Saturday, August 29, 2015


Recently, I was remarking flippantly and in jest to a friend in a coffee shop that I should like to have two daughters, so that if one cannot look after me in my old age the other would. In so doing, I was parodying a traditional prejudice that was prevalent among the elderly Samian generations of my childhood, namely, that daughters are more important than sons, because daughters end up looking after their parents, whereas sons do not. (Of course in other parts of Greece, the prejudice has often been the inverse, with daughters traditionally being considered unimportant as they would end up looking after their in-laws). As my friend laughed nervously, pointing out that he has two sons, our conversation was interrupted by an animated Greek-Australian lady, in her early sixties seated at the next table. 
Having overheard our conversation, she wanted to point out that my supposed desire to be looked after by my children was nothing more than a pipe-dream. According to her view, in a society which is ever increasingly focused upon the individual and its career, children are being brought up without a sense of compassion or obligation. Thus, all modern children, especially the girls, are selfish, and cannot be relied upon. They contact their parents only when they need something, often abuse them and do not spend any time with them. In fact, she stressed, rather than vainly hope and plan my declining years around my children, what  I should be doing, is working hard to amass enough cash to get myself into a decent aged care facility when I am old and infirm. Despite interjecting several times to assure her that I was joking, she then proceeded to tell us about her own experience (she grew up in Australia, is more conversant with English than Greek and thus straddles the first-second generation divide) and how her children's disregard of her contrasted with her own care for her aged parents, terminating the conversation thus:  "I hope all your dreams with regard to your children come true. But they won't." Bleak, and yet how many parents of that generation feel this way about their children? Is there truly a divide in values and obligations towards each other and the way these are respectively perceived between the Greek-Australian generations?
Going forth to pose the question among members of the second generation of Greek-Australians, I received a number of interesting, reasoned responses:
One gentleman remarked: "Surely you don't want daughters for the purpose of them looking after you? Our children have their own lives to lead, not ours. We raise them to the best of our ability. We hope they turn out to be good people who live fulfilling lives, not our own. We need to take care of ourselves and ensure that in old age we have care sorted out and not wait in hope (and some unfortunately in vain) that our children will look after us."
In discussing why second generation Greek-Australians perceive their obligations to "look after" their parents, another gentleman remarked: "Many would be doing it out of guilt. Or community expectations. I don't want to be judgmental but it was the cultural norm to be the support of the elderly. It made sense for the previous generations given their financial predicament. But our generation who was born in Australia is in a better position to secure care for our old age - see superannuation - than wait in the hope that our children "will look after us". I'd rather my children got on with their lives and ensured they had a good one with their respective families than worry about taking care of me. I've seen many cases the pressure put on our parents' generation to be at the call of their parents and how it has overwhelmed their life. For some, there was no alternative. But for our generation, there is. I don't want my daughter to have her life dictated by my expectations."
One lady, offered a totally different perspective: " If you have had the experience of working as a social worker in a nursing home you might be horrified to see how isolated the majority of our elderly Greek and others live. They are dumping grounds for the old, regardless of their financial situation. All they want is someone to visit and may be watch TV with them for an afternoon. Dropi, the way some of our old people are treated."
Another, being a second-generation Greek-Australian woman who looks after her invalid mother observed: "I hear people say they want the best for their children. People, nothing teaches you about the world, many hidden issues, compassion, patience, unconditional love and damn hard work, than does being there for your elderly parent."
In discussing the inter-generational perceptions of our obligations towards our parents, I noticed something interesting about the way we translate Greek thought into English. "Look after," in English, denotes something much narrower than the Greek «προσέχω» whose meaning it is supposed to convey. Thus when one considers, in English, the obligation or expectation to "look after" their parents, this generally indicates attending to their daily living needs and is the equivalent of the Greek word «φροντίζω.» If we discuss in Greek, on the other hand the obligation «να προσέχω τους γονείς,» the verb  «προσέχω», has a number of meanings including, to watch over, concentrate upon, pay attention to, understand, sympathise with, protect and of course, to look after.
This is pertinent because the vast majority of second-generation Greek Australians I spoke to merely addressed the concept of obligations towards their parents merely from a point of view of providing for their daily needs, while on the other hand, most of the first-generation Greek-Australians seemed to emphasize the importance of being paid attention to, being made to feel loved and respected, rather than having their daily physical needs attended to. The sample comments referred to above seem also to correspond to these similar but ultimately divergent ways of considering the same issue. Perhaps then, the transition from one language to the other has a corresponding effect on the way we understand, interpret and ultimately act upon, our own set of values. For many members of our community across the generations, placing their elderly in a nursing home carries a social stigma of filial impiety. For others, it is seen as a gesture of love and a way of permitting them to care for their parents effectively. Here, context and circumstance determine the way in which values are interpreted.
To discuss the reasons why second-generation Greek-Australians sometimes choose not to either "look after/δεν προσέχουν"  their parents, is beyond the scope of this brief musing. Coming from a family background that reveres the aged, I have always felt that it was axiomatic that one would want to care for all the members of one's family in their time of need, addressing those needs as much as one is able to do so. Nonetheless, our community is diverse and complex and along with anecdotes of offspring merely being variously ungrateful, selfish, self-centered, abusive, mean, uncaring or incapable there exist also anecdotes of abusive or manipulative first generation Greek-Australians deliberately ruining their off-springs' relationships and future for the sole purpose of ensuring that they have no attachments that would impede them from looking after them in their old age, or purposely refusing the assistance of their daughters-in-law, in order to demonise them and ensure that they can never occupy a position where they could "redeem" themselves in the eyes of the extended family. Furthermore, as I have been able to discover, everyone has their own particular view of how to care for one another and the old certainty of an overarching system of values and obligations inherited from overseas is no longer with us and thus is not a sure guide. The ensuing trauma and dislocation as those on the receiving end of our "care" may not, with reference to the traditional mores they have been brought up with, consider it as such, deserve to be studied I depth.
A few days after the discussion related above, I was in the same coffee shop, with an elderly Anglo-Australian friend who is about to enter supported accommodation. She is vibrant, witty, dynamic, affluent and suffers from extreme Osteoporosis. While her daughter offered to look after her, she chose to enter supported accommodation simply because she wished to maintain her independence. "There is a difference between being an invalid and being a moron," she winked. "Giving each other dignity is something you young people need to learn. At my age, dignity is the most precious thing of all." 
As a community, therefore, the debate as to how, paraphrasing the great social prophet Jerry Springer, we look after ourselves, and each other, is long overdue and is necessary, if we are to not only address the changing needs but also the need to maintain the dignity of successive elderly generations, into the future.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 August 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015


