“YOU KNOW that when I hate you, it is because I love you to a point of passion that unhinges my soul,” said Parisian salon owner Julie de Lespinasse, in the 1700s.
We can feel the same love-hate about where we live, with newcomers being even more susceptible to such mood swings.
An initial insight into what starts a new arrival onto the path of this emotional equation can be gained from Forbes magazine’s online article entitled “World’s Friendliest Countries”.
The article examines four factors – the ability to befriend locals, learn the local language, integrate into the community and fit into the new culture – based on a comprehensive 2010 Expat Explorer survey by HSBC Bank International.
Lack of knowledge of the local language stands out as a common barrier for newcomers: the top five scorers for friendliness in the 25 ranked countries all benefited from their use of the English language. Top-scorers were: Canada, Bermuda, South Africa, the United States and Australia.
New arrivals, Forbes points out, also tend to compare their native homeland’s core beliefs, values and language with those found in the new land. The closer the similarity with their home country, the more comfortable the neophytes feel, leaning towards the positive feelings.
So what about us old-timers?
Livin’ here ain’t easy
“I’ve been in Greece long enough to love and hate it,” says Canadian Marc Theriault, in Greece since 1992.
He feels adjusting here has been easier because the Greeks love those who show an interest in their culture. But, like everywhere else, there are pros and cons.
“The unexpected keeps you alive and kicking, and Greece will always have plenty. Living in Greece is not easy, even for the Greeks.”
Briton Emma Rachael Parker, who moved to Greece in 1999, agrees.
“Greece is incredibly, frustratingly schizophrenic,” Parker says. “Even Greeks love and hate their country in equal measures – if they are being completely honest with you.”
Things might not happen as smoothly, or as quickly here, she says, but she recommends we let the good overshadow the bad.
Greece as a teenager
“I kind of feel about Greece as I do about my children,” Parker says. “They exhaust and frustrate me during the day, so that I long for bedtime. But the minute they fall asleep, I stand there watching them sleeping, missing them already and wishing for the morning to come, so that we can start anew.”
Greek repatriate Caterina Skiniotou spent a total of 12 years in the United States before deciding to return to Greece in 2000. She provides a similar analogy.
“Greece is, to me, a teenage daughter,” Skiniotou says. “So beautiful and promising, I can’t help adoring her. So cocky and sassy, I feel like slapping her. But, that would be against my principles ”
She acknowledges that love-hate is a very accurate description of her relationship. The words of the 1963 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Greece’s Yiorgos Seferis, reflect her own inner torment: “Wherever I travel, Greece wounds me.”
“I miss it terribly when I am away,” Skiniotou says, “but not a day has gone by in the last eleven years that I have not thought of leaving it ‘for good’.”
|Athens News 26/Sep/2011 page 37|
LIVING abroad often prompts a new awareness of our native homelands, but can the distance also incite an inner understanding of who we are and why?
I have recently come across an old article in The Advising Quarterly, written by Gary Weaver, who put it well. “In a new culture sojourners become more aware of what makes them different and consciously examine culturally embedded values, beliefs, and thought patterns,” Weaver wrote. “They gain both greater awareness of their home culture and greater awareness of the individual self and of what is important to them.”
In retrospect, I can see that much of what I hold dear stems directly from my Canadian background: a fierce loyalty to multiculturalism; strong sense of community; belief that the system can work for and with us; and, a deep respect for the tenets of democracy. (All peppered with a dose of critical thinking.)
American Maria Mercedes, who arrived in Greece in 2003, declares her homeland link to be rooted in the United States’ very beginnings.
“The tenets I espouse,” Mercedes says, “are the basic ones which were incorporated by the founding father Thomas Jefferson into the Declaration of Independence.”
Stars and stripes
Mercedes believes everyone is created equal and entitled to freedoms enabling “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Like others interviewed, she credits her parents and homeland with shaping her perspectives, saying the diversity of an America rich in immigrants, like her parents, encouraged more ethnic open-mindedness.
“Scotland is not really so much about the kilts and bagpipes,” observes clanswoman Elizabeth Clarke, who recently moved to Greece after living in Singapore, “but more about the honesty and the brutal sense of humour of a people with a very strong work ethic.”
Some of things Clarke believes in – like the right to free healthcare and education, as well as children’s rights – are still strongly upheld in her native highlands. But she’s disappointed by the recent lapses there in transparency, as well as in personal and public security. Besides that, she’s fearful that lingering bigotry may hamper the religious freedom she cherishes.
David Gibson inherited a British appreciation for family, equality, education, school-based physical activity, reading, the fine arts, environment, and political and religious tolerance. But after three decades away, he admits that country only exists in his memory.
Take it or leave it
“What I miss is in the past,” Gibson says. “The country has changed and so have I. But England made me and, in a sense, Greece remade me. I found a new self here in that I had to make adjustments and reconsider my roles.”
Mercedes also feels that absence brings an inner clarity. “Since the challenges of living abroad are profound,” Mercedes says, “it forces one to look at what changes and adaptations you can, and are willing to, make to adjust to a different environment.”
“Living and working abroad certainly takes you outside your comfort zone,” Clarke says, “and you have to decide which practices and beliefs you are prepared to fight for. And which of those practices, when re-examined, are no better than the local practice – or sometimes even worse.”
|Athens News 5/Apr/2010 page 12||