«Russell King, Anastasia Christou and Janine Givati-Teerling Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex ABSTRACT This paper focuses on ...»
[…] Looking back, I think I had a lovely childhood in [names village] with my grandparents who kind of replaced my parents. My grandmother raised me beautifully… I didn’t have many toys; there wasn’t even a bathroom inside the house; the toilet was outside in the yard. But I had many friends and we played out in the streets, and I think that has helped me a lot, that’s shaped my personality. My childhood in Germany was lovely as well. I remember the time my father came to take me to Germany. I wasn’t feeling scared although it was the first time I was in an airplane. I wanted to go to Germany without knowing what that meant… I did not speak German and I refused to go to the German kindergarten, saying that I did not want to become German… now I know that was a bad decision… My parents were both working [in a meat factory] so we [my brother and I] had to spend many hours a day alone or being cared for by Greek neighbours and friends. I went to German elementary school. Twice a week we had lessons in Greek language – a Greek teacher used to teach us history, maths and theology. Judging from the first reports I got from the German school I was a D student because of the German language… When I was 13 years old we moved to another city because my parents had bought a restaurant there. There were no Greek people in this new town [and] I was the only Greek person at school amongst Turks, Yugoslavs and Palestinians.
[…] Besides my studies, there was a long period of self-quest; what is important to me, what does it mean to me being a Greek woman in Germany. The role of Greek women in Germany is a far cry from the role of Greek women in Greece. It was a great dilemma for me. My parents were very strict in order to protect me… They wouldn’t allow me to go to parties and they told me not to get involved with a German boy because we would be leaving soon. I took my time trying to solve these dilemmas… many of them are still unresolved, but it’s OK now, I live with them.
Lydia appears to have enjoyed both her Greek and German childhoods, to have found sublime happiness at university and now was ‘OK’ with the dilemmas of being an adult Greek woman in both Germany and Greece (where she now resides). These dilemmas are much more problematic – and dramatically expressed – in the case of Petros (aged 38), another Greek-German who had experienced a divided life, both in childhood and as an adult. Born in Stuttgart, Petros had been taken back at age 14 to northern Greece when his parents spontaneously decided to relocate their family back to their home town, Drama. Petros finished his education, including an engineering degree, in Greece, served his time in the army and then, unable to find employment, ‘returned’ to Germany (to Berlin) for further study and a job. Finally, he ‘returned’ to Greece when his father became seriously ill.
Our presentation of Petros’ narrative is also in several parts: first his memories of childhood visits to Drama from Germany.
Every summer I was in Greece for my summer holidays… I was lucky to be coming over here every summer… I would see my friends, we would fool around and I would leave… I would play with my cousins in the fields, in the barns, and we would go to the seaside… all these memories remain with you…
But when he returns to live there long-term things begin to change:
Now I was returning, and I was returning to things as they had been… and when you grow up you believe that your cousins still love you… [but] people move on in relation to you. They move on and they never have this dilemma… The dilemma – which in the case of Petros and his multiple migrations is a kind of double nostalgia – is enlarged upon in the following extract, where it is defined as a ‘curse’, a word he repeatedly uses.
All of this is the title of your life – ‘nostalgia’. I tell you it is the word ‘curse’.
I have thought about it… it is a curse because it is a curse for someone to have to face this dilemma… People who grow up with two languages, they have this curse… it’s like having grown up without knowing who your parents are in a way… Who is the mother? Who is the father? Will I ever be at peace?
You are never at peace… You are constantly searching and you will never find a point where you will say: this is it.
Then, in this next segment, Petros reverses the argument – this time from ‘curse’ to ‘blessing’.
He compares, first, the way of life in Germany and Greece:
In the same way that it is a curse it is also a blessing because I was lucky enough to experience two cultures… two entirely different cultures: the urban, the harsh, the everything planned, the German system; and the Greek which is all confusion, the ‘come on, so what?’ Granny, granddad and all that… This enriches you as an individual… But this is, as we say, a knife which cuts at both ends.
This was followed by a more complicated set of remarks in which he distances himself first from the Greek friends of his adolescence, and then from the Greek
migrant community in Germany:
[referring to his small-town Greek friends from his later childhood]… I left them … with the same thoughts and ideas, faults in their character and taboos that they had since back then… they were still thinking in the same manner… And then I came back from Berlin with a thousand experiences which I could no longer share with them because whatever I would say was considered as something … too exotic for them, or they were not interested in listening to it… […] … I was ashamed of the kind of people the Greeks living in Stuttgart were.
They were a stereotype… all of them knew each other… they disliked the Germans… and I did not want to be like them… They were an island… An isle… even the kids of the second and third generation… I understood that I had nothing in common with them… I felt a kind of boredom… it was as if I had gone up to the top of a mountain and I had met with people who were uncultivated… coarse in their ways. I am speaking very harshly but these are the impressions I have.
Finally, he spells out the cultural expectations of his potential life as a Greek-German in Stuttgart alongside what he had achieved, going to university in Greece.