“The situation is dire. Waves and waves of illegal immigrants are flooding our shores. We are dealing with an invasion. We are not safe anymore."

 This is the manner in which a cousin from Samos expressed his feelings about the flood of refugees reaching the shores of that island, along with many others, in their thousands recently. Those refugees are fleeing the continuing conflict in Syria and Iraq that has caused thousands of civilian deaths and displaced millions, in what is possibly the largest humanitarian catastrophe of our present age.

 In Kos, it is reported that refugees, may possibly outnumber residents. As the already beleaguered Greek state struggles and not particularly succeeds in accommodating floods of people fleeing war, this is leading to social disruption, racism and on the part of some desperate and hungry refugees, crime. One can see why the plight of 2000 refugees including women, babies and small children who were locked in a football stadium without access to food, water or bathroom facilities last week on Kos can exacerbate already present feelings of desperation and frustration on the part of refugees already brutalized by war, leading to the riots and acts of violence on that island. The Greek state and the largely sympathetic Greek people currently have neither the resources nor the capability to accommodate even for a short period, the sojourn of these refugees. The refugees (for they are not as is insensitively claimed, (“illegal immigrants”) in turn will do whatever they can to secure the resources they need to feed their families. If it was your infant child that was compelled to sleep on a piece of cardboard in the open air, as is depicted in the picture accompanying these words, most plausibly, you would be willing to act in a similar fashion.

