«Russell King, Anastasia Christou and Janine Givati-Teerling Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex ABSTRACT This paper focuses on ...»
‘Every summer we would go to Greece’: on frequency of visits, and the journey Given distance and cost, returns were more frequent and regular from Britain and Germany than they were from the United States. Most Greek Cypriot and GreekGerman respondents remember returning every year, for the summer break of a month or so. For some it was twice a year, adding a second trip at Easter or Christmas. Here are some typical brief quotes (we annotate each interview extract with a code which gives the interviewee’s pseudonym, age, and migrant group – GA for GreekAmericans, GC for Greek Cypriot, and GG for Greek-German).
Every summer we would go to Greece, every summer. For about a month (Thomas, 29, GG).
As we were growing up, every summer, every summer, my father would bring us over to Cyprus for holiday (Alexandra, 37, GC).
My father used to bring us on holiday twice a year to Cyprus to keep the Cypriot culture, you know (Angela 41, GC).
Note the patriarchy evident in two of these quotes (‘father would bring us to Cyprus’) – a theme that echoes through many other quotes and which we will return to later.
For most Greek-Americans, returns were less regular, above all because of the extra cost, although there were exceptions, such as the latter of the following extracts.
We would come to Greece like every two or three years in summer… They [parents] would really save up – it was a big thing and they geared everything towards, like they wouldn’t buy us designer clothes and things like that because they were saving for a trip to Greece … like, nothing was ever missing, especially when it came to food… but they economised when it came to things – you know, we didn’t have the big-screen TV or the satellite, whatever. We were saving money to come on vacation and my dad was always sending money back to his family … like he supported his family [brothers and sisters in Greece] pretty much … (Dora, 34, GA).
I think I first went to Greece when I was two years old, I am not sure … From the first year I went to Greece, every summer of my life I’ve been coming to Greece and sometimes for Christmas or for Easter for ten days (Magda, 36, GA).
From these quotes we get further insights into the migration process – for instance, the role of remittances – and into the more difficult nature of the transcontinental return. For the US and the UK, at least since the 1970s, returns were by air, which meant that for older interviewees, those older than about 50, regular childhood returns would have been unlikely. Mike (57, GC) remarked that, when he was a child in London, family holidays were to Brighton and Hastings, not to Cyprus. Return visits from Germany, on the other hand, were usually overland, by car – which brought its own challenges. The following quote is a nice evocation of the performativity of the annual trip down to Greece, and also of the materiality of the visit as well – the ‘exchange’ of high-quality German-manufactured consumer goods with the ‘Greek
stuff’, products of the soil:
Every summer vacation, six to eight weeks, by car. Actually, it’s a traditional Greek-German vacation, by car, so you can carry all the things you want to carry. This is the nightmare of everybody, three days in a car, with all that stuff… I remember, like, in the beginning [laughs], it was like vacuum cleaners and televisions… there was a time in Greece thinking that everything that has a German brand name is better … So you were carrying all that stuff back and you were putting all the Greek stuff in the car and bringing it back to Germany. It’s like litres of olive oil, of wine and cheese and God knows what, that you cannot put on a plane… (Rebecca, 41, GG).
‘Like a big playground’: of sun, fun, beaches and freedom Childhood memories of visits were almost always very positive, especially for the pre-teen years. There was the obvious feeling of being on holiday (but on a rather different type of holiday than children of non-migrant background), with frequent references to sun, sea, beaches, idyllic villages, nature and the countryside, and a warm welcome from family members. However, one word stood out as completely predominant in the narratives of all these summer holiday visits – freedom. Children saw themselves as being allowed much more freedom to run about without being watched, to stay out late, and to do things that they would not have been allowed to do in their ‘host’ countries. This was especially noticeable in the Greek-Cypriot narratives, suggesting that the contrast between the ‘safeness’ of Cyprus and the ‘mean streets’ of London (or other big cities – interviewees also came from Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, Nottingham and Coventry) was sharper than between Greece on the one hand and Germany and the US on the other. The contrast between freedom in Cyprus (and Greece) and restrictions in the host country was most striking for the female interviewees, reflecting once again the powerful gender dynamic of Greek and Cypriot family life. Interviewees also observed that, during these holiday times, their parents were more relaxed and behaved differently towards them, the children, than when they were at ‘home’ in Britain, the US or Germany.
This, then, is the general picture, a remarkably consistent one, which we now disaggregate and nuance via sets of quotes. First, a few remarks about the nature of
the return visit – essentially a holiday, but not one that other children at school shared:
I only came for holidays then, I was nothing but a tourist. Greece was my homeland but I was just a visitor and a visitor hasn’t got a clue about everyday life (Gregory, 40, GG).
This was a holiday… you’re not at home, but… You know it wasn’t a holiday like I was staying in a hotel, and it was a holiday ‘cause we had our own place over here, we had an apartment which my parents bought in 1980 when I was born. And I had my grandparents, so I would stay with them, I would stay with my aunty… it was different, but it wasn’t like [the kind of] holiday like my friends would talk about when they went to a hotel or a cruise, and they did this and that… it wasn’t like that (Theodora, 28, GC).
Where, exactly, did the childhood visits take place? Reading the full set of narratives reveals quite a complex geography and variation of types of place. The parents of Theodora, above, had bought a flat in Limassol (Cyprus’s largest seaside town) and so holidays were divided between the coast and staying with relatives inland. Both in Cyprus and Greece, most emigrants leaving in the 1950s and 1960s came from villages and small towns, as both countries had mainly rural, agricultural economies at that time. Other emigrants came from coastal areas and the Greek islands. Hence the holiday returns could be to any of these kinds of location. But that is not the full story because, whilst emigration was taking place, other family members (especially the brothers and sisters of the emigrants) were migrating internally, to Athens, Thessaloniki or Nicosia. So these places might also feature on the return visit itineraries, except that in the summer peak these cities empty out as people go back to their villages or decamp to the coast. Either way, beaches and the seaside, and villages and the countryside, are the two topoi most frequently referred to – inevitably in idyllic terms.
