Saturday, January 27, 2007

When in Greece

I am one of those individuals who regards other people dubiously and with great hesitation, sort of a misanthrope, I guess. It isn’t that I don’t care about people, I am greatly saddened by all the hatred and suffering in the world. It is just that I prefer to do my caring from a distance, with a checkbook, instead of up close and personal. I generally demand at least a five foot perimeter around me at all times and am quite distressed when people breach it. Honestly, I am barely able to be affectionate with my family and the best of my friends, let alone reaching out to other people.

My peculiarities with other people extend to food consumption, sharing, and disposal. I never could share food or drink with another person, even as a child, except under the most extreme circumstances. I couldn’t even stand to clear the table of the remains of other people’s food without gagging a few times. My food is my food – no one else gets to touch it, taste it, or even smell it. Obviously I belong in the animal kingdom, I seem barely human with my inability to deal with other people.

Yet, I’ve found myself changing since I moved to Greece. Bit by bit things that were previously way unacceptable have become tolerated and even habit. Obviously, having a husband requires a modicum of affection now and then, and I don’t shirk from him at all. That is actually how I knew he was the right man for me. What I wasn’t prepared for was the open affection shared between family and friends – even acquaintances – here in Greece. That European hug and two cheek kiss greeting is impossible to dodge. I’ve probably affectionately greeted more people in the four years I’ve been in Greece than in the thirty-three years before my arrival.

As far as food goes, I was absolutely shocked by the Greek way of sharing meals at tavernas. Sure, it is one thing to share a bunch of dishes between family members at the dinner table, but sharing a bunch of food with friends and acquaintances is downright uncivilized. I began to wonder what sort of heathen hinterland I had ventured in to here. It was like my worst nightmare coming true.

Four years later, I find myself surprised by my own actions. I go out to tavernas with friends, my husband’s colleagues, whoever, and find myself readily sharing a plethora of dishes with them without a second thought. I have accepted the physical greeting with my in-laws and expect it. Admittedly, I still grimace a bit with people outside my husband’s immediate family, and for god’s sake, on New Year’s Eve I could totally do without kissing thirty some odd extended family members and friends. Seriously, you can get bad rashes from doing that.

At least I still continue to keep my distance from the general public, I haven’t totally lost all my misanthropic ways. But who knows, some day I might squeeze in and push and shove with the best of them. Apparently the phrase “when in Rome, do as the Romans” applies not only consciously but subconsciously. I am constantly amazed at how expat life changes me – but hopefully, I won’t change so much I won’t recognize myself.


Leanne said...

Ha! Why is it all my friends are misanthropes too??? :-) You have a good heart and that's all that matters, at least to me (and Thanos).

And that cheek kissing. Honestly- it's a European conspiracy to make us all look like Hollywood phonies. It makes me NUTS. The ex-pats here all do it THREE times and I have them all trained to wave at me, because I don't do cheek kisses, period.

deviousdiva said...

I do the kissing thing now and I've got to the point where if I don't kiss my friends (Greek and Expats), I feel strange.

Thanks for the post! I laughed in recognition.

J.Doe said...

I had a problem with the cheek kissing first of family friends. Then I started doing it. Now I've moved back to the States and I still do it. People think I'm either plain wierd or a sexual pervert.

Flubberwinkle said...

I'm Greek and the cheek kissing is customary with close friends and family, hearty handshakes for extended relatives and acquaintances. Then... I have a couple of Serbian and Russian friends who do the cheek kissing thrice, instead of the customary Greek twice on each cheek. I have a couple of Japanese friends with which we bow hellos and goodbyes to and I have a couple of American friends who just wave at me (they always need reminding about keeping their darn palms closed when they do this). It gets confusing. Sometimes you just wanna nod your head and say "Yo"...

Anonymous said...

Well at least you guys are woman... I think it's always a bigger problem for 'ex-pat' men who are even more freaked out with hugs and kissing hello than the women are.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like living abroad has really opened your mind and gotten rid of a few rigid internal rules--that's a good thing! You've lightened up. Now if you could just learn to go easy on those that jokingly suggest you finish your thesis because we are eager to read it ... if you could NOT have a knee-jerk reaction to that, you'd be on your way to being the most well-adjusted misanthrope out there.