For insights into the love and marriage, we interviewed Linda Katsiotis, an Italian-American married to a Greek for over 32 years. Linda has written about her marriage to Nick and Greek culture in her memoir Nifi, which we will be reviewing for a future post. Her candid statements give an insider look into the workings of a successful relationship and serve as an inspiration for all of us who have made Greek the love of their life.
Describe your background cultural and professional.
I’ve lived on Long Island all of my life. My father was Italian from the old country–the Bronx. Both of his parents were born in Italy. My mother was French Canadian. They met in NYC in the 50s, married and settled on Long Island. There was not a strong cultural background. My grandparents came from a time when it was extremely negative to be an immigrant so they didn’t speak Italian to their children. My mother’s family was far away so we rarely saw them. People did not travel back then, the way they do now. So, our family had nothing “ethnic” that I can think of, though I can curse in French and Italian.
I have two sisters and three brothers. I had a high school diploma, but was not encouraged to go to college – which was not so unusual in those days. That’s why I went to work in a diner near my house. I went to college when I was married with kids. Nick basically put me through school.
How did you meet your Greek American husband? Describe the courtship. What influenced your decision to marry each other?
I wouldn’t call him Greek-AMERICAN. He was born in Greece. I worked with him at a diner. I was twenty-two. He was twenty-seven. He could barely speak English and he had no intention of staying in the U.S. He was just hanging out, having a good time. He had just jumped ship in NYC. We fell in love. He was/is gorgeous, so handsome! It was purely a physical attraction, but after the first date, I never wanted to be without him. After a few months I asked him, “So, what are you going to do? Are you going to marry me or what, because if you are just having fun, I’m not interested.” He said something like, “okay, I’ll get married.” And that was it. My parents disliked him, especially my mother. He was not what she expected for her daughter. My father was more tolerant because he had grown up in an ethnic community and it was not such a foreign idea. (In my blog I talk about how he always told us we had to marry Italians, which is true, but he was not serious – he was teasing my mother– but I did not realize that because I was a little kid). They did not want me to marry Nick, though and refused to support it. So, Nick and I went to a courthouse and married before the justice of the peace. My parents were very upset and maybe thought he just wanted his papers and hoped he would leave and then I could find some nice American boy. But we were insanely in love.
What impressions or stereotypes did you have of Greek culture before you married into it?
I did not know what a Greek was. I had no preconceived ideas because I was clueless. I thought they were Italian for the first few days that I worked there!
What obstacles or resistance, if any, did you encounter from your respective families when you decided to marry?
There was no resistance. His entire family was in Greece: Parents, 3 sisters, a brother. He just called them one day and told them that he had married and that was it. They hadn’t seen him in many years. He was a poor kid from a very poor area (Eprius). It was not that unusual for the kids to leave and not come back for many years. That was the 70s and 80s and on Long Island the diners were the place to eat—long before all the franchises like Applebees and Houlihans etc. Those did not yet exist.
There were so many young Greek men here. Immigration used to come and raid the diner and they’d all run out the back door.
How did you and your husband negotiate the potential conflicts with regards to upbringing for your child?
Again, the word that comes to mind is “clueless.” We were young and dumb and Nick worked a lot – 7 days a week, 10 hours. He was a little “rougher” with discipline than I was.
How did your perceptions of Greek culture change once you became a part of it? Basically, what did you think before and after you became a “Greek”?
So, this question to me is more like: Once you became part of the Greek culture, what did you think? Nick had some cousins here that he met after he left the ship in NY, so it’s not like they were close but they were the only ones he had. So we went to baptisms and weddings and events like that. I really felt like an outsider. I wanted very much to be part of them but they all spoke Greek and I could not. I just never really fit in. That was one specific culture–the Greeks in America. But then there was this whole other different culture –The Greeks in Greece in a small village that I would equate to the Appalachian Mountain communities. This was like visiting a different planet. Indescribable! But I’ll shamelessly plug my book here ; ) It basically tells the tale in detail. But I can tell you this: That visit to his village saved our marriage. When I left there, I understood who he was and why he did some of the things he did.
What factors made you embrace the culture? What influenced you to become Orthodox if you converted?
Nick was adamant about raising the kids in the Greek Orthodox Church. I really liked the Greek culture so it was easy to embrace and I yearned for something as strong as that Greek Orthodox culture was, so I dove in head first. I always celebrate Greek Easter at my house with my extended family when it doesn’t fall on Catholic Easter, I have a big new year’s dinner with the Vasilopita. I can roll out a pita like nobody’s business. My kids were at Sunday school everySunday. I taught it for a few years. They were at Greek School every Friday night. I loved the ethnicity of it all and I wanted them to feel like they belonged. In fact, I was so zealous about it, that my nephew – my brother’s son—who was 100% Italian, came home from kindergarten with his project about his family background and it had an Italian and Greek flag on it. My brother had to explain it to him. I actually didn’t officially convert to Greek Orthodox until about 15 years ago. I just wanted us to all be the same. That is around when Nick got his American citizenship also.
What is the best and worst of being Greek? (BE HONEST) In other words, why would it be a good idea for someone who is not Greek to marry someone Greek?
I married Nick because of the individual he is. It had nothing to do with his ethnicity. I was so attracted to him but I also loved the things he said. A friend of mine was having cosmetic surgery on her teeth back before we were married and he said, “your husband married you because he loves the person you are, not your teeth. Why are you bothering.” Another time, I said with disgust, “Can you believe my friend is marrying an Iranian!” that was back during the Iranian hostage crisis. And he said, something like a person is an individual. You should judge him on his character not on where he was born. That kind of stuff just bowled me over. It was nothing like any of the American guys I knew. That being said, I love that my Greek last name gives me this instant camaraderie with all other Greeks. They are so protective and instantly accepting of their own. I just love that. When you marry a Greek, you not only get a giant extended family, you get a whole community no matter where you are. You asked for the worst and maybe that would be the way they overpower you and swallow your identity. So far, I have met only one quiet Greek and I know hundreds : ) But honestly, I see that more as endearing than annoying.
How do you stay true to your own culture?
LOL! Cute. I don’t! If you ever find a non-Greek who does, let me know. It’ll be the first : ) When you marry a Greek, you become Greek and if you just embrace it and enjoy it, you end up with 32 years +
What advice or wisdom do you have for other intercultural couples who are negotiating two cultures and religions?
I don’t think I am qualified to advise anyone : ) I think there will always be a partner who is a little stronger in his/her sense of culture and/or religion and so that is the one that will dominate. I’m not sure I agree with two religions. Pick one and stick to it. But if one partner is Greek, you’re probably going to end up Greek Orthodox : )
What influenced your decision to marry a non-Greek, esp. since Greeks are so endogamous?
I didn’t think about it. I fell in love and that was it. I was marrying the person.
How did you counter resistance, if any, in your family with regards to marrying a non-Greek bride?
No one in her family ever bothered me. We did things the way we wanted to and that was it.
To Nick and Linda and all the inter-cultural love matches in the world, we wish you all the love for many years of happy marriage to come.