 As refugees who have fled the region during past conflicts have told me, no one wishes to leave their countries unless they absolutely have to. The refugees who make their way to Greece, after first having lost their homes and having to pay people smugglers a small fortune in order to find a place on overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels, do so, not in the hope of staying in Greece or subjecting Greece to Islam (which is ridiculous since a large percentage of them are Christians fleeing religious persecution), but in search of temporary succour in their quest to reach the more developed, democratic and safe Western World they have heard so much about.

 The hysterical claims by many frustrated Greeks however, to the effect that Greece and more broadly Europe is facing a barbarian invasion that will have untold social and economic ramifications upon the continent require closer scrutiny, however.

 A millennium and a half ago, much of Europe was ruled by the Roman Empire, a state that had reached an unprecedented level of material wealth, bureaucratic and ideological conformity. Arguably, the longevity and internal cohesion of that empire rested upon a gradually realized consensus that Roman rule was justified. Such a consensus was product of a complex conversation between the central government and its far-flung peripheries. It follows logically that those immediately without that periphery, would if not adopt, at least become familiar with the Roman way of life and in times of crisis, when there own customs, institutions and resources failed them, to seek refuge and or to avail themselves of the benefits of Romanity.

 The Gothic refugee crisis further illuminates the point. In the summer and autumn of 376, tens of thousands of displaced Goths and other tribes arrived at the border of the Roman Empire on the Danube River, seeking asylum from the Huns who were attacking them. The Gothic leader, Fritigern appealed to the Roman emperor Valens for asylum across the Danube in Rman territory. Valens agreed, stipulating however that the weak, old, and sickly must be left on the far bank to fend for themselves against the Huns.

 Rome was unable to supply the Goths with either with the food they were promised or land. Instead, they were herded into a temporary holding area surrounded by an armed Roman garrison. There was only enough grain left for the Roman garrison, and so they simply let the Goths starve. When Fritigern appealed to Valens for help, he was told that his people would find food in the distant city of Marcianopolis. When they arrived there, they were denied entry and assassination attempts were made against their leaders. Consequently, the Goths embarked upon plundering expeditions that led to a war in which they were able to kill Valens, plunder most of the Balkans to an extent that they did not recover for centuries and extort protection money from the Romans.

 Similarly 100,000 of the beleaguered Slavic peoples, seeking refuge from the Turkic Avars, who in turn were being persecuted by other nomadic tribes, poured into Thrace in the late 6th century, taking over Roman cities and gradually making their way down to the Peloponnese, where they settled in large numbers.

 In the first instance, failure by the Romans to accommodate Gothic refugees adequately, address their needs or find a solution to their humanitarian catastrophe led to the wholesale sack of the Roman Empire and untold misery. A similar set of circumstances took place in the US in the aftermath of Cyclone Katrina, proving that this is not a phenomenon of civilisation but rather, one of the human condition. In the second instance, which was occasioned by Roman inability to police their borders owing to wars with the Persians, a campaign of gradual assimilation (punctuated of course by bouts of violence on both sides), seemed to pay dividends as these populations gradually assimilated within the Empire, not without strife or occasional disharmony.

 There are lessons that Greece and Europe can learn from the “barbarian invasions.” They can and will happen, regardless of how much we attempt to “turn back the boats” and the more inept or indeed callous the treatment of those on the periphery seeking to get in (recently a visiting Polish dignitary advised the Italian mayor of Lampedusa, where the refugee crisis from Libya has reached cataclysmic proportions, to merely let the refugees drown), the more violent in their desperation they will become, with unforeseen consequences for their host societies and for humanity in general as refugees become ‘barbarians’ and are thus dehumanised.

