When most people hear the words Greek family they immediately conjure up a world bursting with well-meaning aunties sticking their oar in, parents demanding that their offspring bring home a nice Greek girl or boy, and the entire clan sitting around a table every Sunday eating Souvlaki or Moussaka, maybe even breaking a plate or two once they’ve necked enough Retsina to do the Zorba on the kitchen tiles. In fact, the Greek stereotypical family sounds as if they’re having one big, fat, party, 365 days of the year. But is this true to life?
In my debut novel, The Magic Touch, updated and relaunched with a new cover on 7th February 2019, I had to slip into 39-year-old divorcee Emma King’s shoes and explore what it’s like to be in a relationship with an Anglo-Greek Cypriot partner. Having first-hand knowledge of Greek family life in the UK, writing about Emma’s partner Harry Georgiades and his clan was a fun and pleasurable experience. So, without further ado, here’s my insight into Greek family life in the UK:
Food: Let’s start with food. Food is the equivalent to a cup of tea. Bad day at the office? A nice plate of dolmades will sort that out. A family crisis? Chuck a couple of red mullets into the frying pan. A celebration? Let’s get the barbecue out. If you’re ever invited into a Greek home, you will undoubtedly be accosted with a plate of something savoury or sweet, along with twenty questions – ‘Have you eaten?’ ‘Are you hungry?’ ‘Oh, you have. Have something small, then.’ And don’t dare refuse it. It’s the essence of their lives, a comfort, a blanket, it brings family and friends together, and Greek food is incredibly delicious.
Family: While family values are still very strong within the Greek community in the UK, things have changed, moved on, particularly where marriage is concerned. Although some Greek parents would still prefer their children to marry a Greek, it’s very common and acceptable to marry outside of the Greek spectrum.
Marriage: So, will a Greek family welcome a non-Greek with open arms? Well, yes, of course, why not? However, because of their strong sense of family ethics and morals, marrying a Greek comes with a set of conditions. In The Magic Touch, Harry’s parents, an older Greek couple, have welcomed their sons’ partners with open arms. But because Harry and his older brother Mas have been instilled with the Greek culture, an ethos that spans generations, Emma and Caroline are expected to accommodate some Greek traditions, which, fortunately, they quite like.
Religion: Religion is a very significant part of family living, and you will find that if you want to marry a Greek, the family will expect you to marry in a Greek Orthodox Church and children to be christened likewise, or at least request it. Profusely. Of course, this isn’t compulsory but you’ll have very disgruntled in-laws if you refuse.
Children: Traditionally, children are named after their grandparents, which does make picking names a bit easier. But then they could end up with long names that they may not like. So, while many British Greeks still hold onto this tradition, they may alter the name slightly; Mas instead of Marios, Harry instead of Haritos, Demi instead of Demetria etc., but increasingly couples are choosing names of their preference, so you will often hear English first names with Greek surnames.
Gringlish (or Grenglish): In a nutshell, it’s a language the older generation created back in the day and which their offspring believed to be Greek until they were old enough to discover the truth! It’s an amalgamation, a fusion of Greek and English words. The Magic Touch has several episodes of Gringlish entwined in the story. Harry’s mum and dad, born and bred in Cyprus, are both in their late seventies and, although they have a fairly good command of the English language, they do have heavy Greek accents. Gringlish for them is second nature.
Here are some examples of Gringlish:
Greek: Se parakalo
Okay, you’re probably smiling right now and thinking that Gringlish is just Greek Cypriot folk speaking with an accent, but you’re wrong. It’s much deeper than that. Greek Cypriots use Gringlish when conversing with each other, too; and even British born Cypriots find themselves using it whenever they’re in the company of family and friends.
Gringlish is a language invented entirely by British Greek Cypriots. It is both endearing and charming, and I do hope that it continues to exist for generations to come.
So, that concludes my take on Greek Cypriot life in the UK. If you read The Magic Touch, I really hope you enjoy it. Yiamas!