Right before Thanksgiving, I saw a post on Facebook that read, “To my non-Greek friends. Don’t ask me if we celebrate Thanksgiving in Greece. The Pilgrims didn’t make it there!” (Thanks Eleni). I laughed at it. Thought it was cute. Someone commented, “Didn’t they sail to Kalamata?” The reply was, “Idiot.” That’s my Greek friends for you.
That post made me think of all the times over my lifetime people have asked stupid questions of me and my ancestry. I feel I could be on one of those television segments where they ask people, “Who was Washington D.C. named after?” and they get blank stares, and a few answer, “Lincoln?” That’s funny and sad. Or, “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” More blank stares (You know it’s Grant, right?)
One of the questions I use to get asked when I was a kid, was from my Irish-Catholic friends, “You Greeks still believe in the twelve Olympic Gods?” I would answer no, we’re Christians, we believe in Jesus, just like you. The arguments would start and they would insist that their teachers, those nuns from Catholic school, told them that the Ancient Greeks believed in the Olympic Gods. I would look them straight in the face and reply, “I’m not an Ancient Greek. I’m only ten years old. Do I look that old?” They would argue some more so I would give up and just agree.
Yes, we believe in the Olympic Gods. Ares, the god of war, is my favorite. Creates mayhem and chaos all over the world. I like Artemis too. The huntress. Very powerful woman. She’s the twin sister of Apollo. Matter of fact, I would tell them, I just sacrificed two chickens and a goat to them. You have any virgins to sacrifice? Their mouths would drop. I would just smile back.
The other most popular question I would be asked is, “Do you speak Greece?” I would answer, “No, I don’t speak Greece, but I speak Greek. Do you speak Ireland?” That really confused them.
Then the whole issue about Easter would start and what a mess. They would ask why don’t you celebrate it on real Easter? I would answer that Zeus wouldn’t allow us to? Why do you eat lamb instead of ham like everyone else does? I told them lamb looks just like a dog on the spit. Oh, by the way, where’s your dog, Spot? You know Jesus wasn’t Greek, he was Catholic. Why don’t you have any other color but red for your eggs? Why do you drive around with a lit candle in your car during Easter? Why does your church songs sound like someone is being stabbed? Why this, why that, why, why, why!
Well, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t much to do to combat their questions. My friends were good, just a little misguided in school. There were only two Greek families in the town I grew up in so no support (Roula, you understand!). We just moseyed along until our non-Greek friends over the years finally learned the joy of being Greek – food, family, and friendship, otherwise known as philotimo, and yes, even though Jesus wasn’t Greek, they finally figured out he wasn’t Catholic either.
So the next time anyone asks you if you speak Greece, you just reply, “Yes. It’s electrifying. You better shape up!”
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