30.7.12

Why Greece Sucks #2: Nationalism

It's been a couple of days since the Olympics began in London, and it has been surprisingly quiet so far: no overcrowding on the tube, no massive crowds in Stratford, no accidents or ridiculous traffic on the roads to east London... Apparently, the Games --fingers crossed-- are running smoothly.

(Which means that I bought this "alternative method of transport" for nothing.)

It's been a huge relief, considering that we were all prepared for and expecting the worst. In fact, I was absolutely certain that August's post would be all about the Olympics, and me bitching about how the city has come to a standstill.

As it turns out, this month's post, coming a couple of days in advance, is inspired by an Olympics-related event, but has nothing to do with the Games themselves.



Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook (lucky bastards!) may have noticed the article I recently posted about a Greek athlete who was expelled from the Greek Olympic team over a racist tweet.

The story is this: last Monday, Voula Papachristou (pictured above), a Greek athlete who was to compete in London 2012, tweeted a racist "joke" targeting African immigrants in Greece. The "joke" was:

("With all these Africans in Greece...
At least the West Nile mosquitoes will be eating food from home!!!")

As a result, the Hellenic Olympic Committee officials announced that Voula Papachristou would be banned from the Olympic team "for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement." (Chris Chase, "Greek Athlete Expelled From Olympics for Racist Tweet", Yahoo! Sports, 25-07-2012)

(I used a reference! I'm becoming a journalist!
It's a reference to Yahoo!, but whatevs.)

Responses to this have been mixed. Some, like the author of the article I linked to above, believe that while the comment she made was tasteless, she shouldn't have been refused the opportunity to compete, since she spent four years preparing for this moment and politics should have nothing to do with it. Others, like myself, think that she was rightfully removed from the team as, despite the questionable application of Olympic values in contemporary times, she still was a public figure representing a nation and by allowing her to compete the Hellenic Olympic Committee would be condoning her behaviour. Then there are those who say that she did nothing wrong and that her expulsion was unjust, unfair and "racism against Greeks".

Let me start by explaining why I firmly belong in the second category, and then I'll get to the point. The people who belong in the first group contend that it was just a joke and that her punishment was too harsh. First of all: was it just a joke? There is photographic documentation that proves Mrs Papachristou has been retweeting posts made by Golden Dawn, Greece's favourite neo-nazi political party. (I don't care what you say, spell-checker, I will not write "nazi" with a capital letter. Fuck you.) Secondly: sometimes I make racist jokes myself. I'm not a racist; that's what makes it funny. But you know what? I don't post these jokes on Facebook, because I have the required IQ to know that would be a tremendously stupid move. People online can't know your intentions; on the internet, you are guilty until proven innocent. Mrs Papachristou seemed to be lacking that common sense. Finally: this might come as a shock to many, but participating in the Olympics is not a right; it's a privilege. There are certain rules to abide by, and if you fail to do that, like Mrs Papachristou so foolishly did, you have no one to blame but yourself. She was stupid and/or racist, and she paid for it. I have no sympathy for her.

(Also, she didn't like my page on Facebook. She was practically begging for it.)

The sad thing is, one of the reasons so many Greek people have been supporting her is because they recognise a part of themselves in her behaviour. Who hasn't cracked a racist joke? So it's wrong now to speak out when immigrants are flooding into your country, raping, killing and stealing your money or jobs? And why is she the only one paying for a silly mistake, when so many Germans have spoken against us Greeks in numerous occasions without any repercussions or consequences? These are few of the excuses I've heard over the past few days from people I know not to be racist, including my friends and my own mother.

Around this time last summer, I was writing my dissertation on the Greek riots of 2008. One of the things I mentioned constantly throughout it was that, and I quote, "the majority of Greeks, regardless of age, class or background, have a notable sense of national identity." 

