The Top Ten Most Awesome Things About Growing Up Greek

Like a lot of people, I grew up Greek in Melbourne, Australia. It always surprised me how much I got bullied for being Greek growing up, considering they say (and by they I mean Greeks) that Melbourne, as a city, has the third biggest population of Greeks in the world (after Athens and Thessaloniki). When the boys at school would call me things like “hairy” and “gorilla” and ask to stand under my nose verandah when it rained, I’d unapologetically start resenting my Greek heritage. Unfortunately, being first generation Australian doesn’t remove you far enough from the fact—you’re Greek, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But as one very wise Greek once said (they were a nation of philosophers, you know) “celebrate the love of the one you’re with.” And so I came to love the Greek in me, and all the awesome things that came with growing up Greek.

1. Money

Yep, I’m talking about cold, hard cash. It doesn’t matter how rich or not rich you are—I grew up in a family of modest means—Greeks like giving money. Amounts range from $5 to $100, but it’s always money. It’s your birthday? Here, have some money! It’s your name day? Take this money! Easter? Here’s a box of chocolate eggs with some money tucked in the side! New Year’s Eve? Buy yourself a drink with this money! Graduation? Money! Going to the dentist? Money! It’s Tuesday? Fuck you better have some of this money!

2. Greek Easter

There were a few petulant teenage years where I hated giving up one Saturday night of my year to go to church at midnight. I’d mope about all the way to my yiayia’s house, but when I got there, the same magic would always take hold and I’d set about wrapping our long, thin candles in tin foil so the wax wouldn’t drip on our fingers when we’d light them at church. I’d tell jokes with my brothers and cousins in the car on the way to church, and once there we’d become intoxicated in the atmosphere of old men smoking, young mother’s cradling their babies and teenage boys setting off fire works in the middle of the crowd. We’d light our candles and take them eagerly back to our yiaiya who’d be cooking in her warm kitchen—like her little disciples, we’d hand them to her, one by one. Then we’d eat. And eat. And eat. Finally, we’d bash painted eggs against each other, every one of us fearing our egg would be the one to crack, and we’d be out of the game.

3. Greek school

I had a love hate relationship with Greek school, but I went obediently every Friday night after regular school. It felt comforting to be amongst my ‘kind’, but frustrating to feel like I had a kind, and like that kind wasn’t welcome in the daylight hours. We’d learn dancing, reading, writing, speech, and yes, we’d play soccer. In summer the boys would climb the plumb trees in the schoolyard and drop the fruit down to us; we’d picnic at recess, swapping feta and salami sandwiches for olives and tzatziki.

4. Family

Loud, pervasive and always up in my grill—that’s how my family was growing up, and still is, even when they’re all the way on the other side of the world. My family isn’t perfect by any stretch, but there was something about growing up knowing that no matter what argument, what indiscretion or what disappointment we inflicted on one another, when shit got real we’d always pull together. And that no matter what upset we were harboring, we’d all meet at yiayia’s house on a regular basis to eat and laugh, temporarily putting aside our differences in the name of food, and the blood that binds us.

5. The bucket of KFC chicken

At every family event—even at my papou’s funeral—there is a family bucket of KFC chicken. All the mammas, thieas and yiayias slave away for hours preparing yemista, dolmathes, moussaka and other amazing delights for a huge buffet. And right there, slap in the middle, there’s always a family bucket of KFC chicken.

6. Eating

I am of an average weight for my height. I am not skinny—I have thighs that shake and a belly that protrudes over the top of my jeans. And yet all 3 of my yiayias think I’m anorexic, simply because I’m not fat. Every time I go to yiayia’s house we eat. She’ll prepare a meal fit to feed a small army when only my mother and I visit her. We complain, but we secretly love eating the rich, oily, salty foods. I’ve always thought that it should be mandatory for old Greek ladies to adopt a malnourished child for a month—that’s all they’d need—and give said child love, and food; lots and lots of food.

