Sunday, August 28, 2005

Forever Amerikanida

I am not the kind of person who craves attention. No, I always prefer to blend in with the crowd as a watcher, an observer, never seen who sees everything. Blending in, I was afraid, was going to be a bit of a task in moving to another country. At first I figured, how hard would it be to just look Greek? Sure, in one-on-one conversation I would be immediately outed as a damn American, but could I manage to blend in with a crowd, unnoticed?

My first realization that I could not help but be different in a Greek world was my first time on the Metro in Athens. When I looked at the people around me, I noticed basic similar features: brown eyes, prominent (but attractive) noses, dark hair (except for those that dyed their hair blonde, with obvious roots), stated eyebrows. I knew immediately that my light blue eyes might be an instant giveaway, my tiny nose, my light eyebrows - why, I didn't fit in here at all! At least it was Athens, a city with 4 million people, and several of those immigrants. Even if I was noticed, no one would care, or pay any attention to it. I could survive in relative obscurity. Phew!

That all changed when we moved to the island of Kos. Of course, all the Greek islands are tourist traps, and Kos was supposedly quite popular with Brits. I figured, if anyone noticed me, they would peg me for a tourist, be glad I was supporting their small island, and move along. But that was not to be. My husband's camp was not in the main town on the island, where I could have blended in easily, but in a tiny village along the southern mountain range. A tiny village where everyone knows everyone else, and tourists only come to frequent the tavernas and gift shops. I was grateful when I learned of the Dutch jewellers who had their shop in the village, at least there were other xenos there. But my husband's rank, and his position as a doctor, automatically drew attention to us, and the fact his wife was an Amerikanida (American woman) spread through that tiny village like wildfire. Everyone knew who I was, and I have no doubts that everyone gossiped about us, perpetuated no doubt by our landlady, who could hear our every move. It was at this point that I realized that no matter what I did, how hard I tried to fit in, how well I learned the language, how well I could cook mousaka, I would forever and always be Amerikanida to Greeks.

Being Amerikanida isn't so bad, I suppose, aside from taking the blame for Dubya now and then. I had to hide in virtual obscurity after the last election, when a Greek friend visited from Athens and inquired "what happened?" after Dubya won again. Hey, I cast my absentee ballot, although a part of me wonders whether or not they even count them.

Most people here don't automatically recognize Tennessee, although several seem to know Nashville, and quite a few only recognize Tennessee because of Jack. In the end it doesn't matter I guess. My Greek husband loves me, my Greek in-laws love me, and I love them. I couldn't ask for anything more, even if I am forever Amerikanida.


wandering-woman said...

Great post. You so perfectly summed up that feeling of belonging but not quite belonging...

(And I share your I don't represent Dubya pain - I considered printing myself up a T Shirt or a sign to wear around during the last elections --"YES, I voted, I voted, I promise you, I voted." I had people offering to do my housework, whatever, if it freed me up to get that ballot out on time....It was the only time I've ever seen Spaniards nag....)

The SeaWitch said...

It could be could be Canadian, like me and called the Amerikanida. LOL It's amazing how one presidency has relegated your nationality to a slur. I don't really mind it that much because when I lived in the US, I met some really great people and thoroughly enjoyed living and working in the US. I always tell people if being American is SO bad, why are there always huge lineups outside the American embassy for visas any given day of the week. It's just very easy these days for anyone to jump on the stereotype bandwagon and condemn an entire population of 280 million people for the actions and policies of a few. Next year, there'll probably be a new 'whipping boy' and you guys will be off the hook. That's why I don't bother with assimilation. Integration is a much more realistic goal for me.

melusina said...

Integration is definitely a more realistic goal. It is not as if every other country in the world is perfect, it is just that the decisions of the U.S. have much more of a global impact than say, Greece.

But I am still proud to be American, I have a pool of great family and friends to prove how great America can be. In the end, though, I don't think America is the big end-all, be-all most other countries seem to think it is.

Niko said...

I've just recently found your blog, and really have enjoyed reading it. It makes me nostolgic for home, but I know the minute I land they'll try to marry off to a greek virgin (I don't think my partner would like that too much)

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to the Amerikanida

melusina said...

Thanks for the kind comment Niko!

Maybe someday you can make it back to Greece without the threat of a Greek virgin being held over your head. =)

melisoula said...

I just stumbled across your blog and I totally love it! But to tell you the truth, even if you did blend in, there would still be problems! I can pass for Greek most of the time (even though I'm Irish-American, weird!) and although I've been studying Greek and can understand a lot, I'm nowhere near fluent. This past summer I went to less touristy island with my boyfriend. To make things easier, in every restaurant my boyfriend would order for me and answer any questions for me that required more than a nod. I think the entire island thought that I was either mute or in an extremely controlling relationship! When they heard us speaking English, they would laugh and apologize, but then I would feel stupid for being the Amerikanida!

CaliforniaKat said...

Hi Mel, although I've been mistaken for Greek on rare occasions, my northern CA accent -- in which I'm told I elongate my vowels -- gives me away, even when speaking Greek. Heck, I didn't even know I had an accent.

At the Mayor's Office, nomarxeia and eforia, they call me the Amerikanida; they don't even use my name. And they feel so comfortable with me that there's no hesitation in pointing out I've "taken a kilo" after a recent trip to the homeland. The other thing I get is 'California girl,' which was how I was known years ago on an island in which I was the only one with that distinction. Some people don't know where Nashville is, but almost everyone has heard of California.

All in all, I think it's good to revel in being unique and know that people notice you for that. A Greek girl I knew in the village was known as the "pou_@n@," which only made me more grateful for Amerikanida.