I also asked the following question: "It is a common saying in Greece that while Greeks were coming up with the concept of civilisation, the rest of the world was still hanging from trees like monkeysand yet, in the past decade, the country has consistently been faced with situations that demean its history, its pride and what Greeks expect it to stand for: democracy. The Hellenic ideals, an inheritance from Greece's rich past, have been betrayed by the present nation. What does it mean for a Greek to be Greek, then, when this inconsistency between the past and the present is taken into consideration?"

Of course, there's nothing wrong with national pride, although you didn't actually have anything to do with where you were born and by which parents, or with what your ancestors achieved, so being proud of your origins, to me, sounds a bit like being proud that I have two feet, two eyes and one nose, or being proud that my neighbour won a medal. (Assuming my neighbour has the same nationality as me, of course.)

(Then my other neighbour, the immigrant, came and raped, killed
my medal-winning neighbour and stole his medal.)

My problem with Greek pride is the way it manifests. There is a fine line between national pride and nationalism, and many Greeks tread on it carelessly. A few examples:

Example #1

Last month we had the Euro 2012 to keep us busy. One of the matches with the heaviest political undertones in the tournament was, without a doubt, the match between Greece and Germany. They say that football is the opium of the people, and it's true: after Greece's failure to vote for an anti-European (and therefore anti-German) party in June's elections, the country's only way of showing those horrible Germans how we don't bow down before bullies was to kick them out of the Euro.

After we lost 4 to 1, this picture started trending in social media, posted by Greeks:


The message of this is clear: we didn't actually lose against Germans! Germans are so worthless that they have to give their nationality to anyone in order to form a proper team. Ignore the fact that most of these players were actually born in Germany, and the rest moved to the country before they were 10 years old. Ignore the fact that some of them even have one German parent. (And if they didn't, would it really matter since they were raised in the country?)

I understand those Greeks' confusion. In other countries, immigrants actually get a chance to integrate after they move in, instead of instantly being thrown to the brinks of society. In other countries, 5-10 years are more than enough to obtain the nationality -- you don't find yourself in danger of deportation after 21 years in the country because you didn't work enough for a year due to an illness, like Albanian journalist Nikos Ago.

I have a French friend in London, who is originally from Africa. As an immigrant in France, she has faced a good deal of racism over the years. (Yes, other countries aren't perfect either.) Nevertheless, she is a French citizen and many French citizens who have no other origins accept her as such. Her cousin, on the other hand, who lives in Greece, has often reported to her how difficult life is.

Come to think of it, almost all the immigrants I've met in Greece who were well integrated came from European countries or the US, and the only non-white person was a high-school friend of mine, who was half-African and half-Greek. (That half-Greek was what made her acceptable, apparently.)

Example #2

This is a personal experience, and I'll leave the names out. A Greek couple visited me a couple of months ago in the UK; the wife is a blond girl with incredibly pale skin, while the husband is fairly dark, going far beyond what English people would call "olive-skinned". (Of course, according to how races are perceived in Greece, both are Greek, so they are both "white". But I digress.)

Well, while we were walking, the husband mentioned that not many people in the UK could guess where the two of them came from. (That's not surprising at all, considering that English people seem incapable of believing there might be people from Greece with as white skin as their own.) The husband in particular was troubling for them: some thought he was Spanish, while others assumed he was Pakistani.

Then the wife said with a chuckle: "Of course, he prefers to be considered Spanish."

It was a throwaway comment, and I thought nothing of it at the moment. Then I came home, and it returned to me: why would it be better to be thought Spanish? The answer was obvious, of course: Spaniards are Mediterranean, and European. If Greece considers some countries to be its sibling nations, those would be Cyprus, Italy and, to some extent, Spain. Pakistan, on the other hand, is a source of immigrants for Greece. Why would a Greek person want to be associated with them? Their perception is better than that of Albanians (the aforementioned thieves, killers, rapists), but it's still pretty bad: they "smell", they are "loud", and while most are harmless, some of them are "sexist" and "dangerous". In comparison, Spaniards are European and part of the "western civilisation", and therefore superior.