 When Rome was the world, the world was Rome and the rest of the globe was largely isolated from the effects of the refugee crises of late antiquity were limited. Now, when the “West” spans the globe, the after-shocks of the mass movement of population, caused partly by the mismanagement of world affairs by the West itself, is a global responsibility. The refugees need first and foremost, our sympathy, not expressions of fear, horror and indignation at their presence. They need to be humanely processed, housed, fed and accommodated fairly and it is in the interests of all developed countries to partake in this endeavour. It goes without saying that effective action to cease the multitude of wars blighting our planet is the one main preventative measure that would nip such crises in the bud.

 Finally, when talking of invasions, barbarians and refugees, let us consider who is the true barbarian: he who has everything and denies another who has lost everything his needs, or he who has nothing and must do whatever he can to survive. In this, the finally word goes to the Theanthropos Himself, by way of the Gospel of Matthew: “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 August 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Crisis? What crisis? This is the caption posted by a facebook ‘friend,’ below a photograph of a stereotypical Aegean beach. All the accoutrements of a ‘perfect’ holiday are present: the impossibly blue waters, the sun-bleached pebbles, the pastel multi-coloured beach umbrellas, the oiled skin of the southerners in various gradations of burn, a half finished frappe fermenting within arm’s reach, all revealed within the context of an implacably omnipresent but unobtrusive light. Truly there is not a hint of dissonance to suggest anything but serenity. This to the western world and much of the Australia-Greek world that has adopted its orientalist perspective, this is what Greece must be, our crisis free, idyllic, reconstructed playground.

Yet on the island of Kos, where the photo was taken, not 100 metres away from the beach, thousands of refugees, fleeing the murderous Middle Eastern conflicts, are congregated. They are hungry, penniless and hopeless and their presence disturbs British holidaymakers who have been reported to have made comments such as: “Who in their right mind would now go to these beautiful islands where you now have to walk round amid these freeloaders.” Some also bemoan the presence of “penniless migrants [who] sit outside their restaurant and watch them eat”.

Sadly, such sentiments are also reflected by some Australian-Greeks. One recently returned from the motherland couple recently described to me the fury they felt when they sat down to enjoy their midday souvlaki at a restaurant. As they reached for their meal, it was snatched away from them by a young refugee, who appeared as if out of nowhere and promptly proceeded to stuff the souvlakia in his mouth. To their horror and eternal indignation, instead of chasing the presumptuous refugee away or taking punitive action, the waiter took the child by the hand and led him into the kitchen, promising him enough food to satisfy his hunger. “I felt violated,” the Australian-Greek woman told me, her clipped vowels, distorting in shrill arpeggios as she nervously clutched her ebay imitation Gucci handbag. “They are so unprofessional. We deliberately chose not to go to the ‘xorio,’ because we didn’t want to be pestered by ‘rellos’ asking for money and giving us sob stories…but we never expected to have issues like this on the beach. They took no action at all.”

“This would never have happened in Santorini,” her lisping, Ralph Lauren polo-topped, eyebrow-plucked mortgage-broking husband cut in. These people have lost the true essence of Greece. You watch. It just isn’t Greece anymore.”

Apparently, Greece, for a proportion of the bourgeoisiefied Australian Greeks of this ilk, consists of a tortuously twisting red line that includes the Cyclades and a few other popular Aegean Islands, Corfu and Chalkidki if they have heard of it, along with the coastline of the Peloponnese. The rest of the republic is a bleak no-mans land where lapsed, money-hungry, crafty and deceitful proto-Hellenes reside, with the Acropolis, Plaka, the Athens Archaeological Museum, Delphi and Olympia, forming Greek enclaves, suitable for visitation therein. When they do venture into the grey zone, it is for the purposes of free accommodation in the ancestral village, an experience which is never spoken of to anyone again. In this era, where one has not really corporeally manifested themselves in a particular place unless there is a facebook post to prove it, Helladic holidays become stage-managed affairs, their success to be judged by the amount of ‘likes’ to be gained via an appreciation of the stereotypical photograph of the holidayer in a bikini, undergoing a languid ritual Hellenic baptism in the waters of the Aegean. Such experiences are much diminished by the unprofessionals and the needy.

