Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Names in Greece

For people who are not familiarized with the Greek culture, some of the Greek names may sound a bit pompous and hard to live up to like Athena (Goddess of Wisdom) , Ares ( God of War) or Aphrodite (Goddess of Beauty). In Greece though they are common names and people don't seem to be pressed by the weight of their names as it happens in other places. Which is a very good thing.

The not so good thing is that, according to tradition, the new born is named after one of the grandmothers if it's a girl and grandfathers if it's a boy. Greek parents rarely consider the option of naming their kids with a different name. This is a moment of strong friction and serious discussions in the family with logical arguments like "My mother's name is better than your mother's name".

By now the grandparents already started putting pressure on the couple in order to make sure they will chose the name from their own side of the family. If that doesn't happen these arguments may end up bad and families may cease to talk to each other for years just because "You chose the other grandmother's name for your kid".

The choosing of the grandparents name is considered to be a sign of respect and gratitude, a tribute to the person who raised and took care of you. But if that is the case, why do you only chose to show your respect to one of the grandparents and not to both of them? 

Another explanation I heard recently is that it all has to do with the money. Couples chosen the name from the more wealthy family, the one who can provide better for the kid.

So, overall, this is the reason for which, from all the beautiful names that Greek history and mythology provide, 90% of Greek males are called: Giorgos, Yannis, Konstantinos (Kostas), Dimitris or Nikolaos(Nikos) while top five Greek female names covering probably almost the same percentage of the population are: Maria, Eleni, Katerina, Georgia and Anna.

Since Thessaloniki is the birthplace of Agios Dimitris you will find here a particularly high density of Dimitris and Dimitra names.

Greek Church doesn't see with good eyes the names that are not of christian saints so if you feel adventurous and want to name your kid Electra or Orestis you might have the surprise of your life but then again baptizing a child in Greece is an adventure on it's own so I think I'll leave that for some other time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Cult of Food

Everybody heard about the "Mediterranean diet", how light, healthy and balanced it is. I wonder what inspired that diet because Greek cuisine is anything BUT light and balanced.
You would think that since they have so much sea, their plates would be mostly fish and sea food. I think this is the seed that started the legend of the "Mediterranean diet'". The reality though is that the best fish they eat in Greece goes "Oink Oink" and "Bee".

 The traditional meat plates are indeed very tasty but one portion would rise your cholesterol to picks so high it has never known before. If we are to consider that it's never just one plate you might want to have your doctor's phone number close just in case. 
You most probably are familiar with the western way of ordering food which implies an appetizer(maybe) and than the main course. You may or may not chose to have wine during eating but that's about all the meal. Well, in Greece things are a bit different, as they always are here.

When going to a restaurant Greeks order: cold aperitifs, warm aperitifs, several plates of main course,  salads (Please notice the plural in all of them) and of course something to drink which can be ouzo, tsipuro or wine. I'm not counting the sweets, not because they are not having them but because they are usually on the house.
Don't think this happens on special events nor that the size of the order is for an extremely large family (or a small developing country for that matter:P ). This is a normal, everyday order for 2 to 4 people. 

Food in general plays a very important role in Greek society and it's generally regarded as a proof of love:
"You look sad, I'll make you something to eat"
"You look happy, I'll make you something to eat"
"You look pale, I'll make you something to eat"
"You had a bad day, I'll make you something to eat"
"You look sick, I'll make you something to eat"
"You look tired, I'll make you something to eat"
 "The kid is crying. Give him something to eat"
and so on...
Some people consider this to be a post war syndrome. During the WW 2 and the civil war that ravaged Greece food was scarce and people appreciated every single bite of it. So, back then, offering food was indeed a sign of love and affection. Now days though, this way of thinking placed Greece on the first place on child obesity in Europe. 

I am very familiar with the expression "Love goes through the stomach" since you can find it in most Balkan countries but I believe that Greece is the one country that hangs on to it the tightest.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Update on Greek Politics

As you might have already found out, the current structure of the Greek Parliament is the following: 18,8% New Democracy, Siriza - 16,8%, PASOK - 13,2%, Ανεξάρτητοι Ελληνες - 10,6%, ΚΚΕ - 8,5% - the Greek Communist Party, Golden Dawn (Χρυση Αυγη) - 7%, Δημοκρατική Αριστερά - 6,1% - the Democratic Left.

