Is there an ocean of difference between a Greek-American girl and a Greek-Greek? A recent conversation with my hair stylist, herself a Greek American girl, got me thinking.
“Of course, there’s a difference,” Kali the stylist exclaims her smoky olive eyes wide, “a huge difference.”
“How would you characterize that difference?” I prod her.
“Greeks from Greece are sneaky, the women are all into their looks, superficial. They are selfish and without morals. We Greek Americans don’t follow the same values,” she explains while snipping the split ends off layers that have seen too much sun. “We are hard-working here, we are honest. Our girls are more conservative.”
But isn’t that stereotyping? There are good Greek girls there and there are nasty women here. People are the same wherever you go.
“You can’t trust the Greeks in Greece,” Kati warned. “They turn on you.”
Her comment brought up an experience or two of that sort in my mind and I couldn’t help but nod along with her.
“They do so little in comparison to us,” she went on, her silver shears snipping the other side of my head. “Here the day goes by so fast; you go to work you come back, do dinner. By then it’s 7 poof! Time to go to sleep. I would get so bored in Greece if I lived there year round.”
“But we work ourselves to death here,” I retort. “We don’t have time to make meaningful connections. We envy each other just as much as Greek Americans as the Greeks do.”
“I don’t know, honey,” Kati continues. “But all I know I’m so happy I am American. I go for the summer and then come back through JFK and say “Thank God for America.’”
Her conversation starts me thinking. Are Greek women in Greece nastier, more superficial, more immoral, than our good Greek American girls? Could it be that the socio-economic and political context of how they grow forces them to be sneaky, conniving and self-serving? Can you generalize based on your own experience?
One thing is clear. Being a Greek-American is NOT the same as being a Greek. There are differences, especially if you are female. While I cannot speak to the moral superiority of one group of women over another, what I can speak to is the discrepancies in equality, accomplishment, and freedom offered to kores in Ameriki vs Hellas. You would have to be stubbornly insular not to agree that growing up American for a woman from Greek culture is much more liberating than growing up in Greece.
I do not have studies or statistics but it just feels as if women have more opportunities and are treated a bit more equally in the States than in that tiny nation-state called Hellas. For this we have to credit our American sisters, feisty feminists who struggled tooth and claw to be given equal footing for self-actualization and accomplishment. The American way fosters an independent spirit and the rugged individualism that propels daughters as well as sons. While the US is far from being a gender utopia, it does not suffer from the nepotism and clannishness that riddle Greek society. If Greek women from Greece are successful, they are allowed to be through their familial networks. Without a clan, a Greek woman is a nobody. Not the same playing field in America. Greek-American women can prove themselves devoid of any affiliation. No one asks them “What is your last name? Who is your father?” A woman’s actions and words and her products and services are what matter. Her drive is not thwarted by social nets.
In fact, many native Greek women, very intelligent and accomplished on their own merits, do very well once they leave Greece. Diaspora Greeks in general accomplish more than the narrow confines of Hellas offers (e.g. Alexandra Pascalidou, Penelope Kougianou-Goldberg, Asimina Arvanitaki, Elsa Stamatopoulou, even Jennifer Aniston). It’s as if there is not enough psychic space for so many dynamic women to breathe in.
It is hard to generalize about gender based on anecdotal hunches. But speaking from my own eyes and gut, I do feel “freer” as a woman in America than in Greece. However, I feel “happier” in Greece, mostly because the quality of life is better there. Maybe because we Greek-Americans associate Greece with summer-vacation-reconnection to roots. We are always essentially tourists in our homeland.
The reality of Greek identity is difficult to call. There might be varieties of Greek, just like my gardening botanist friend explains about lilies. There are hybrids from one species and off-shoots of those hybrids. They change color and appearance based on the environment and soil content, especially acidity. One is not better off or worse than the other. Their environment has a lot to do with how they grow. You choose your lily.