Of course, I'm not accusing the couple of harbouring such views. That's exactly the problem: this attitude is so ingrained within Greek mentality, it becomes a subconscious response. 

This post is getting too long already, so I'll try to cut myself off before I write an essay. My point is, Greek people are and always have been a proud nation. Even now that we are Europe's financial bitch through nobody's fault but ours, many Greeks believe themselves to be superior to people with different nationalities because of our history (even though there's nothing to be proud about after the student revolution of 1974), our beautiful islands and climate (even though modern Athens looks like the bastard child of the city it once was and an abandoned factory, and as if geographical luck is something to be proud of) and... what else? Is there anything else? Let's ask Katerina, the Hellene.


Oh, yeah. We're also Hellene, not Greek. There's this common misconception in Greece that the word "Greek" is an insult; in fact, when I was in sixth form, our Latin teacher informed us that it derived from the Turkish word "Grekos" which meant "slave". (It was years later that I discovered it was actually a Latin word, based on an ancient Greek word Greeks themselves used to describe their origins. You'd think a Latin teacher would know that.) Anyway, many Greeks hope to replace "Greek" with "Hellene", which is the modern Greek word for "Greek" ("Έλλην"). Meanwhile, nobody addresses the fact that we still call the French "Gaulish" in modern Greek. But that's another kettle of fish.

The problem, for me, is not just that Greeks' national pride is severely misplaced; as the rise of Golden Dawn proves, it is also incredibly dangerous. And when we condone or excuse the actions and/or words of people like Voula Papachristou, we become accessories and condemn our country to a modern 1940s version of the country we supposedly hate so much, Germany. If that's not ironic, then I don't know what is.

I sincerely hope that the European Commissioner for Human Rights who plans to investigate Golden Dawn will find it illegal and remove it. Even if that happens, however, it won't also remove the party's mentality from the 500.000 people who voted for it. Therein lies the real problem.

16.7.12

Why Studying German Sucks

It's that time of the month again, when I get to complain about something.

(I was looking forward to this moment.)

As I mentioned in my last entry, I have been incredibly busy as of late. I have been working, writing my novel and training in order to volunteer in the prison service. I've also been setting up a website for my webcomic, Ignore Him Street. (LIKE IT!) Finally, I just resumed studying German and began studying Spanish.

Ever since I was a child, I've loved learning foreign languages. I am a native speaker of Greek, I speak English quite fluently and I can hold a conversation in German. I quit German two years before I graduated from sixth form, because my parents insisted I should focus on getting into a good university if I want to get a real job someday. (Insert laugh somewhere around here.) I have regretted this decision ever since.

(This has nothing to do with this blog entry.)

Which is why I recently booked a summer course, picking up from where I left off, and I decided to be bold and start another language as well. (¿Qué pasa, pendejo?)Both courses started last week, and that brings us to today's topic.

Before I start, let me get this out of the way: I am quite aware of the irony in complaining about a language being too complicated when my native language is Greek. I get it. "It's all Greek to me" -- yes, haha. The difference is, Greek is basically useless. It's a language spoken in two tiny countries and it's not an asset to anyone who speaks it, unless they're applying for very specific jobs. (Like, "primary school teacher in a Greek school abroad" specific.) The same cannot be said for German, however, which is one of the top ten most useful languages. (English, French, Spanish, Chinese... Maybe Arabic, I guess? I can't think of any more.)

(Gaelic?)

So yes, Greek is difficult, but nobody has to learn it except Greeks. (Ancient Greek is also difficult and a lot of people learn it, but they don't learn to speak it. There's a difference.) And yes, nobody's forcing me to learn German -- I want to, because I love the language. But I can still complain, because that's what I do.

So, let's start.

1. Der, die, das.

I blame ancient Greeks for this. I can just imagine them sitting at the agora in their chlamydes, coming up with words to express concepts.

