What Greece is Really Like
A Personal Viewpoint
By Stephanie Kordas
Doing Greece as a Tourist
Being a tourist in Greece can be a fantastic experience, especially if you
are young and female. Greece really is the land of sun, fun, and
irresponsibility: luxurious swims amidst breath-taking beauty, long siestas with
the songs of cicadas in the background, fresh seafood dinners in romantic
settings, drinks in a bar by the sea, and those Greek men…Ah! how they charm
you, making you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world! There’s even a
name for this game of charm they play so well, it’s called "kamaki," the harpoon
used to catch a fish in one deft stroke. But to the young, unsuspecting tourist,
this charm is real and can feel extremely romantic.
As a tourist, you can leave behind that dreary job, the relationship you’ve
squeezed dry, and become someone new in a country with a beauty that few places
can match, and a passionate people that truly enjoy having a good time. Greece
is the land where you laze about on hot summer days and let your wild side out
at night. Home to the all important erotas (love, passion, romance)
Greece is a land that comes alive at night, where no one who’s anyone goes out
before midnight, nor to bed before dawn.
Working in Silicon Valley and can’t find a date? Come to Greece! No computer
nerds here—for a Greek there’s always room for fun and passion, as the story of
the great Onassis so clearly demonstrates. Broke? No problem! Everyone in Greece
is broke all the time! But money is to be spent, and those Greek men sure like
to spend it on a pretty tourist!
But is the grass really any greener?
Being a Greek-American, I have come to know Greece both as a tourist and as a
resident citizen. To the tourist Greece can seem like Paradise, but when you
live here, it often seems more like Purgatory.
As a woman, I have come to the sad conclusion that there is little respect
for women as people in Greece. There is passion for the feminine, but no real
love for the female, admiration for the lady, but contempt for the woman. An
educated woman is doomed in the face of a sweet ignorant one, the experienced
one scores far fewer points than the innocent. The Greek woman, however, knows
the rules, and the clever ones play the game to their own advantage. Women in
Greece are trained to make a good catch. But if you are a foreign woman, well…
The Rules of Dating
If you are determined to get involved with a Greek man, there are several
rules you should follow. First, it is imperative that he NOT still live with his
mother. Second, not only should he not live with his mother, but she should live
as far away as possible. DO NOT marry a Greek man and move into the apartment on
the floor above his mother. Rules 1 and 2 are the most important because it is
virtually guaranteed that as the wife of a Greek man, you will despise all
mothers-in-law in no time flat. You will quickly realize that even if your
husband thinks he loves you, it is really just taken for granted by him and his
entire kin that you are one of his appendages. There is a reason for the Greek
tradition of stomping on your husband’s feet during the wedding ceremony:
success in this venture is said to guarantee a wife the upper hand throughout
her marriage. The problem is, she tends to dominate throughout the duration of
her son’s marriage as well!
Third, your man of choice should be educated in a foreign country or
well-traveled, preferably both. These experiences will broaden his mind so you
won’t suffer from so much culture clash. And fourth, be sure you truly
understand how your prince feels about women . How shocked I was when a
35-year-old acquaintance whom I’ll call Akis informed me that he really doesn’t
think women are as mentally capable as men. As proof he offered, "There are so
many more published male authors than female." My explanation that the
discrepancy is owed to the fact that women have only been allowed to publish
books relatively recently in comparison with men was petulantly answered with,
"Well, no female writer has ever sparked my interest." I wonder if he’s read
any? When I saw him last he was reading Freud. God help us!
A conversation with a lawyer friend of mine left me even more disappointed.
This young man whom I believed to be open-minded, with great depth and
intelligence, casually explained that for a Greek man there are two kinds of
women: the ones that bring out great passion and with whom every man desires a
tumultuous love affair, "and the ones that you marry." I twinged inside as I
looked at this truly beautiful man, so capable, so full of potential, caught
within the vice of the madonna-whore complex. And he is living it out. He had
his tumultuous affair with an incredibly beautiful and vibrant woman throughout
his years at university. Once it came time to go back to his island and take
over his father’s law firm, however, he dropped the exotic mistress for a
plainer, simpler, younger girl that matches his and his family’s expectations of
Another lawyer I know, in his late 30s and married with children, doesn’t
even like his wife (and this is also not uncommon!). Why did he marry her?
First, a wife is essential for having a family, particularly a son to carry on
the family name. Second, she comes from a "good" family, meaning that her
existence as his wife will be beneficial both to his career and to his wealth,
for Greek women are usually provided with property, the essential bargaining
tool for a good marriage.
Do you really want to walk down that isle?
If you expect that handsome Greek husband to be be faithful, think again.
While extramarital affairs can be a potential problem anywhere, in Greece it is
the status quo for the male partners. Still driven by beliefs of the
19th century, most Greek men take for granted that they have far
greater sexual needs than women, thereby excusing their extra-curricular
activities. This is not to say that women in Greece don’t ever have affairs, but
it is a rarer occurrence, and women must be far more discreet about it, for
there is still nothing worse to the Greek man than to be cuckolded.
Our friend, Akis, for example, maintains that while there is not a chance of
his ever being faithful to his wife, he would never forgive his wife one night
of passion with another man. He is not alone in his convictions. This is how the
average man in Greece thinks. A wife should accept her husband’s infidelities
with no complaint as long as he is discreet ("thereby showing her respect," Akis
explains), but the husband will leave immediately upon learning of even one
indiscretion on his wife’s part that might make him a fool in the eyes of
These criticisms may seem a bit harsh, but they are not inaccurate. The
average Greek man may be looking for a companion, but he is certainly not
looking for an equal partner. He wants a woman to support his image, make his
coffee, cook his dinner, wash and iron his clothes, raise his children, and when
necessary, massage his ego so that he still feels like a man.