For as the indignant couple informed me, they are the hope and salvation of Greece. After all, they had the luxury of choosing between hundreds of potential destinations, some of which they had discovered on a Kon-Tiki Tour a decade ago, but had instead, deliberately chosen Greece, for in this way, they could save the Greek economy by “investing” in it. It was highly insulting and deeply distasteful to them that in so investing, they should be expected to be exposed to, the broader social and grittier financial problems of the country that exist beyond the acceptable face of Greece. Not that they don’t sympathise, and let’s not get them wrong, they are far from heartless, donating every year to the Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal and to collectors at traffic lights, but for the deity’s sake, do they really have to worry about the Greeks too, let alone donate? They are supposed to be on holidays and everyone knows that collections for Greek causes are always misappropriated.. And after all, they finally admit, having been psychologically prodded and poked for the better part of an hour, the Helladites deserve their problems, both the financial as they are profligate and lazy, as well as the social, for Greece never took border security as seriously as the Howard government and now Greece is no longer Greece, for it is infested with “xenoi,” the Greeks being too lazy to ‘turn back the boats.’ For them, Greece is the land of excellence, philosophy and logic and Modern Greece lacks all of these. In parting, the mortgage-broker suggests to me that I research “customer service” in ancient Greece and trace how standards have fallen, probably as a result of the Christian influence, which is not only unhellenic, but also, anti-capitalist. Look at what Jesus did to the money-lenders in the Temple.

In marked juxtaposition with these deck-chair ‘patriots,’ who in their concern for Greece’s greater good appear to have adopted the orientalist prejudices of their host-cultures wholesale come the large number of Australian-Greeks who thoroughly enjoy the physical beauty of their motherland but are able to place it in context, and not in isolation from, the people who reside in it, in all their fascinating, maddening, endearing and frustrating complexity. An aunt who assists in a parish soup kitchen in Piraeus reveals that a significant proportion of contributions donated for its upkeep originate from Australia. Similarly, a noteworthy proportion of second-generation Greek-Australians not only take the trouble between swims to walk the ground and understand the effects of the current crisis upon their compatriots, but are also providing financial assistance to family and friends. Perhaps their example can permit the more self-assured among us to gain a broader sense of perspective. The final word in this respect, can only be offered by my finance broking interlocutor, who is not only possessed of a social conscience, but also, a fine vocabulary to boot: “Greeks earn their living from rich tourists like us, not an endless stream of illegals asylum-seekers, or indeed, other broken down Greeks. Very few want to go on vacation and be confronted by with the detritus of broken societies. Our goodwill depends upon our insulation.” Steady on old boy.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 August 2015.

Saturday, August 08, 2015


It is a commonplace that the 1821 revolution secured Greece’s independence. What is generally not known however, is that the independent state of Greece, was set up for financial failure from its very outset. In 1824, a loan of £472,000 pounds was secured on the London Stock Exchange to finance the campaign for Independence. This offering was oversubscribed and buyers were required to put down only 10% of the purchase price with a promise to pay the balance over time. An additional loan of £1.1 million was floated in 1825. Sadly, speculators and middlemen in London skimmed off much of the proceeds before Greece received any funds. Further, the Greek War of Independence soon descended into civil war between rival factions, rendering it impossible to determine who should receive these funds. No interest payments were ever made to the bondholders on these two loans, and the value of the paper eventually plummeted to a fraction of the par value. It was not until 1878 that the Greek government was able to settle on the loans, which by then with accrued interest had increased to over £10 million.

 After the European powers recognized Greece’s independence, in 1832 and appointed Otto of Bavaria as its first king, another loan totaling 60 million drachmas was given to Greece. The loan was arranged by the French, Russian and British governments, and was ostensibly given to help Greece build its economy and manage the initial stages of governance. It was also intended to fund Otto’s Bavarian army, which would be brought with him to Greece. In Greece, Otto found himself mediating between factions that all believed they had a stake in government and the public purse and all of which served the interests of one or the other of the guarantor powers of Greece’s independence. Solvency became an issue almost immediately.

