Dimitrios Kyranas in Athens, Greece

The Fake Greek

It all began in late 1994: I realized that my English was superior to that of my schoolmates, all of whom had more or less the same exposure to English that I had. This skill of mine, apart from arousing jealousy among my peers, who were struggling to obtain their precious language certificates -- which are valued in Greece infinitely more than actual knowledge of the respective foreign language -- and not contributing in the least to my becoming more popular with girls, had an interesting side effect: I began to read English periodicals, bestowing myself with an uncanny-for-a-preteen wealth of knowledge about what was going on in Europe and the world -- remember that there was no Wikipedia back then. In March 1995, I spent one week with a host family in France and experienced, at a tender age, the Western European lifestyle as opposed to the Greek/Athenian/southern Balkan one: beautifully maintained cottages of the villages around Strasbourg, the breathtakingly fast Train à Grande Vitesse, medieval cathedrals, and Laserdisc players. When I returned to Athens, my immature and gullible mind was set on a single goal: when I grew up, I would be European.

The years went by, my English and French improved, and in 2003 I found myself in Bonn, Germany, as an exchange student. Upon my interaction with other students from around Europe, I realized that during the previous years I had somehow managed to become devoid of all traits that they considered Greek: I disliked feta and moussaka , I loathed syrtaki and the related traditional dances, I never drank ouzo, and I paid meticulous attention to my pronunciation of English, French, and German. Since none of the aforementioned characteristics corresponded to the image of Greeks they had concocted based on films like Zorba and antiquated posters with corny archaic fonts and the port of Mykonos in the background, they baptized me "The Fake Greek."

While I wasn't exactly enthused about my new nickname and knew there was more to Greece than Zorba , there was little I could do to halt my "dehellenization." Everything was conspiring in its favor. In late 2002, what I call the "four unifying agents" of Europe were in place -- Euro currency, the World Wide Web, the Europe-wide GSM cell phone network, and low- budget airlines. Coupling these with the knowledge of languages spoken in adjacent countries, one could move seamlessly from one to the other in much the same way that one moves from Pennsylvania to Ohio. Who needed Athens anymore?

I was ready to jump on the European unification bandwagon, never to look back. I did not care so much about globalization but only about its European subset. Or, rather, the one that involved the affluent countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia. With every new language I would learn, more countries would be added to my collection. I felt like a general, marking the territories that his troops have occupied so far on the military map and fantasizing about taking over the world.

Then I realized that there was a blemish in the picture. The E.U. was designed to facilitate the isotropic displacement of human and financial capital across the continent, not some new mass migration from the poorer to the wealthier countries. And yet, that's exactly what my plan of becoming European would make me, a sophisticated migrating chameleon capable of assuming the pattern and color of its surroundings. Yet, becoming a chameleon is anything but easy. Each transformation costs time, money, and leaves vast quantities of emotional debris behind. One, after all, has to give up most of the things he/she has been used to, reformat the hard drives, and start over.

Nevertheless, I had spent years convinced that this is what had to be done. Because Greece would never change, at least in my lifetime. Because Greeks were inert, lazy, fatalistic. Because they let corruption flourish and stifled any efforts to rise above the average. I did not deserve that. I pitied my friends who dreamt of becoming civil servants so as to secure their mediocre 1000-euro salary for life. I was made for bigger things, and the unified Europe was the new land of opportunity. I heard that Jeremy Rifkin had published a book entitled The European Dream , and I rejoiced, for I believed that this was a sign of me making the right choice. So what if I had to become a chameleon? I had already become a Fake Greek. The only problem was that I would never be a "Real European."


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