In fact, it has been my experience that the average man in Greece is
threatened by a woman showing any kind of strength. In an era when two incomes
are often necessary for survival, it is of course acceptable for a woman to
work, even to have a career. Just don’t ever forget that no matter how much
money you are bringing in, his job is more important, and he will always be more
tired than you when he gets home, so you’d better have that dinner ready!
And if you are a woman with a little muscle tone, you are doomed to a
dateless future. You will inspire awe, but not commitment. As one 40-year-old
man explained to me, if I want to find a man I have to look less independent.
"Relax your shoulders!" he told me. "No man is going to date a woman with such
square shoulders. You look too strong and confident." With that bit of
information I squared my shoulders even more and walked off. Imagine that! I’ll
only get a date if my shoulders droop!
The Working Woman in Greece
Unfortunately, the employment experience for a foreign woman in Greece is on
par with the dating scene. Beware the snare of clever employers that will lose
no time in taking advantage of your ignorance of labor laws in Greece. If you
find work through an employment agency in your own country, your rights will
usually be protected, but venture out on your own and you are sure to be
exploited. At one interview for an administrative position in a school, I was
asked by my male interviewer how I would handle sexual harassment coming from my
boss (in other words, himself) versus an overture by the janitor. Needless to
say, I didn’t pursue that position further! In general, as a woman in Greece,
foreign or not, you will be overworked, underpaid, and easily replaced unless
you have something very special to offer.
How Greece Really Operates
In some ways, Greece is no crueler to women than to men. To make money in
Greece, you must do it illegally. Those who record their incomes honestly are
usually rewarded by the government with a huge fine for some honest mistake in
their books. Illegality is so much a part of the system in Greece that if you
own a business of your own, every 3 years the tax office (I call them the Tax
Mafia) offers to let you pay a nice little sum (starting at around 3000 euros
for small businesses) up front and thereby avoid being audited. Those who refuse
to pay the sum are audited, and 99% of the time they are fined a far greater sum
for some small discrepancy found in their books.
In fact, to get anything important done in Greece, it’s easiest to pay
someone off. Want to get your driver’s license? Why pay the 1000 euros needed
for the mandatory driving lessons when you already know how to drive and can pay
someone half that to get a proper license from an employee of the Ministry of
Transportation? Need your car to pass inspection? You come out cheaper and far
less hassled if you just pay someone who works there to pass it for you. Try to
do things the proper way in Greece and you will be strangled by red tape and
gagged with fines.
Shopping on the black market is also a necessity if you are trying to live on
a Greek salary. Why pay almost 3 euros for a pack of cigarettes when you can buy
a carton of 10 for only 10 euros? (And to all you Americans scoffing at the
thought of buying cigarettes at any price, believe me, if you lived here you’d
smoke, too!) But whether you smoke or not, buying something in this manner is an
interesting experience. After weeks of walking past women furtively calling out
"Tsigara! Tsigara!" curiosity finally got the better of me and I went to buy
some. After looking me up and down, one of the a women firmly told me to wait
while she ran off to a public trash bin, dug out a carefully covered blue
plastic bag, and from there extracted a carton of my brand. Last week I learned
that the smugglers had been caught and a huge supply of their untaxed cigarettes
had been seized. "There won’t be any more for a month, now," she explained with
wrinkled brow. Oh, well, I really need to quit, anyway…
Having learned to drive in the US, I never run red lights, and I do at least
yield at stop signs, but driving in Athens will bring out the rebel in just
about anyone. Within months I promise you will have learned the art of parking
illegally without paying the consequences, you will find yourself speeding up on
yellow, inconspicuously weaving in and out of the taxi/bus lane, making illegal
u-turns, and generally committing more traffic misdemeanors than you ever
thought possible. I wonder how Athenians will fare with all these strict new
traffic laws enacted temporarily for the Olympics?
Of course, it is easy to criticize Greece and its people, and one must
remember that Greece is a small country going through many changes at a fast
pace. It is only 30 years that Greece has been free from a dictatorship preceded
by wars and famine. During this time the country’s overall wealth and power has
grown dramatically, and a field of choices has opened up to its people.
Acceptance into the European Union has spurred even further progress. And,
inevitably, as economic and political stability increase, value systems begin to
change as well (though this is a much slower process in Greece!). As a result,
Greece today is an interesting and frustrating combination of the old and the
new, and it can take a lot of courage to live in this enigmatic land.
Greece, like its men, can break your heart. The country’s physical beauty
haunts you like your beloved when you leave him behind; its songs rip through
your soul when heard outside its borders; memory of its passion tortures you
through sleepless nights. And so you come back, missing this land desperately,
needing to feel the caress of its breezes on your skin, to taste the salt of its
turquoise seas on your lips, to wish upon its abounding shooting stars on cool
summer nights. You come back, and spellbound, you decide to stay.
Just beware, Greece is not the postcard it seems. And for all you Shirley
Valentines hoping for romance, remember that ninety-eight percent of those
charming Greek men are really looking for Stepford wives, and whether they marry
you or not, the minute you turn your back they’ll be using that harpoon to snare
another unsuspecting fish.