 As Lucien Frary relates in his recently published: “Russia and the Making of the Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844,” On 29 December 1842, Greek Foreign Minister Iakovos Rizos-Neroulos informed the ambassadors of Britain, France and Russia that even though the government and the royal household had decreased their expenditures significantly, Greece would be unable to pay the service charge on the 60 million franc loan it had contracted, due in March of that year. As a result, he petitioned the foreign powers for a bailout, in the form of a new loan to cover the interest repayments. The Russian ambassador, Konstantinos Katakazis, replied a week later that such a request was against the London convention of 1832. Writing to his counterpart in Constantinople, Katakazis commented: “This unpleasant phase of the Hellenic question will perhaps bring some sort of denouement to the interior affairs of the country and the course of its government. For it is impossible for me to suppose that the cabinets will decide to grant a loan again without asking King Otto and his councilors for an account of all the expenditures that they have made during the last ten years and the millions they have received.”

Russia was the first of the protecting powers to respond to the financial troubles by informing the Greek government that St Petersburg would bail it out by covering the interest charge due in March of that year. This news, according to Vice-Consul Kallogerakis in Patra, was met with jubilation by the inhabitants of Greece. He wrote: “The peasants repeatedly blessed the name of the August Sovereign of Russia.” Soon afterwards, Russian Foreign Minister Nesselrode wrote to the Greek government demanding payment of the service charges by June. Nesselrode insisted that the Greek government must try to achieve the payment by making huge cuts to public expenditure and introducing austerity measures. The problems of Greek finances, the Russian foreign minister observed, were due to bad government, inefficient administration and an unnecessarily large military.

 Measures were taken, but bad harvests and a downturn in the world economy exacerbated Greece’s woes.

 Since the Greek government was not able to pay the service charges on the loan, it faced the threat of the foreign powers intervening. The only way forward was to attempt to raise revenue while continuing to pare down the expenses of the state. Otto agreed with his ministers to increase taxes, impose a levy on public servants, eliminate selected diplomatic postings and lessen the pensions of priests. Fatally, the government also reduced the army by 1,200 men and agreed to remove the remaining Bavarians still embedded within the state apparatus. Greek Minister Rizos wrote to Nesselrode expressing regret that Russia doubted Greece’s efforts to develop the resources of the country and reduce public expenses. He illustrated all actions taken to improve the budget and pointed out that the cutbacks had serious repercussions on public morale, as a large sector of the population were dependent upon the state for their livelihood and increased austerity could destabilize the king. In particular, hoplarchs who had fought in the Revolution began to foment dissent, as their livelihoods were threatened owing to the cutbacks in the military.

 After browbeating the Greek government, the troika of Russia, Britain and France determined the solution to Greece’s financial woes at the Conference of London in July 1843. The Greek government was compelled to sign a protocol reducing its budget, even though the proposed economies were insufficient to meet the annual interest and amortization of the bailout package.

 Eventually, Greece not only defaulted on its loan but also had a constitutional revolution. The Greek cavalry, whose budget was cut in some cases by two thirds, while the Bavarian officers received no cut to their budget or salaries, staged a revolt let by Colonel Kallergis, in which they compelled Otto to grant the country a constitution. With the country in chaos, the economy also was unhinged.

 After this default, Greece was shut out of international capital markets for decades. During this interregnum, the government became dependent on the National Bank of Greece for borrowing. The government's needs were modest at first but soon escalated and the National Bank of Greece provided funds at interest rates that were twice the international lending rate.

