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The Decalogue of Nick #1: I’m Greek-Australian
For Kaan Kılıçaslan.
I was born in Launceston, Tasmania, in 1971, to a father who had migrated from Cyprus and a mother who had migrated from Crete. We moved to Crete when I was 8. We moved back to Melbourne when I was 12. I’ve lived there since, but for 6 months in Greece in 1995, and living in Irvine, CA 1999–2001.
That makes me bi-cultural, I guess, which is a common thing in the diasporas of the world. It makes me somewhat atypical for the Greek diaspora in Australia, which trickled to a halt in 1975 (and restarted a couple of years ago). By living in Greece in the early 80s, and by retaining an intellectual interest in Greek culture, I’m more familiar with Greece than my generation of Greek–Australians.
Thank God for the Modern Greek collection of the University of Melbourne. And Thank God I got to it while that was still possible; it’s been in offsite storage for a decade now.
My history means that I’m neither fully Greek nor fully Australian. When I was doing Modern Greek in high school, Greek–Australian literature and commentary was awash with people of my generation up, bemoaning the fact that they were culturally adrift, and couldn’t call either side fully home.
That struck me as dramatic folderol. A few years later, when I had more perspective, and I understood it better. I will never grok cricket: if you don’t get it by 12, you won’t. I will never feel quite at home in Greece: they don’t act like I act. The clash between my parents’ fearful defensive upbringing of me and my liberal surroundings had landed me with a fair bit of baggage, some of it certainly sexual: any Australian TV soap I see, I reflexively wince at the bogan sex addicts.
But you know, feeling at some distance from your fellows is not a bad thing. I have baggage, and certainly didn’t get enough sex in my 20s, but I don’t feel debilitated by it. I think it helps me more analytical, more considered about how identity works. And being bi-cultural, I feel something of a responsibility to explain things on forums like this. To act like a bridge. It’s a useful thing, and I appreciate the other bridges I have encountered here.
My cultural grounding has been Greek, and Diaspora Greek at that. I got to see the very tail end of Greece as a third-world country in 1980, with donkeys in the village and minimal westernisation, with intact dialect and entrenched patriarchy and matriarchy divides. I’m grateful I saw it. I’m grateful to trace some of my emotional lineage to it.
Since the diaspora acts as a time capsule, my upbringing in Australia was not that far from the village I lived in in 1980. A lot about how Greece has changed since the 80s strikes me as odd. Dimitra Triantafyllidou has been a wonderfully patient instructor to me, in helping me catch up: yes, they have standup comedy in Greece now, who knew. But it’s one axis of distance.
The other is that a lot of my knowledge of Greek culture since has been book-learning. It’s been thorough, it’s been enthusiastic, but it has also been very intellectualised. My hyperdemotic slang owes more to the books of Nikos Tsiforos than to anything I heard on the street. I’ve savoured the best of Modern Greek literature; but I’m not comfortable telling a funny story in Greek.
(And I was proud as punch, during my honeymoon, when I was able to recount to my Greek relatives Nick Nicholas’ answer to Where did you meet your spouse? Booze helped.)
But my values were formed in Australia. I view the world as an Australian. My loyalty is to Australia, my national pride is Australian, and it is all the stronger because I haven’t had the fallback of Anzac and damper to fall back on as a mythology. I’m Greek, I know all about mythologies. I am an Australian citizen; I know what that truly means: Nick Nicholas’ answer to Do Australians like being Australian citizens?
When I came back from 6 months in Greece during my PhD in 1995, I announced to my parents that I could never live in a country where the civil service was that dysfunctional. My parents where agog: why would I give a shit about the civil service?! Greeks know how to live, man!
And yes, yes they do. But that’s not the life I have been formed to value. I value the life my fellow citizens value, here in Australia. I value order, and the rule of law, and the dependability of government services, and an uneventful civic life, and a healthy sarcasm towards the folly of the world.
Clarissa Lohr in PM, incidentally, wondered whether I failed to take to life in the US so completely, because my stock of identities was full already. Nah, it’s that I moved to the States at 28, formed no real friendships with locals, and I was stuck in fricking Irvine CA: Nick Nicholas’ answer to What is it like to live in Irvine, CA? But you know, two is plenty already to keep in your head.