Since Monday, the new elected parties from the parliament have been struggling to create the new government. This is a new and very interesting political exercise for Greece politic class. They actually need to negotiate and create alliances. I really curious to see how that goes.

Until now, the party with the biggest percentage usually had majority in parliament so it could approve the composition of it's own government. Now, since there are seven parties in the parliament nobody has majority so, in order to create the government they would need to make alliances. If that doesn't happen, new elections need to be organized which is not very in tone with the "low budget" elections that EU had in mind for Greece. New elections means new expenses and I have the feeling the people from Brussels won't be happy. On the other hand, New Democracy has already failed in creating an alliance that would support their government proposal in the parliament and so did Siriza. Now It's up to PASOK to make a proposal that would be accepted. 

If that won't happen, Greece is back to the voting booth. 

Talking about the voting booth, for me it's interesting how, in Greece, you may receive by mail your voting bulletin with the "right" choice already made on it. confused? so was I until I saw this:

These are voting bulletins that people received at their homes and they are official. Meaning that people who receive them may use them at the voting. The only difference is that, on that paper someone else chose for you, you're just making him a favor and putting it in the urn while giving up your own right to vote. When I asked if that is legal the answer was: "Well, It's not illegal if that's what you mean". There is no law against it's legal.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Greek Elections - First Look

Yesterday, Greeks all over the country put on their Sunday cloths and went voting. After a very turbulent political and economical period, everybody hoped for a change and they were also decided to vote for it this time.
What came out is a bit disturbing. Not because the traditional parties that use to take turns in having the majority in the parliament now don't even have majority together but because, as history teaches us, in times of crisis extremist parties rise. And, at this point, Greece is repeating history.

There most probably will be 7 parties that will compose the Greek Parliament in the next 4 years. I'm saying "most probably" because the vote count haven't ended yet and an the ecologist party might also get the 3% necessary. Some of these parties are in this position for the first time. You might think that as a good thing since the Greek politics desperately needs some new faces and some fresh approaches but if you think that some of these parties are extremists parties, you might reconsider.
On the second place came Siriza (Συριζα) - one of the extreme left party while on the 6th, with an overall percentage of 7% is the Golden Dawn (Χρυση Αυγη), the Nazi party, with 19 places on the Parliament. 

The political platform of Χρυση Αυγη implies camps for migrants, mines and electrical fences at the Greek borders.

So till now, after counting 99,54% of the votes we have: 
New Democracy  - 18,9%
Siriza - 16,8%
PASOK - 13,2%
Ανεξάρτητοι Ελληνες - 10,6%
ΚΚΕ - 8,5% - the Greek Comunist Party
Golden Dawn (Χρυση Αυγη) - 7%
Δημοκρατική Αριστερά - 6,1% - the Democratic Left
and maybe the Ecologist Party if they reach the 3% by the end of the vote count.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Welcome to Greece! Have a Nuts Stay!

As I'm sure you already know, the first of May marks the beginning of the summer tourist season in Greece, so everybody celebrated it in their own way.

Some went to the beach, some went out for beers, some decided is a good time for a another strike since elections are coming next weekend and some others stayed home and made the best of it.
In the pure Greek tradition, we decided to have a grill in our balcony, you know.. nothing fancy ...lots of meat, about half a dozen kinds of salads and  țuica on rocks Ok, that's not exactly Greek but it went very well with the grill.
Going out in our balcony we notice the spectacular overflow of decibels in the..air let's say. Minutes later, we discover the reason. It was a competition of "my traditional Greek music is louder than yours" on the street and the winners were our neighbors across the street, a group o students having the time of their life.Luky us, ha?
I thanked god we have soundproof windows, just in case we want to retire in the house, and I started thinking at the poor old man living on the building right next to theirs having to put up with all this noise... He must be around 70 years old, always smiling and in a good mood. Poor guy...

Minutes later, what we understood from the whole picture was about to change radically because we saw the 70 year old man dancing "pontiaka" very passionately in his balcony and we realized that he was playing the music, so he was our DJ. I must admit I didn't see that coming.
From there the party started getting more interesting because one of the students brought a big drum and started keeping the rhythm with it while others started throwing napkins at at the old guy's dance. Feeling encouraged, the old guy took some plates and started breaking them in the old traditional manner. 

What can I say, it was a grill and a show for this first of May.