7. The weddings/christenings/parties

I’ve always loved the way everyone gets together in Greek families. I love the high stress of special events, with everyone running around manically but not actually achieving anything; where everyone is screaming at each other at once, not one of them listening to what any one else is saying; everyone gossiping about everyone else and feeling like the whole world might explode with the deafening cacophony of shrill Greek spoken over shrill Greek.

But then, once the bride walks down the isle, or after the baby is given its blessing, everyone gets drunk. Everyone gets so drunk they laugh, shout, dance, embrace each other—and my uncle creates a circle in the middle of the dance floor where he does Russian dancing with a crowd cheering and clapping around him. We do the Zorba, sweat through its frantic crescendo and then the women lead the Kalamatiano. Papou roams around with fresh, warm meat he’s carved straight from the spit roast and he’s kissing us all on the face. The kids are sneaking booze but not so secretly because the uncles keep giving them beers (“pffffft,” they say when the mothers get angry, “beer isn’t alcohol”). It’s a circus—and I love it.

8. The back yard

My yiayia lives in inner city Melbourne, but she still has a full vegetable garden (cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, zucchinis, green beans etc), 5 lemon trees, 2 olive trees, a fig tree, an apple tree, a pear tree, a passion fruit vine, 2 budgies, a chicken coop, rabbits and all sorts of other edible or otherwise flora and fauna. If the apocalypse came tomorrow our whole family could live quite comfortably for decades in her garden.

9. Stories from the ?????

My grandparents have the most wonderful stories of growing up in their respective villages in Greece. My yiayia’s family was part of the resistance against the Germans and Turkish armies in Crete and harbored injured fugitive English soldiers in the mountains. My papou, high from smoking heroin as a reckless teenager, was shot in the head playing Russian roulette. The bullet skimmed the top of his skull and he survived; the top of his head is still soft like a newborn baby where the bullet grazed his skull.

10. The club

Sometimes being Greek feels like being part of a secret cult. If I’m served by a Greek person in a store or a restaurant and that person suspects that I’m Greek too, they’ll ask me—in Greek, our special code. A Greek can smell another Greek a mile off, and are never wrong when it comes to identifying each other. Once contact has been made, we begin to reap the rewards—the 20% discount, the extra tub of paint for free, some shots of ouzo to share! A second round too, come on! Opa! TC mark

image – kidicarus222

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  • Joel

    @#$! sake.

  • Anonymous

    Reminds me quite, a bit of growing up Italian, especially the loud family, and anything less than morbid obiesity being completely unnacceptable.

    • brittany wallace

      mmm hmmm
      didn’t inherit the obesity…. hair, though, yes

  • Vancouverite

    YES! Laughed out loud so much at this. I grew up Greek in city with pretty much no other Greeks though, so you’re lucky!

  • http://www.facebook.com/seikel Steve Seikel

    I grew up white. With Attorney grandfathers and live at home grandmothers; and everyone in my family is a sociopath. fuck. 

    • Anonymous

      I relate to this, except I only have one grandfather who was an attorney.  The other one was a dead alcoholic.

  • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

    wanted some olives after reading this.

    but watch your typos! :O

  • http://www.facebook.com/nomatterwhatyoudo Chris Kay

    I only got money for intense dental procedures. $50 for a tooth extraction when I was 9.

    Also, I loved this.

  • Mr Shankly

    I always wondered what was up with my greek friends getting so much money all the time. I’m guessing it sparta the culture or something.

  • guest

    Nice article, I’m Greek and grew up in Greece, and it should be noted that these customs and behaviours are mainly observed amongst immigrant communities abroad. Greeks in Greece are quite different, probably because we changed with the times, as opposed to immigrants who desperately held on to traditional peasant customs as a way of preserving their identity. I pity you for being subjected to racism from what must no doubt have come from Anglo-Saxons. It’s ironic because I consider your average present day Anglo-Australian to be quite ignorant, tasteless and tactless in comparison to your average modern day European. Oh well.

    • Guest

      Yeah, Australia is a super racist place.

      • skylar

        Wow, making blanket judgements and assumptions about a whole country being racist? I am Australian and yes racism exists here but it also exists in every country in the world and I don’t think it is especially prevalent here compared to many other places. Also, you feel bad for her being subjected to racism, but you believe the average anglo-australian is quite ignorant, tasteless and tactless compared to europeans? Pot, kettle? No? Again, blanket judgements against an ethnic group. Do either of you even know what racism means?

