All About Greek Stuff

Getting praise for something you didn't do or have no control over seems hollow, and is both bewildering and annoying.

But enough about birthdays. I'm here to talk about ethnicity.

In case you couldn't tell from the picture at the top of this post, I am an American of 100% Greek descent. And while discussing our differences is a bit of a third-rail these days, Amatopia is all about exploring everything that life has to offer, sometimes with jokes. Sometimes the jokes are even funny.

So here we go. Your ethnicity is an unavoidable part of your life. To quote Mr. Frank Zappa–himself part Greek–you are what you is.

But your ethnicity is one of the many things about you that you have no control over. I didn't ask to be born tall, dark, and handsome. It just happened. Hell, I didn't even ask to be born. And I didn't ask to be born Greek.

Don't get me wrong: I love being Greek. And everyone should love what they are, or at the very least, not be ashamed of it.

This leads to my next point: Shame. It's a powerful tool that must be wielded carefully. In the right hands, it can inculcate beneficial beliefs and modes of behavior. In the wrong hands it can lead to mental and psychological anguish.

Take the concept of white guilt.

Where am I going with this? Am I going to get all racial here?

No. I have no patience for that stuff. But let me tell you something: there's a weird facet to being Greek:

My fellow Americans tend to react to it as though it's some kind of accomplishment to be admired, and that it's "cooler" than what they are.

It's bizarre! I'm like, "Oh, and what is your background? English? That's cool too! Polish? Rock on! Nigerian? More power to you!"

I don't see why being of a particular background is more worthy of praise than any other.

Some of it might have to do with the rarity of Greeks–there are only, what, a million of us in the U.S.? And we're relatively different from the other European groups that make up the country that I guess we're interesting? Maybe the history and cultural impact still holds sway in the national imagination?

I don't know. It's an interesting phenomenon.

But what I WOULD like to discuss are some aspects of being Greek in America. The two My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies have done a lot to highlight Greek culture in America, and thanks to Nia Vardalos, people know that Greeks have a sense of humor and laugh at ourselves. In fact, we tend to prefer laughing at ourselves over making fun of other groups of people.

And before her, we had John Stamos as Jesse Katsopolis on Full House, Telly Savalas on Kojak, and the movie Zorba the Greek, based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name.

So I am here to discuss with you, the non-Greek-American audience, some myths and misconceptions, as well as some of the more humorous parts, of being Greek in America. As you'll see, we're no different than anybody else.

We just have better food. Continue reading “All About Greek Stuff”

Rituals and Reverence

One interesting thing about age is that the more you live, the more you start thinking and believing the opposite of what you used to. 

Take me, for instance. I used to think rituals and reverence were silly, relics of a bygone age. And mind you, I grew up, and remain in, the Greek Orthodox Church. This is a denomination dripping with rituals and reverence. 

Us being Orthodox, we can’t just, say, read from the Gospel: We have to have a huge, gold-encrusted book that gets ma dyed around the church, complete with intense. And then we sing about it.  

And don’t get me started with the ceremony surrounding the entrance and blessing of the Holy Gifts. 

And so, when I was in my late teens and trying on the atheist hat (it didn’t fit), I found all of this pomp a rich target for mockery. 

And maybe it is.

But the older I get–and the more (kind of) serious I get–I appreciate the rituals and the ceremony more and more. 

I thought of this in church recently with my own son, who managed to somehow sit through the service the way I somehow used to with my own family. 

Not that there isn’t a lot to keep your attention: Orthodox churches are painted with vivid iconography, the clergy wears elaborate shimmering vestments, there is mysterious Byzantine chanting, and the smell of incense permeates the entire building. 

In short, both the physical space and rituals are impossible to ignore. 

And then I got to thinking why the church draws me in more as I get older. I think it fills a need that much in modern life doesn’t. 

It provides seriousness. It provides awe. It provides reverence. 

All of these things are in short supply everywhere. We–and you bet your ass I’m including myself here–are flippant, we are sarcastic and irreverent, we take particular pride in being iconoclasts, poking our finger in the eye of all things establishment. 

And we never, ever, take anything seriously. 

So church then scratches an itch for me that I couldn’t easily name, and that’s the desire to take something seriously. Without somehow feeling awkward about it. 

And lest you think this is a purely religious thing, rituals help foster an air of important to secular things as well. Look no farther than militaries through history…the rites, the traditions, the somatic markers.  They get it. 

Athletics are rife with ritual. So is the Anglo-American court system. And don’t even get me started on martial arts or I could write a whole other post.  Continue reading “Rituals and Reverence”