When I decided to study [i.e. go to university] two of my father’s brothers… living in Germany… [they thought] this boy wants to go to college to get educated… They had stereotypes of the Greek society over there [in Germany]: you will find a job in the Mercedes plant, you will get married to a Greek girl and that was it, that was your life… [I remember] I was in the car going from one uncle’s house to another… And I informed my uncle that I had decided to get an education. No-one said anything in the car for twenty seconds and in the end my uncle said: ‘You have no business going to college, stay at the Mercedes plant where you belong, you are fine there.’. He did not say it as an order, but as a piece of advice.
Our third example – Nicholas, aged 31 – is from Cyprus and illustrates the pattern of childhood return with the family. In some respects the back-and-forth migration trajectory of Nicholas is similar to that of Petros, but in other respects it is different – mainly in the positive interpretation that Nicholas makes of his life-path. Nicholas was born in Liverpool; his Cypriot-born parents ran a fish-and-chip shop. He ‘returned’ to Cyprus aged 12 when the family came back, disillusioned by the deteriorating quality of life and security situation in Britain, the decision precipitated by the theft of a pot plant from their front garden. He then spent his university years in the UK before returning to Cyprus in his twenties to find work as a journalist; this time the return was an adult decision. His narrative starts with growing up in Liverpool and the events leading up to the family’s return to Cyprus in 1989.
Yeah, so we did all of that, the Greek community in Liverpool, you know, weddings, Greek school on Sundays.. erm… I didn’t really like any of that, I hated the weddings […] My parents were thinking of moving back, and I think the final straw, er, we had some plant outside our front door, and two months before, the house next door got broken into, a burglary, and we were in the house at the time, and we didn’t notice that the whole house was gone, they managed to take everything out, right under our eyes, so that unnerved them a bit. And the final straw as that plant pot – yeah – whoever stole that plant pot was the reason [laughs]… because after that they just decided to sell up, pack it in, and go back to Cyprus.
[…] When we moved here in ’89… for me it was easy because I went from an industrialised, bleak, depressed, high crime city to, er, a very bright, open, free – there was very little crime here – erm, place where I could, you know, from being indoors most of the day I could, all of a sudden, I was out playing basketball until the sun went down, in the streets you know, and nobody cared where I was or what I was doing, nobody feared for my life, it made a huge difference… How can I put this?... It’s like taking someone from Siberia and putting them on a beach in Havana you know… So I had a great time: I went from a government school in Liverpool to a private school [an Englishspeaking school in Cyprus] with swimming pools, a running track… you could say I jumped up… I jumped a class [smiles].
In this extract above we see again the familiar contrast in freedom allowed to children in Britain and in Cyprus, but this time transposed from the fleeting freedom of the holiday to a permanent childhood lifestyle. This is an important point which, as we will see later, also feeds through to the thoughts and experiences of second-generation returnees bringing up their own children in Cyprus. For now, let us return to Nicholas’ interview and hear what he had to say about his identity, comparing life in Liverpool and Cyprus, and different aspects of Cypriot society.
My dad was very happy with the move and very happy about staying [in Cyprus]. When my parents came back it was fantastic for them – because don’t forget we moved because of the plant pot – and then when we came here we never locked the car… the windows were left open, the ground-floor windows, and you slept and let the draught go through… and, er, for me too, from a material point of view, my life really changed… From an identity perspective, obviously it mixed up my identity completely… it took me years to find out what my identity was.. well, yeah, I’m almost there [smiles].
[…] Actually, I think that when you’re in school, especially in that kind of private school, where everyone is like the son or daughter of a diplomat, ambassador, UN [personnel] or Lebanese businessman… you can call it like a cosmopolitan elite… it’s kind of like a bubble. And when you leave you realise, not everyone is jet-setting around the world, you know… I went straight into the army after school, and I met people from our society that I’d never had the chance to come across… Then you’re learning what the country is really about, ‘cause you meet people in the army from all walks of life. So then you’re confronted with… ‘Who am I? Do I belong to this group? Do I belong to that group?’… I mean there were hard times… There was an issue, I had to let people know that I didn’t like being called a Charlie [common Cypriot name for a returned ‘English Cypriot’].
[…] And especially after I finished university [in Britain] that was when the actual process started of deciding who I was and what I thought I wanted to be… this kind of constructive deciding… So I got a job back here, I started renting a house, I started speaking the language more, being involved in the press, I got into local issues much more, I knew who were the ministers, the deputies, the parliamentarians, I could discuss [these issues] in the local coffee-shop with anyone… […] This is home for me now, even though, when I go to Liverpool, the accent warms me, because I love Liverpool people, you know, and I feel a lot of memories there when I go back but… erm, this is home for me now… this is my port [smiles] yeah, yeah, I’ll end up here… Whilst each of these three cases – Lydia, Petros and Nicholas – is obviously unique in their individualised version of a mobile, transnationalised childhood, there are some remarkable common threads. All of them had parents who came from humble backgrounds and were economic migrants, either factory workers in Germany or ‘fish-and-chippers’ in England, and all of them were able to override the challenges of language and school moves to access university education, and from that a much higher socio-occupational class than their parents. Yet, again in all cases, this combined social and spatial mobility has estranged them to some extent from the cultural and class anchoring of the three reference groups of which they are themselves part – the host society (Germany, England), the homeland society (Greece, Cyprus), and the migrant society (Greek-Germans, British-Cypriots). They end up in hard-to-classify identity back in their ‘homeland’ country.
Reflecting on relocation