      • Guest

        Yes, institutionalized power + privilege.  

      • Guest

        WAIT I MEAN power/privilege + prejudice

        fail fail fail fail

      • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

        Having been to a decent portion of the world, I will say that Australia has race problems because they have to deal with them head on.
        This does not happen in most European countries. If Greece was 20% non-Greek they would not know what to do with themselves. (Oh wait, they would do a massive people-swap like in 1923 hahahaha.) No but seriously I’m somewhat terrified of travelling on my own for my inevitable post-graduation Euro-trip just because a lot of European people are sketched out by my ching-chong eyes.

        PS: Australia is a racist shitshow in comparison to my country and whenever people come back from Australia they tell me that it is one of the things they remember most about it. But it’s all relative, you know?

      • Pfft

        it’s always Americans calling Australians racist, which is fucking hilarious. 

    • annoyed.

      Racism in Australia is probably due the vast cultural diversities, probably not apprant in Greece. Besides, the things she noted are hardly avertly racist anyway, people bully people who are hairy and have large noses regardless of their nationality. Your Racist assertion that it was anglo-saxons who  “bullied” her is unjustified, I’m ethnic and I still bulled other ethnics.

  • Archee

    Indian, but can totally relate. Also love the village stories – my mate from uni came over with her Dad (visiting from Brisbane) and one particular conversation revolved around the “in my village” theme. 

  • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

    Greeks sound like Creoles.
    I love being ethnic~

  • Anonymous

    Seems like the best part about being Greek is you have really good odds of sleeping with Jennifer O’Brien.  https://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/the-worst-guys-ive-ever-hooked-up-with/

  • Anonymous

    Mine is the boring emotionally distant lot of the WASP family, le sigh.

  • Anonymous

    madeshopping.net

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    THIS IS AN AMAZINGLY WELL TIMED ARTICLE. 

    Is it a counter argument to why it is not so awesome to be Greek right now?

    LOL JAY/KAY.

  • Nicole

    SO true about the bucket of KFC. This was the best

  • Panayiota

    Even though I haven’t grown up surrounded by my Greek family (everyone apart from my dad lives over there, Aunties, Uncles, the millions of cousins) I can totally related to this, especially Greek school and anything church related, I like the sense of being in ‘the club’,  being Greek is awesome! 

  • VICKI

    HELLAS HELLAS

  • Derp

    i LOVED this. best on TC in months as far as I’m concerned

  • http://twitter.com/dementia_inc dementia inc.

    Well we are the example that life is not only about working in some dull grey booth but also living as well. If we could just work just a bit more to avoid the crisis it would be pefect.. Oh well..Nice article!

  • Emily

    WE GET IT. You love your heritage. That’s nice. 

    Now try writing an article in which you don’t mention that you’re Greek. You haven’t managed it so far.

    • dorothytortoise

      rude, Emily!

  • Jordan

    i grew up with a WASPy mother and a there-but-absent Hispanic father, who moved us far from our extended family. it was boring. and sort of cold. sigh.

    i’m sure there are drawbacks, but what you just described sounds pretty great.

  • Eve

    Haha very funny! It seems that most of people with Greek heritage growing up in places outside from Greece have a very traditional way of living , than Greeks living in Greece. I am Greek born and raised in Greece, we have some traditions but the majority of things described here in the article are too traditional for us now. It’s like “My big fat Greek wedding” movie.
    Anyway still a nice article !:)

  • Anonymous

    ta.gg/4vh

  • Karoline

    I loved this article!  I work in a Greek restaurant owned by Greek immigrants and had a roommate this past year that came from a Greek family, so I like to say that I get to reap all the rewards of being a Greek without actually being one.  My sister likes to call me a Helenic Wanna-be. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kirag Kira Georgakopoulos

    I’m glad we shared the same love of the KFC bucket. Still my greatest memories of the wake. That and playing soccer with Costa!

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