Ever had the feeling you were Greek in a former lifetime? Well, even though Lana Penrose is not biologically Greek, she can pass for Greek given her affinity for Hellenic culture, her experiences in Athens, and her love of Greek Aussie boyfriend. In this profile, Lena comes out about what it’s like for a non-Greek to feel so Greek. This author, music industry go-to girl, and general pop culture insider, tells www.greekamericangirl.com what it’s like to be Greek by really trying. In case readers on this side of the Western hemisphere haven’t heard of her, here’s a short bio–
Bestselling author Lana Penrose was born in Sydney, Australia. Her various incarnations have included record company promotions gal, music journalist, MTV producer and personal assistant to an iconic pop sensation known the world over, and, strangely, Simon Cowell.
One fateful day, Lana moved to Greece where she penned the critically acclaimed To Hellas and Back which details the enormous impact living abroad had on her and her partner (he is of Greek extraction.) Her follow-up book Kickstart My Heart is set in London and is described as ‘like Bridget Jones negotiating life with an axe through her head.’ Both madcap, emotive memoirs were originally released through Penguin/Viking and have been extremely well-received. A mini-memoir Addicted to Love was also released in early 2013, which closes her love and travel trilogy.
Lana has twice appeared on national breakfast television (‘9AM’ & ‘The Morning Show’) and she and her boos have been featured in Vogue, Cleo, Madison, Famous, Woman’s Day, That’s Life and numerous newspapers and radio shows. She also appeared on stage as part of the Darren Hayes (ex Savage Garden) ‘Big Night In’ tour throughout the UK, Ireland, Sydney and Thailand. She has been a guest speaker on four panels at the prestigious Byron Bay Writers’ Festival.
As her stories are rife with musical references, a Kickstart My Heart companion CD was released through Universal Music. To Hellas and Back has been optioned for film adaptation.
Here’s her responses to some of the random ramblings we posed to her:
|To anyone who doesn’t really know you, you can definitely pass as Greek. What’s the attraction? Were you Greek in a former lifetime? Why is Greece and all things Greeky so attractive to you? I think I probably pass as Greek because I’m half Maltese, meaning there’s plenty of European blood flowing through my veins. But as for my attraction to Greece, it’s something that’s difficult to explain. Even though I knew very little about Greek culture before meeting my Greek Australian partner, Greece wound up becoming an incredibly important part of my personal history. I lived there for five years in total and I’ve wondered many times if I was in fact Greek in a past life. That said, when negotiating difficulties, I thought it made better sense to deduce that I had once been a marauding Turk!
Do you have a different perspective to the Greek culture coming from the outside?
Absolutely. If you aren’t born into a particular culture, you’re always going to see things differently, so there were many times where I felt like an alien on a reconnoissance mission. Cultural differences were something that even my Greek Australian partner had to negotiate while in Greece, so there was always going to be plenty to negotiate for both of us, hence my reportage in ‘To Hellas and Back’.
What’s the best/worst things about Greeks?
Greeks have to be one of the most generous races that grace this planet. At every turn, I was gobsmacked by just how much people looked out for one another. No matter where I went, I never left empty-handed (think a giant slab of spanikopita wrapped in aluminium foil, flowers, eggs, cakes, biscuits baked for the express purpose of giving). Even Greek cafes and bars offer a little somethin’ extra – it’s just the Greek way. When it came to day-to-day affairs, I actually can’t count the amount of times people bent over backwards to ensure that we were well looked after. On the negative side, people who didn’t know us – out on the streets, for example – were extremely wary of foreigners and in that regard, Athens really can be a harsh city. There was also a lot of corruption, disorganisation and illogicality to contend with.
Tell me your honest to God opinion about Greek men (the truth please).
The Greek men I have known have been incredibly romantic, even spiritual. I think Greek natives are less afraid to express themselves emotionally than ‘western’ men. For example, if a Greek man is sad, he’ll cry unashamedly, and I kind of like that. You know how they’re feeling. The ones I’ve known have been inclined to philosophize and discuss the mysteries of the universe ad infinitum too, which I also find incredibly endearing. That said, I’ve seen the Oedipus Complex very much alive in many a Greek man. Within relationships, women can be relegated to a certain stereotypical role, a paradigm from which other countries have moved on from. Dare I say, though, that I find a lot of Greek men to be aesthetically pleasing? There is a very high ratio of ‘beautiful people’ floating around Athens, for the record.
Do you find that Aussie Greeks differ from their mainland members? How or why?
Definitely. My partner was born and raised in Australia. Growing up, he was as steeped in Australian culture as he was in Greek. And the Greek culture he grew up with was fuelled by the ideals that his parents brought over with them in the fifties. In the meantime, Greece progressed like any other society, so by the time he arrived, the ways of the Greeks were quite different to what he was expecting. For all intents and purposes, he spoke and acted like an Australian, which is a far cry from the behaviors of Greek natives. Still, the cultural seeds within him sprouted to life much more effortlessly than my pathetic attempts at assimilation!
As a non-Greek, how do you find being accepted into Greek social circles? Are you the Greek wanna-be or a welcomed member?
With Greek-Greeks, I sometimes felt like the outsider, forever observing. I usually felt very different, and I was often ignored altogether. When you can’t speak the native language of a country, people often assume that you’re, um, dumb? So I got that impression quite a bit, and today I sympathize with anyone migrating to any country. It’s hard for people to understand that you’re exploding with wit and personality when you’re floating about like a shrugging mute. With Greek-Australians, Greek-Brits and Greek-Americans though, I’ve always felt extremely welcomed. Most appreciate my sense of humor and where I’m coming from. Through my books, hundreds of second generation Greeks have made contact with me and they’ve all been incredibly warm and lovely people, so, yeah, I’d say I’ve felt very welcomed on that front.
Thanks for sharing.