By Lauren Perry* – I’m ¼ Greek and a baptized Greek Orthodox. Now, ¼ might not seem like a lot, but let me tell you, whatever my grandfather’s lineage was, it was overcome by the Greekness of my grandmother’s family. My father might as well be a full-blooded Greek. Being Greek is like harboring a very powerful virus. Once you get it, it’s yours forever and it inhabits all you do. When my family first saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when it came out in theaters, no one laughed. Every so often, in the dark of the theater, my grandmother would reach across the back of the seats and smack my father before he had the chance to laugh at whatever was happening on-screen. It was funny, but not uproariously so because it’s mostly all true. If you’re Greek, you know that it’s all that matters. And you also know the following.
1. You’re skinny. At least you are when Yiayia hasn’t seen you in approx. 7 days. Forty minutes into being at her house, once you’ve eaten homemade bread, spanakopita, cookies, ice cream, potatoes, etc., maybe you’re not so skinny since the last time she saw you.
2. You’re fat. Much more of a certainty than number one. “You look like you’ve put on a little weight… have you put on weight? Are you still doing the exercise? Oh popo…” or if you’re lucky, “Your father looks like he’s gained weight. Don’t you think he’s gained some weight? Tsk tsk. He needs to quit eating so much.”
3. If you’re not married, you might as well be dead. This seems harsh, but I actually feel like I am being pretty gentle. The disappointment in my grandmother’s face every time she remembers/knows/inquires as to the fact that I am 26 years old and not married, well, it never lessens. She is very good at looking like she feels a new hurt all over.
4. Your Yiayia/Papou is already dead, even if they’re alive. “Yiayia, I love your dress,” is a grave mistake. It’s answered, without a beat, with “Oh, you can have it when I die!”
5. Your significant other is dead to your family if they don’t go to church. First question, right off the bat every time I have ever started dating anyone is “Does he go to church? Does his family go to church?” Don’t even bother saying no.
6. If YOU don’t go to church, oh my god. See #4. “I pray for you every day, koukla. Who’s going to pray for you when I die??”
7. If you don’t want to have children, see #4. There is no excuse that will satisfy Yiayia. Oh, you just got a full professorship? You’re a doctor? Don’t care. Make the babies!
8. You need to know how to cook. The entire Greek arsenal cookbook. And cook it well. Men need to know how to cook the meat, and women need to know how to cook essentially everything else. How will you survive if you don’t?
9. You need to know all (and I mean ALL) of your Greek relatives. Including your third cousins who still live in Greece. Go see them! Before they die!
10. Your name only counts if it’s a saint’s name. My first name is Lauren, but not to anyone on my Greek side of the family. My great-grandmother refused to even pronounce the name Lauren. She pretending the sounds didn’t actually exist together. My name, in all holy rights, is Elizabeth. My sister is Maria. My father is John (Yianni), my grandmother is Katherine (Katarina), on and on. If Jesus wouldn’t call you it, it’s not your name!
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11. Real Easter is not everyone else’s ‘Easter.’ Greek Easter is almost always on a different Sunday than normal Easter, and God help us if these American schools don’t recognize it. My brother once got a test postponed for his entire science class because the professor asked if anyone was Orthodox, making a joke. My brother is Orthodox. Test postponed.
12. Easter eggs only get dyed red. Because Jesus said so!
13. If you get the quarter in the Vasilopita, you’re golden. But chances are, you won’t. My dad gets it every year. I have gotten it ONCE in all my 26 years, and I still carry that Seran-wrapped quarter around in my wallet.
14. If you don’t say ‘Christos Anesti’ first thing as your head pops up off the pillow on Greek Easter morning, you’re in deep shit.
15. You don’t revere the actual Greeks who live in Greece right now. As Yiayia will readily yell at you, “What have the Greeks done in 2000 years?!”
16. Italians and Jewish people are your kindred spirits. Who else can yell so loud, eat so much, and scold so fiercely? No one. But don’t tell Yiayia. She thinks we are special.
17. You grew up thinking everyone toasted at holidays saying “Skinnyasses.”
18. People who don’t like feta are too weird for words.
19. No matter what Yiayia is lecturing you about, she is 100% right and you are 100% wrong.
20. There is no set measuring system in Greek cooking. It’s a handful of this and a dash of that. But it better come out perfectly or you are shaming your Greek ancestors!
21. You will eat a huge breakfast at 10:30 AM and better be ready for the holiday meal at 12:30pm. Koukla, you need to eat. Eat!
22. You don’t want any dessert? Here, have some baklava.
23. There is no pleasing Yiayia. There’s an old joke about a Greek son whose mother gets him two ties for Christmas. He comes down dressed for Christmas mass wearing one of the ties, and the Greek mother says “What’s the matter, you didn’t like the other tie?” (The original joke is actually about a Jewish mother, but don’t tell Yiayia.)
24. You are never hungry. Even if you want to be.
25. You are never alone. Even if you want to be.
26. You are never without guilt. You think Catholic guilt is a thing? That is some pansy stuff compared to Greek guilt.
27. Catholics think Orthodox are Catholics, too. Orthodox don’t think Catholics are Catholic.
28. As you age, you get Greeker and Greeker. For better or worse. Before you know it, you’ll be that Yiayia.
29. When you set out on a road trip, you say “ella christe kai panayia mou” even if you don’t know what it means.
30. You see people make the sign of the cross and in your head, you hear yourself saying, “You’re doing it wrong!” Those damn Greeks.
*Lauren Perry writes from under the big beautiful skies of Wyoming. She has a Master of Arts in English and writes mostly about films, comics, and pop culture. She is a huge believer in happiness and loves her dog, Artemis Freki. Follow Lauren’s blog here.
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