 What emerges as a common theme between the 1843 crisis and the crisis of today is while reform is necessary and the viability of Greece as a state and economy is of paramount importance, in both situations, such reforms as were imposed by the great powers and their bankers upon Greece were not motivated by these considerations but rather simply, by securing the means by which Greece should discharge its indebtedness to those powers, regardless of the human or political cost, or the detrimental effect this would have on the development of Greece. In the case of 1843, this caused a violation of sovereignty and contributed to the contraction of impossible loan after impossible loan that led to Greece’s bankruptcy on a few occasions, political instability and chaos and a good deal of suffering. If the 1843 crisis and its resulting political revolt it caused is anything to go by, the worst, with regards to the political fallout of the current ‘bailout,’ is not yet behind the Greek people.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 August 2015

Saturday, August 01, 2015


Χάλο ντάλι μου! It was with these words that the luminous and beatific Kyriakos Gold of SBS Radio Greek program greeted the participants of the Greeklish Project, last Saturday night. Said Greeklish Project as an event, held in the Greek Centre, is of historical importance, as it is arguably the first ever Greek-Australian live game show to have ever been convened within our community, consisting as it did partly of questions, partly of music, stories of Greeklish experiences, banter, innuendo and high farce, the complex balance of which was expertly modulated by the ineffably prepossessing Kyriakos Gold himself, which is fitting, given that Kyriakos' smile is possessed of sufficient lustre as to blind even the most ambitious of network game show hosts.

 As a phenomenon, Greeklish however, is nothing new. A hybrid of Greek and English, it has been with us almost from the very inception of our community - a corollary of our acculturation within the Australian zeitgeist.

 There are in fact two forms of Greeklish:

 The first, which is fading, was coined by the first generation, in order to introduce into their everyday Greek speech, concepts or vocabulary that they were unfamiliar with in their home country. This Greeklish consists mainly of nouns, some of which have amusing connotations in Greek such as ρουφιάνος for roof-repairer, and βίζιτα for visit (which in modern Greek refers to an out-call by an escort). Evidence of linguistic genius can be found in the manner in which adjectives are created, for example, εξπείριος for experienced, or indeed verbs, such as μπαμπακίζω, meaning I lay on a barbeque for someone, the smell of which can be described as μπαμπακίλα. So ingrained was Greeklish in my own vocabulary growing up that I found it difficult to believe my recently arrived Greek school teachers when they pointed out that ορράιτ, μαρκέτα, καρπέτο and κάρο were not Greek words. I still have reservations about the word κάρο. This word in modern Greek means cart, and if αμάξι, a word that is commonly used to denote a car also literally means cart, then κάρο should be perfectly acceptable. Similarly μαγαζί and χαλί are arabic and Persian loanwords respectively and one wonders why ours are not to be preferred. The fact that they are not shows how subjective criteria can often shape language policy, and ultimately, the idiolect itself.

 Nonetheless, Greeklish is so much a part of our psyche, that it is unavoidable and can often take subtle forms. Just the other day, reporting from the panigyri of St Panteleimon in Dandenong, Angelis Kalodoukas from 3XY exclaimed: Υπάρχει έναν εξάιτμεντ στον αέρα.... The Greeklish here is not in the word excitement as this has been adopted wholesale without adaptation, but rather in the calque "in the air," which is a purely English expression, literally translated.

 This first form of Greeklish still waxes strong and will do so until such time as the first generation eclipses. Despite the advent of Greek cable television, which seems to be perpetually playing in elderly Greek-Australian homes, this generation persists in utilising the words that it has coined in its daily speech. When I speak to my elderly Greek clients about a συμβόλαιο or a νοικιοστάσιο, they rarely know what I am referring to. Talk to them about a κοντράτο or a λήστ (instead of lease,) and immediately, one receives a nod of affirmation. One elderly lady who came to see me because her son was a ντράγκις, gave me a look of incomprehension when I explained that I did not primarily practice in the ποινικό δίκαιο. Furrowing her brow in thought, she resonded after a few minutes: 'Α, δεν είσαι κρίμινα λόγιας.'