We would come to Athens for maybe a week, maximum two weeks and stay with my aunt, and then we would go to the village and spend time by the beach and, you know, play in the water… as a child it was like a play time because you were getting away from school and you felt it was like a playground here.. it felt like my big playground … (Demetra, 34, GA).
We’d stay with relatives in the villages and [go to] the weddings, we’d attend a couple of weddings… Of course the whole thing was the wedding… taking the prika (dowry) from the wife’s house to the husband’s – the whole thing… Going to the panigiria (religious festivals) in the summers… immersed completely in tradition (Rose, 54, GA).
When I was very small [and visiting Cyprus] I used to go to the shops in [names village] and ask for things and walk down there, be a Cypriot, and my father, he was someone of, not importance, but someone of recognition in the village, and they always knew who I was and said hello to me, so I felt a big part of all that was going on… My father would invite all his friends back to the house and we’d have big barbeques and meet all his family, his friends, and really have a nice [time]… and the music, a lot of music everywhere, yeah, and I enjoyed it… I learnt more about my parents on holiday than I ever did living with them eleven months of the year in the UK! (Maya, 42, GC).
This friendliness and sense of community, especially in the villages, is closely linked to the main trope of the childhood narratives, freedom. From dozens of examples, here are a few descriptions; they are taken from the British Cypriots whose narrative material is particularly rich on this theme. Note how the holiday visit to Cyprus is often associated with a significant childhood or adolescent event, like learning to ride a bike or going out to a disco for the first time. And note how relationships with Cyprus-based cousins are so important, both in accessing ‘freedom’ and acting as ‘protectors’; in other words, ‘It’s alright as long as you are with your cousins’. The quotes are quite long, because we think they are so interesting! The first one is from Theodora (28) and is in two parts: first she describes her upbringing in London, then she switches to holidays in Cyprus.
Growing up in London was… when you’re like me, my generation – like you said, second-generation, er, our parents, because they were fresh from Cyprus and they came to a strange land, they stuck with their communities a lot… We lived in Palmers Green, which was a very Greek area, still is, but in those days it was a very very Greek area… I was brought up quite strictly, because I was a girl, I was the baby, the youngest. My brother could go out, he could play, do whatever he wanted but I had to stay at home, I wasn’t allowed out. I had to be escorted by my brother while I was going out, stuff like that… My parents brought me up, or tried to bring me up, with our traditions and within our culture… I had it embedded in me that I was Greek, that I was GreekCypriot… I had friends in school, but I wouldn’t go round to their houses… it was more like every Sunday we used to visit an aunty, I really socialised more with my cousins than I did with my friends, and if I had a friend from school they’d have to be approved by my parents… my mother’d have to meet the parents… she was just so worried… I had a really good friend at primary school and she was Italian and my mum got on with her, ‘cause we’re quite similar… And she’d always say to me, you know, ‘not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I don’t trust everybody else’… I was driven to school to my embarrassment up to the age of 15 [laughs out loud], in a battered Mazda, oh it was really embarrassing… whereas my brother could go on his own… And I, er, was encouraged to do chores around the house, whereas my brother didn’t have to do it ‘cause he’s a boy and I’m a girl, and I’m supposed to know how to do it, ‘cause I’m gonna be a housewife, and all that kind of rubbish… and that’s it… oh yeah, the school slumber parties, so I wasn’t allowed to do that, ‘cause I wasn’t allowed to stay at somebody else’s house overnight, my mum didn’t trust so much, like an English family or whatever… […] And the funny thing was that when I was on holiday here in ’95, you know 15, mid-teens or whatever, the first time I went out was actually in Cyprus… My cousins here – this is when I found out ‘wow, we really are so different’ – so we were like ‘yeah, we’re going go out’, and for some reason, as strict as my mum was in England, she would let me do whatever I wanted in Cyprus, it was so bizarre… And, you know, she was different, like the doors wouldn’t be locked, whereas in England we would always lock the doors twice.
Everything was so open in Cyprus… In England if I wanted to go down to the shop I wasn’t allowed, but here I could just roam around and do whatever I wanted… so I kinda enjoyed the freedom of the holidays. And my cousin was going to take me out, and my mum was like ‘alright as long as your cousin looks after you’; even though she was three months younger than me [laughs] she was looking after me, ‘cause I was from England and I didn’t know my way around [laughs]. And that was the first time I went clubbing, it was in the tourist district [of Limassol], it was really funny, I just wore something normal, you know, not super-trendy, just something to go out in, and my cousins were with their mini-skirts and they had a full face of make-up on, they had their highlights, and I was like [mimics shocked expression] and I felt like a baby actually, I really felt like a child, even though I was 15… Among many significant interpretive remarks that could be drawn out of this long interview extract, we highlight the gendered upbringing of sons and daughters within the Cypriot community in Britain, the multiple social roles of cousins in both London and Cyprus, and the ‘confrontation’ between social models of youth behaviour and ‘growing up’ in the two places. This ambiguous ‘reverse’ encounter between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’ was raised by other interviewees too, both in the context of childhood visits and in relation to their current lives in Cyprus (and Greece). The most common explanation was the ‘inversion’ through migration and its temporal and generational effects, of the ‘expected’ relationship between the ‘traditional’ (Cyprus as a poor emigration country and colony of Britain) and the ‘modern’ (Britain as wealthy, modern and cosmopolitan), but even this interpretation
has its twists and nuances. Theodora again: