It is the time of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’.  Today we had baked pumpkin for lunch, two small ones from the garden, and we talked about the huge orange ones we’d seen for sale in some of the island grocery shops. They were large enough to carve pumpkin faces, as they do in the States.
It is however also the time for the mice to make their first forays into old houses, and the other day I was sitting at the computer when I heard one dancing across the ceiling. The scampering noises were heard, by me, the next day too. Takis however refused to believe me as he was sure that he had all holes covered. But last night confirmed it. I went to the bathroom, for midnight relief, and with the light on and the door closed my suspicions were confirmed. I suddenly found I was not alone a mouse was running circles around the room. I yelled, but with no answering forthcoming from the bedroom. So I rushed out and slammed the door. The mouse was locked inside.
The mystery is that this morning when Takis, assisted by Anestis with a broom, entered the bathroom (that has no holes and was soundly locked) there was no mouse. If ever there was the plot for ‘how the offender got out of the locked room’ this was it. We still have not solved the whodunit. However I think Takis now believes me, and tonight we set traps.

A book: 

that has really helped me to understand a little more about being a hyphenated citizen...

Pico Iyer’s book, The Global Soul (Bloomsbury, 2000), explores the situation of those who live in more than one place, and who manage to feel ‘at home’ in more than one place.

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