The second form of Greeklish that exists, is that primarily used by the second generation. It consists of English, into which are interposed Greek expressions or Greek words or parts of words, usually to express concepts in English that can more easily be expressed in Greek. For example, a person who is fasting may say: "I'm nistepsying," a person who has been delayed may say colloquially, "I got argisied," a newly divorced couple has "horisied," which term can also be used to mean something was made to fit, while a person who is the victim of a misunderstanding may protest that he "has been parexigisied." If the misunderstanding is a particularly significant one, then he "has been parexigisied bad." Here, the Greek root verb is retained and an English suffix is attached. A certain amount of linguistic dexterity is evident in the Greeklish word for λογοδοσία, where one provides a promise to be married. The proper Greeklish term here of course, is 'to give logies.' Calques can also identify a person of Greek-Australian origin, regardless of how Aussie their accent is. A key indicator is the expression: "I opened [or] closed the light," which is a literal translation from the Greek. This second form of Greeklish reached its peak in the nineties and is now in decline, as the latter generations either wholly espouse English with few Greek interpolations, or dispense with English in their spoken Greek altogether. Nonetheless, a few weeks ago, I did overhear a Greek-Australian mother in the cosmetics section of Myer yell at her offspring: "If you peiraxei those again Tristan, I'm going to tsakisei you," proving the enduring quality of the idiolect.

 Kyriakos Gold's inspiration for celebrating the linguistic genius of the Greek-Australian community derives from his own personal experiences. Acting as an interpreter, he was greeted one day by a client with the expression: "Α, εσύ είσαι το εξπλάι,' εξπλάι, of course, being good Greeklish for interpreter. Thus commenced his fascination with the unique lilt of our own kultursprache, one that deserves celebration in its own lifetime, as its terminal decline begins.

 The Greeklish Project event was by all means a roaring success. In the packed mezzanine floor of the Greek Centre, contestants battled it out to prove their mastery of the Greeklish patois and win fabulous prizes, adjudicated by our own Victorian Multicultural Κομισιονέρισα, Helen Kapalos, the urbane and linguistically muscular George Donikian, and my own insufficiency. Assuming the role of a connoisseur of Greeklish, I determined to become a visual representation of same, donning a foustanella, girdled by an Essendon Football Club scarf, a football guernsey of same provenance and capped by a matching beanie. Now in multicultural Melbourne, one can walk down the streets wearing a foustanella in relative safety. The same cannot be said these days for those who have the effrontery to don Essendon garb in public.

 The level of levity, jocularity and general goodwill pervading the mezzanine was intense, contributed in no small part by the expert Greeklish musical stylings of the divine Anthea Sidiropoulos, Iakovos Papadopoulos, Con Kalamaras and Ilias Chatziemmanouil. Much of that goodwill was directed towards the lustrous Helen Kapalos, whose appointment to her important new role has delighted our community. Her adjudication of the event was perhaps fitting, as Kyriakos Gold's endeavour can be replicated throughout all of the multicultural communities of Melbourne, each of them celebrating in turn, they way they have acclimatized linguistically to their new environment. There is much food for thought in comparing, contrasting and studying such an intercultural experience.

 Despite the Greeklish Project's few detractors, who proffered the argument that such events serve to corrupt our tongue at a time when our children are in danger of losing it altogether, I would venture to suggest that to the contrary, the Greeklish Project serves to honour our first generation for their linguistic genius and express our admiration for their dexterity. After all, that generation has managed, in a perfectly natural way, to accommodate loan words into its own tongue, having regard for all grammatical rules and strictures, something that its modern Greek counterparts in Athens have been unable to do. Instead they adopt English terms wholesale, without declension and even without transliteration. Arguably, ours is a 'truer, bluer' form of Greek than theirs and for all the opportunity for jokes that it provides, it deserves to be celebrated and studied in depth, το μπλάρρυ θίν.

Without wishing to kourasei the reader further, we seek to sygxarisei Kyriakos Gold and his team for their sensitivity, perspicacity and above all humanity, in choosing, at this critical juncture in the history of our community, to focus on the idiolect that has bound us all together for decades, and invite us all to rejoice in it and see its potential in binding other migrant communities to us. Του γκούτ ρε μάιτ!


First published in NKEE on Saturday 1 August 2015.