- Freedom feels like a she, doesn't it?
- Yeah, I concur. How about truth?
- Oh, that's a she as well. God?
- Oh, that's definitely a he. But we can have a she version as well.
- How about journey?
- Hmmm... Tough one. How about neutral?
(Assholes.)

2500+ years later, here we are and many modern languages have two or three articles. For German, it's three: der, die, and das. Unfortunately, unlike with other languages, for a big percentage of German words it's simply impossible to guess what the article is. Sure, there are rules, but they're so fucking complicated that even grammar books concede that you just have to learn most articles by heart. That's 12.000+ words. By heart.

2. Dativ and Akkusativ.

All right, so the article thing applies to Greek as well. I don't know if it's easy to learn the Greek articles, but since the most common mistakes immigrants in Greece make in Greek have to do with the articles, I'm guessing not. But here's another remnant from ancient Greek: dative and accusative. In Modern Greek, we got rid of dative around the 1970s. You see, the language was quite complicated as it was and dative basically served the same purpose as accusative, and we just had to learn when to use each, so we decided that fuck that shit. Somehow, Germans being the overachievers that they are, they kind of skipped that memo.

And there you have it now: when there's two objects in a sentence, one takes dative and one accusative. When you use prepositions, specific prepositions require dative and others require accusative. Then there are the prepositions that are cool with both, and you just have to check the verb to see, does it imply motion? If so, you use accusative. If not, you use dative. (Usually.) Then there are prepositions that mean one thing with dative, and another with accusative. Has your head exploded yet? Imagine trying to finish a sentence when you have to pause and think, "Shit, does that verb imply motion?" or, "Fuck, does hinter take dative, accusative, or both?"

(Here's an image from Ignore Him Street to take your mind off things.)

On behalf of all German language learners everywhere: Gee, thanks a bunch, ancient Germans!

("Bitteschön!")

3. Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän.

You know how sometimes in most languages you want to describe something complicated so you end up using a lot of words to get the point across, like "danube steamship company captain"? Yeaaaaah... Apparently Germans don't really like long sentences, so their solution is to just stick words together like train wagons. So this is how you end up with words like the one titling this paragraph. Of course, it doesn't help that many German words are naturally long, so sticking them together makes a bad thing even worse... but 41 letters? Honestly? That's about 10 letters short of twice the alphabet.

(Well, I just googled "longest Greek word" and it's apparently 170 characters, so... AT LEAST WE INVENTED SOCIETY! [/typical Greek person's response to criticism])



4. The Schmetterling Effect.


There's this meme going around online that makes fun of German words:



Personally, I find it kind of tasteless. There are a lot of Greek words that sound ridiculous (ochaderfismos = nihilism, peripatodromos = walkway, skupidodenekes = rubbish bin, etc.), but nobody considers the Greek language ugly. On the other hand, most people I've told that I study German over the years have responded with: "To me, German sounds awful!!!"

I will concede, however, that many words are so... schmetterling, that you cannot memorise them. I mean, when I was younger I always forgot what "buchstabieren" meant, it took me years to get used to it. (It means "to spell".) Or "Gemüse". (Vegetable.) Or Geheimnis. (Secret.) It certainly doesn't help that many words are so similar. (I always confuse Geheimnis with Gefängnis. One is secret, the other one is prison.)

And finally...

5. Y U NO GREEK? OR LATIN!

For all the influence it's had from ancient Greek, you'd think that German would at least have a respectable amount of ancient Greek words, just to make it easier for us Greeks to learn their language. Alas, it seems that Germans hated us long before the economic crisis, since the amount of Greek words in the German vocabulary comes down to I-don't-know-how-many-but-not-many.

According to research I just found online, German (like English) is a Germanic language (no shit!) which has "borrowed heavily" from Greek and Latin.

Nevertheless, unlike with English where it happens all the time, I very rarely read a German word and think, "ha! That's actually Greek." You know what that means? More words to learn.

(Woe is me.)

Aaaanyway, I wish good luck to you all German language learners. I know it's tough, but we'll make it through. Klar?