Caught in the tides of Culture


Unpublished article written for Athens News

Immigration has existed in every society since time immemorial. People in every generation have taken the steps needed to benefit their future and the futures of their family, even if this meant leaving everything behind and creating a new life in a strange place.

In some cases those who make the move aren’t so much strangers to the country as long lost lambs returning to the fold. Brought up in another country but with an understanding of the Greek culture, they return for work, or for love, to their motherland.

“I was born in Greece and grew up in New York after the age of five, when my parents emigrated. I moved back because I fell in love. My husband had finished architecture and wasn’t going to stay in the US and we eloped and came here. I never thought I’d come back and raise my children in Greece but when my husband suggested it, I wanted my children to grow up somewhere there wasn’t as much crime as New York city.” says Andrianna Anagnostopoulou.

“I came to Piraeus and it was a foreign country to me, I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t have any family. But I was so much in love that I didn’t pay attention to anything. I decided that this was going to work and I made it work. I wanted to live here, it wasn’t easy but I wanted it.”

Despite a determination to succeed, it is not always easy to integrate. There are still daily things, things taken for granted when in a country you know well, that take some getting used to.

“It was difficult to get used to the fact that its 12:30 why can’t I go to the supermarket? Why is it closed? Sunday nothing is open, why is nothing open? The mentality was difficult. I would get up, put my makeup on, get dressed and just sit in the yard and my mother-in-law and her friends would say ‘where is she going? Why is she all dressed up?’”

Andrianna isn’t the only one to have had problems with these day to day things. Australian born second generation Greek Christalla Karypidis also found herself facing difficulties at the start of her life in Greece.

“I couldn’t speak Greek and they were the years when a lot of people didn’t speak English so it was difficult. I also had a problem with shopping because they didn’t have supermarkets then so u had to go to a bakali (grocers) and I’d ask for things – try to ask for things. It wasn’t as if you’d go in the supermarket, you’d put the things in the trolley and pay and that’s it.”

Although the daily problems disappear as the emigrant acclimatises, other difficulties arise, particularly once children come in to the equation. For both Andrianna and Christalla, access to information was a key factor in this. “I found I couldn’t help my children when they were growing up at school due to the different education and the history” states Christalla, while Andrianna says “Growing up in NY city, I would go to the library. Bringing up my kids I did miss the fact that I had access to the library growing up and the book readings on Saturdays. Maybe because I wasn’t integrated enough. I would know how to follow up on things now but back then I didn’t.”

These difficulties are of course to be expected from any person living in a country they were not raised in but it is interesting to see them in those who’ve already been brought up in a duel culture environment. It is also interesting to see the way their children consider their surroundings.

Like their parents, their upbringing is based in more than one culture and, in the case of Christalla and Andrianna’s children, due to studies and extended travels, they have also had the chance to experience life in both – giving them a unique view of their world and of the culture their parents left behind, whether good or bad.

“I feel like I have a connection to both countries. More to Greece, because I was raised here and went to school here – but because I was constantly listening to the English language being spoken and had relatives visiting from abroad, I feel like that” Konstantinos Karypidis tells Athens News. “I’ve been going to Australia since I was very young and have seen it with my own eyes. I saw that it is very different to what I know here. That doesn’t mean that it is better or worse, but I was surprised that it was so different”

Emmanuel Anagnostopoulos has a different view: “Growing up both my mother and father gave me the whole American dream speech ‘you’re going to go over there and it’ll be so nice and so easy’. I’ve been there for 7 years and it’s exactly the opposite. People think that it’s so easy to make money, especially in New York and that is not the case. You go there waiting to see this utopia and you find nothing. You find the exact opposite.”

His brother, Yiannis Anagnostopoulos expands on this: “It’s hard for someone who has grown up in Greece with a specific mentality to go and adopt a different one. What happens is you actually grow faster in specific things – especially if you know that eventually you will leave. It builds a character that’s different to the rest of the community.”

The question remains, then, as to whether dual nationality is a help or a hindrance. Does the additional understanding add to their life or is it a shackle around their ankles?

“It is really helpful but growing up you go through such an Identity crisis that it isn’t worth it any more. People of dual nationality, one moment they say ‘I’m American’ the next ‘I’m Italian’ but they don’t speak either language correctly, they don’t know the cultures correctly and they only use it when they need it. So it is confusing. It’s great to have as a tool but if I am going to give that tool to my kids I will make sure that they have a rounded understanding of both worlds so they can know exactly what they’re doing and what they are supposed to be” says Emmanuel.

Konstantino disagrees: “It all depends on your character’s integrity and how you perceive things. If you’re constantly worried about which is your country, if you have a country issue, it bothers you. If you don’t think about it, then it doesn’t bother you. Your nationality is something that affects you, not only in terms of rights, but also opportunities of working or building a life somewhere else, starting a new life in another country. If you’re a traveler it helps you explore the world easier and that is important because it shapes your character and how you go on with your life.”

 

As to the benefits to Greece, there is an argument that new generations with a way of thinking that is different to previous generations and influenced by other cultures could help Greece’s future.

Yianni has an opinion on this: “People who have dual citizenship or have lived out of Greece see the things going wrong and speak about them more but when they do people get them wrong because Greece has created a system without the appetite to change it for the better. We inherited a ruler and its ready to break and instead of making a new one from steel so we can give it to our children, we continue using this one with tape so the measurements are different for each person.”

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