Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Xenophobia

Whenever a person moves to a new place there is always a period of adjustment. The length of time it will take is indeterminate – it depends on many factors, and can take weeks, months, or even years. Obviously, moving to a different country ups the adjustment factor quite a bit, as we learn how to deal with new cultures, new social customs, and sometimes, new languages.

When I moved to Greece six years ago, I did not expect it to be easy. I am one of those people who stubbornly defies change of any kind, even change I long for, so I knew learning how to live in a new country was going to be an enormous task for me. The welcoming attitude of my in-laws made things much less difficult (as some of us know, some Greek in-laws can be a bit harsh with foreign spouses), but the blooming war in Iraq and general anti-American sentiment made me feel quite isolated and unwanted here. Living in Athens didn’t help matters much, because while it is a booming metropolis with lots of activity, it is hard to find your “place” there. Of course, we were only going to be there a year, so I looked forward to moving on.

We moved three times in four years, so it was nearly impossible to really feel like I was “home” here. In smaller villages I was more of an attraction because of my foreign status, and people were much friendlier. Even though I was starting to feel a greater sense of belonging, I had difficulty learning the Greek language, and that separated me from everyone else. We moved to a village I really loved on the side of Mt. Olympus, and that was when Greece started feeling more like home. Another move to my husband’s home town of Thessaloniki made things even better, and by the time we moved into our own house, I finally felt settled at last.

That is, until the riots started. To be fair, this sort of violence isn’t uncommon in Greece, whenever there is a protest or march of some kind, rioters wreak some kind of havoc. But the scale of the latest riots was enormous, the damage overwhelming, and the hatred palpable. We have had riots in America, but things don’t spill over into violence quite so often. Europe is so protective over an individual’s right to protest that it has a hard time dealing with rioting, which I can respect, but the destruction and injury (and sometimes death) caused by soccer hooliganism and protest violence seems unnecessary and avoidable. The general attitude that it is ok to throw rocks and bottles and bombs at people (especially police) is hard for me to grasp. I’ve had my share of anti-government attitudes in my life, but I’ve never felt the need to throw something at another human being, no matter how much I despised them (yes, I know, we can all appreciate the humor in Bush’s bobbing and weaving at the shoes thrown at him, but honestly, I do not think it is ok to do that, as much as I dislike Bush).

I cannot pretend to know what it is like to grow up in Greece today, or what my attitude about things would be if I was a Greek youth. But I’m not, and these riots have left me feeling alienated and unsettled, and once again searching for home.

9 comments:

Kevin Whited said...

Interesting post.

I just got back from a trip to Prague (and a short stop in France), and it is always refreshing to take in these perspectives. I really love travel for that reason.

I expected some anti-American sentiment, but didn't really get any of that. One Prague waiter was a little bit surprised we were from Texas, and a bit of a discussion on Bush and the recent election ensued. The waiter liked Obama, which wasn't surprising. But my friend Ethan had a great comeback, "He might turn out okay, but he's no Vaclav Havel!"

Damn straight. Wish I had said it. :)

Anyway, as much as some global folks might want to look down on America, at least we can generally settle our differences without deadly riots that last for weeks and damage both lives and livelihoods. That has to be worth something, right?

Rositta said...

The sad part is that I don't think it's over yet. When we travel to Greece I always tell my husband to leave is U.S. passport at home and travel with the Canadian one. I find that very sad too, the anti Americanism is most of Europe including Germany...ciao

Anonymous said...

The youth started it by throwing a firebomb at the police. Sorry to sound crass, but he got what he deserved.

As for the rioters, it's just an excuse for a stinking new class of hopeless, spoiled youth that can't make a point and probably can't express themselves in a normal way.

I say give the police Uzi's and let them kill them. They (rioters) have no useful purpose on the this earth anyway.

teacher dude said...

Words cannot begin to describe the anger I feel over the previous person's comments. Then again, the fact that s/he chooses to remain anonymous probably means that that they are ashamed of their views as well.

As someone who has been teaching young Greeks for nearly 20 years I have the deepest sympathy with their present plight.

Law & Order said...

You have sympathy for people who riot and cause destruction to innocent businesses and people?

Gianna said...

Kevin wrote:

"Anyway, as much as some global folks might want to look down on America, at least we can generally settle our differences without deadly riots that last for weeks and damage both lives and livelihoods."

Kevin are you suffering from amnesia? Or selective memory?

Are you forgetting the 1992 L.A. riots ? Does the name Rodney King ring a bell?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_King

Mel, As for Bush getting whacked with a shoe. I understand what you are saying but I also believe in Karma and IMO, Bush getting whacked with a shoe was justly deserved.

Free Speech said...

I doubt that Mr. shoe-thrower would have survived very long had he tried that under Saddam's regime. Like it or not, he has Bush to thank for his freedom of speech.

Anonymous said...

Free Speech.. what a gross assumption on your part.

It amazes me how some people can trivialize the price those people paid for their "reward" of Free Speech. How many of his friends, family or neighbors have died that he can also thank Bush for? How many lost their homes or businesses, or all of their belongings?

Free Speech.. what a gross assumption on your part.

It amazes me how some people can trivialize the price those people paid for their "reward" of Free Speech. How many of his friends, family or neighbors have died that he can also thank Bush for? How many lost their homes or businesses, or all of their belongings?

Who are YOU to decide if "free speech" was a cause worth sacrificing THEIR lives and/or livelihoods for?

One would think if they as a people wanted the freedoms you say they should be thankful for.. they would have got on board and fought with us and we wouldn't be stuck there for 6 years and counting.

libero said...

Poor anonymous, you, the tone that hides behind the silent majority, the average spectator, your information is rather biased. You obviously read the police 's statements (the ones created from guys that cover the "jardinière" incident that ended up with the fierceful beating of the cypriot student) and finally, you find that the police brutality in Greece are usual measures against a deliquent youth. You should better collect your information more carefully and not just the headlines of the big mass media. The greek police are spotted by Amnesty International with the worst marks in Europe for their continuous violation of essential human rights of illegal immigrants and prisoners (see AI's 2008 annual report).