Friday, October 28, 2005

A NEIGHBORHOOD STORY

We have lived on the same street here in Athens for close to 11 years now. It is an ordinary street. It has a periptero (kiosk), a bakery, a couple of souvlaki joints, a butcher, a pharmacy, a kafenion, a flower shop, a grocer and a couple of small shops that sell a bit of everything. These days we have many additions to those basics including a manicure/pedicurist (what are they called?), a video store, a well known supermarket chain, an electrician, a pizza joint and a clothing store. It's a typically working class neighborhood inhabited by people who have grown up together and are growing old together. Enter the foreigners. Two of us at that time. From all the foaming at the mouth, screaming and ranting we have heard over here and at SOVEREIGNTY OF THE SEAWITCH you would think that we would have been lynched at the very least. Executed in the plateia as a warning to others. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are a few people on this street who still look at me like I'm a barbarian or a savage (to bring up those words that our rabid "friends" used to describe us). As I mentioned in a really early post on my blog, the man in the flower shop is one of them. However, the vast majority of our neighbors, although curious at first, have embraced us completely. It is almost impossible for me to pop out and buy a loaf of bread without encountering 4 or 5 people asking after me and my family, wishing us well, inquiring about our health, our work, how school is going, what do I think of this, that and the other. Our first landlady, a wonderful, warm woman, who spoke no english and had probably never known anyone foreign, treated us like we were her children. When she came to collect the rent, we would sit down and talk. My Greek was crap but she would chat away to me just like my mum would, asking about our lives, our problems, our successes and failures. When I first got pregnant she was more thrilled than I was! She worried about what I was eating, whether I was resting enough (I never did). I remember once I was sweeping the back porch, about to drop the sprogg, and she was horrified. She made me sit down and finished the job herself. Just like my mum would have. After the boy was born she bought something for him every-time she came round. She treated him like her own grandchild. She said once she was so proud that we had had our baby in the house where she had raised her own children. She once came to our defense against a "racist" remark directed at us by saying that she felt honored knowing us and that the person in question did not deserve that honor. The racist was a "friend" she had known since childhood. The woman on the balcony had lived in the same spot since the days when she had kept cows in a field that was now our house. She would wave at us whenever she saw us in garden and on the rare occasions we bumped into her on the street (she had difficulty with her legs), she always stop for a chat. The man in the "shop that sold everything", who was quite deaf, didn't understand a word I said and couldn't pronounce our kids name to save his life, always had time for us. He gave free sweets to our son who he insisted was Greek because he was born here. The woman down the road also insists that she is his Greek grandma. The men in the butchers who tease each other because our son supports the same football team as one and not the other. And so many more people. We know everyone on this street and everyone knows us. They know about our accidents and illnesses, our rather noisy parties, our myriad of foreign and greek friends who frequent our house. They know my parents and sisters and are pleased to see them when they visit. When the London bombings happened, several people spontaneously enquired after them. These are ordinary everyday stories. We have lived here and become part of this street. I am not naive. There are attitudes around here that are not so warm and cuddly. Attitudes towards certain groups of people, especially albanians and turks, are so ingrained that people don't think twice to blame everything on them. Our shop was robbed at gunpoint a few months ago. The immediate reaction was "ALBANIANS". People were rather quiet after they learned the truth that they were greeks. I believe anti-foreigner feelings are whipped up by the media, institutions and the few, but very vocal, racists and xenophobes. When ordinary people have the chance to get to know you, without those voices telling them to be afraid, they see that you are pretty much like them. That your children are like their children. That your lives are pretty much like theirs. When respect and warmth is shown, it is returned. There are more foreigners here now. I have seen and heard people chatting to them in the same way as they do with us. The same few, like our flower man, are probably still moaning about the "invasion" Is our street unique? Are we somehow in some parallel universe where this is the only street where Greeks don't hate foreigners? I don't think so. It is not perfect. It's noisy. It's dirty. People are worried about prices going up and whether their kids get a good education. What I don't see is people packing up and moving to "better" or more "racially pure" areas to avoid the "hordes of violent raping savages who are taking over".

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At 10/29/2005 01:35:00 AM, Anonymous zorkmidden said...

Rocking post, devious diva.

Our shop was robbed at gunpoint a few months ago. The immediate reaction was "ALBANIANS". People were rather quiet after they learned the truth that they were greeks.

I can't even tell you how sick I am of this stereotypical "immediate reaction." Our flat was burglarised by a Greek drug addict and even as the police caught him red-handed, our neighbours were muttering about "Albanian thieves."

 
At 10/29/2005 12:45:00 PM, Blogger The SeaWitch said...

What a wonderful blog Diva! I felt like packing up to move to your street! LOL I really believe that once most people get to see beyond accents and skin colour, they do soften their attitudes towards foreigners.

Of course, there are also those who don't even bother and I meet more than I probably would if I didn't work in retail businesses. The stories I could tell of what comes out of their mouths would make your hair fall out.

 
At 10/29/2005 11:37:00 PM, Blogger Thanos said...

Thanks for posting that.

I'll admit, that sometimes I think everything is going to hell in Greece, but - fortunately - it's not. Not yet. I am still proud to be greek and these people you mention, people with arms wide open, these are the true children of the great ancients.

No, your street is not unique. There are warm people everywhere, despite the big city and modern - "white" - way of life, that's trying to smother our humanity from within us. Even the racists, most of them, are just simple people, uninformed and naive, not really evil or vicious.

Anyway, I won't say anything more. Thanks for posting this.

 
At 10/30/2005 12:56:00 AM, Blogger The SeaWitch said...

When I talk to self-proclaimed patriots in my home, on the street and at the stores, one thing is evident...once you start naming people belonging to the minority they say they don't like or want...they start to qualify their hatred.

For instance, one customer told me Thursday that he hates all Albanians and that Greece would be a better country if we just deported all of them. I asked him what about the "X" family? "Oh no, not them...they're the good Albanians" he replied. So then I named off several more families in the neighbourhood and he again said, "well, no not them either...I'm talking about only the criminal Albanians". I kept pressing him who these bad Albanians were and then he finally admitted he actually knew none but figured they were out there ... where? He didn't know. So what started out as hatred towards all Albanians was narrowed down to just the known murderers. If I had more time with him, I'm sure he'd have admitted that his hatred was was induced by rumour and fear mongering tv reports.

What a difference 20 minutes of conversation makes.

 
At 10/30/2005 11:06:00 PM, Blogger melusina said...

Lol SeaWitch.

Great post Diva. I've felt the same openness and welcoming in Greece, all over the country, in every place that we've lived. My situation may be slightly different than yours, as I am married to a "real" Greek, but I am still a foreigner nonetheless. And from America, the devil country!

But I think (I hope) such extremist nationalists are in the minority. At least they seem to be, based on my day to day experiences.

 
At 11/01/2005 03:31:00 PM, Blogger schatzli said...

great post... greek can be indeed racist, i have such a heavy heart when my husband decided we will move here for good... well i mean i have been here since 1984 but the past 7 years we have lived outside coming here few months a year... i may feel greek but i also know i will never be accepted as one.

my biggest challenge now is looking for work.. as you see am Filipina born, lived half of my life here, foreign educated.. they see Fi;ipino nothing but a housekeeper.

sigh....

fellow blogger here in athens

you might be directed to my new site which is still being fixed

its www.schatzli.blogspot.com

i closed it for the time being I was away in France for a while

 
At 11/01/2005 05:15:00 PM, Blogger deviousdiva said...

Thank you, all of you for your comments. Welcome schatli. I look forward to hearing more of your experiences here. A filipina point of view of Greece, very interesting.

 

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