I have noticed that there is a long-standing paradox in the Greek character. On the one hand, we say we are very proud to be Greek. Like Toula Portokalos’ father in the infamous movie, we can trace every English word back to a Greek root; we can come up with the notable Greek philosopher/mathematician/artist/scientist/doctor that first came up with the idea for the atom or the rainbow or the bodily humours; we can spontaneously relate a lesson from Greece’s glorious past or illustrate a subtle point using a myth or legend. But when it comes to supporting our people and products in the present, we harbor an inferiority complex.
Greeks by default think foreign products and ideas are better than those produced in-house. For example, while visiting the country last summer (a typical Greek-American thing to do), my Greek cousins invited me out for “kafe”, a typical Greek thing to do. I thought we would meet at one of the outdoor cafes lining the plateia of Kolonaki, or Kifissia, or even Galatsiou Avenue. But that was not the case. They told me to plug in an address in the GPS for the new “mall” as they explained. I did as I was told and faithfully followed the commands of the voice of that very polite Greek woman coming from the gadget, “Se 150 metra giriste aristera stin Leoforon Kifisias.” To my surprise I was led to a ring road on the outskirts of Marousi, itself a suburb on the outskirts of Athens, to a place called “Golden Hall.” It came suddenly from within a very convenient ramp to an indoor parking garage. It reminded me of a mall I had been to outside of Paris. Before I could settle into the newness of the place, I saw my cousins waving me to a table under the escalator to the second floor. Lo and behold, I was in Starbucks. My cousins were sipping iced coffee. “Koritsgia,” I said, “of all the kafenia you could have taken me to, you brought me to Starbucks? I just came from a city with a Starbucks on every corner!” “Kai na me sichorisete for the paratirisi, but you just paid three times the price for a frappe you could have had at a local establishment. And what you are drinking might be called a frappucino, iced mocha, kai alla korofexala, but in the end it’s still a frappe. And the Greeks invented it!”
Throughout the mall (a new luxury mall) I saw all kinds of examples of commercial corporatedom: Imaginarium, Ikea, American Eagle, some other European chains for jewelry, etc. etc., but very few Greek establishments. Even if it is Greek, and I went out of my way to buy Greek designed clothes and products, it masquerades as Italian or French because somehow the European ring to it makes it superior to Papadopoulos or Pappas. I double-checked with the salesclerk at MantouFrance, “Are you sure these are Greek designed clothes made in Greece?” “Yes, I assure you,” the attractive, middle-aged chic salesclerk with bronze highlights and perfect lavender make up replied. I ducked into a quaint boutique of coutre baby clothes to shop for my toddler named Delfino. The styles and designs were so smart and adorable, I could not walk away without purchasing four or five pieces. “These are made in Greece and are Greek designs, right?” I made sure. Of course they were. Why the foreign name? They wouldn’t sell as well if they people didn’t think they were Italian.
Let me translate: “Xenolatreia,” it comes from the Greek words, “xeno” meaning “foreign, different or strange” and “latreia” “excessive worship or blind adoration.” It must be the opposite of “xenophobia.” The same Greeks that criticize the Germans, ridicule the Americans, and pooh-pooh the French, are the ones that dress in their clothes, speed in their cars, and drink their wines OVER their own. They are crazy for anything foreign “xeno” as it means by default “better than domestic.” I cannot understand the Greeks’ economic suicide. Why they go out of their way to support ideas and people outside their borders and not focusing on their own human and material resources.
The only way I can explain it is that on the surface conscience level we are more than proud to be Greek and of all things Greek. But on the inside subconsciously, we harbor feelings of inferiority, that somehow we are not up to par with other European and Western countries. This is why Greek Greeks buy Hollister instead of Hellenic. Why they brag that they are spending the holidays in Paris or London instead of Crete. When it comes to putting pride where it counts, in the economics of buying and selling, they sell themselves cheaply. How can a nation of such great ideas and innovation not look through the shameless co-opting of their heritage by multinationals? (Witness the bastardization of Greek heritage and history by Hollywood, “Alexander” Disney’s “Hercules”, “The 300” and on and on?) And to add insult to injury, how does this nation actually stand to buy these foreign Greek knock offs only to line the pockets of the xeno investors and companies that have tricked it into paying triple for its own products when it could have afforded domestic designs and products of equal or surpassing quality to foreign types and have supported its own industries? It seems rather dysfunctional, like a drug addict who sells his own blood to the blood bank in order to get his next fix. Only a people who have been brainwashed or who seriously lack self-esteem and common sense could do such a thing. And now with the austerity measures, the inferiority complex will escalate so that they really feel inferior.
I believe this silent inferiority is at the root of the country’s economic shambles. If they weren’t so hell-bent on getting entry into the European country club and more interested in their own domestic interests, they might not have been in this mess after all. But as it stands, “xenolatreia” is one of the deepest sins of Greek national character. Lets hope the next time I visit Athens my cousins won’t be gulping down the frappe from McDonalds as this corporate jaggernaut has capitalized on another Greek invention and is now selling it back to the Greeks for a profit.