“I’m an American first and a Greek second” a friend told me not too long ago and went on to say, “I embrace the Greek culture but I’m a third generation Greek born and raised in the U.S.”. “You my friend are a half Greek” I replied back. He then asked, what did that make me? And I said “75% Greek”.
One thing I want to make clear is that I’m in no way implying that those born and raised here in the US are “less” Greek than those born in Greece, oh no. The saying “those that live outside of Greece are more Greek than those that live there” holds true in my opinion so let’s get that out of the way.
In my opinion the Greeks of the diaspora that occupy the four corners of the earth can be categorized as follows:
50% Greeks and finally the Geeks by osmosis
The 100% Greeks are all things old country and live in a bubble where their whole being centers around Greek culture. 100% Greeks return their well done steak at the steakhouse because it’s not cooked enough and tend not to go to a Chinese restaurants because they can’t get a loaf of bread with their lo mein. They listen to music sang by Kazantzidis, watch Turkish dramas on Greek TV with Greek subtitles and get their news from Greek satellite TV (even American news).
The 100%ers tend to be the older Greeks who left their villages with one suitcase and $50 and to this day have not shall we say fully assimilated to the American way of life. 100%ers are also those who have washed ashore recently because they lost their 2,000 Euro per month cozy “job” with the Greek economic meltdown. This bunch drove beemers and wore the latest attire the world of fashion had to offer but got a dose of reality when they went from wearing Gucci to wearing an apron at their uncle’s diner in New Jersey.
This new wave of patriotes has a problem assimilating because everything closes at 9 pm on a Monday night and there’s no smoking section and Greek frappe at the coffee shops. Half Greeks may or may not speak the Greek language, they order their steak medium rare and can’t understand a good Greek joke to save their life.
Half Greeks tend to be churchgoers and know how to dance all 456 Greek dances. Their ability to continuously dance and jump from an ikariotiko dance to a pontian and then to a tsamiko followed by a kalamatiano baffles me to this day.
The osmosis Greeks are all the “xenoi” who joined our Greek culture either voluntarily or by Greek force. Greek force starts off slowly with the mother in law’s kourabiethes and ends with a shotgun to the head by the father in law saying “you’re marrying my daughter in a Greek Orthodox church and your first born will be given my name”. These poor “xenoi” that marry into a Greek family tend to suffer from whiplash from nodding “yes” to everything that’s demanded of them and would never ever even think of objecting to anything the Greeks say.
I find myself being in neither camp but in the minority, those that are 75% Greek who came to America between say the ages of 18 and 30 either to study or because they met their wife / husband on a Greek beach during a Summer vacation.
75% Greeks are considered to Greek by the half Greeks and not Greek enough by the 100%ers but have a distinct advantage over everyone in that they can blend in the general public and survive and succeed in both American and Greek environments. They tend to speak and write both languages and depending on what side of the brain they use the most, they may or may not have an accent when they speak English.
What I find interesting with 75% Greeks is that many work and play under the Greek radar of our community as if they’re on a Greek witness protection program or something. I come across these individuals all the time at my place of business and their association with the Greek community is limited to an annual visit to a Church festival and maybe just maybe church on Easter Sunday.
Another interesting observation with 75% Greeks is that they don’t find it all the important to live, eat and breath the Greek culture in the U.S. and that’s not because they don’t love or care about their motherland. I think that because they come to the U.S. …shall I say Greek already and don’t quite understand the gung-ho Greek American culture.
While growing up, 75% Greeks absorbed a lot of the Western European lifestyle because they grew up during the Greek economic “boom” but also absorbed much of the Greek culture just because well they grew up in Greece. Another important thing I have noticed is that this group tends to be progressive unlike most other Greek Americans who had to struggle to keep their identity and are very conservative socially and economically.
With the passing of time and as our children and grandad kids become less and less Greek I wonder who will be Greek say 50 years from now. Will we still have Greek parades in US cities and who will roast the lamb at the church festival? One thing is for sure, assimilation into American culture lessens our interest and weakens our ties with the motherland but what can we do, we don’t live there.