A Xeno's View of Greeks and Greece – Part 1: How I Became a Greek American

Greeks. Greece. What did I know about these things before marrying a Greek girl? Well, not too much, but probably more than the average American. You see, I have always enjoyed history, as far back as elementary school. I used to look at black-and-white photos of the Acropolis in my Middle School textbook with as much wonder as a 12-year-old boy can muster for 4000 year old granite. I took Philosophy in High School, where I was introduced to the likes of Socrates and Aristotle, with admittedly very little enthusiasm on my part. 

I went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in History, with a minor in Geography. My studies gave me more than a little information about Greece, but not much in the way of practical knowledge of the country or its people. I knew a few Greek people as a kid. My mother had an old friend who was Greek, but Sylvia’s kids were named Buck and Mandy – not your typical Greek names, and we never did anything “Greek” with them. The girl I knew in high school lived just down the street, but I never saw any “signs” that she was Greek. I just thought she had a funny name (Effie). I knew two Greeks in college, though only in passing. But 2 of these 3 people from high school and college ended up at the first Greek wedding I ever attended with my wife, before we were married, showing me very quickly how closely connected the Greek community is. 

So I met my bride-to-be at work in 1995. When I first saw her, at the end of 1994, I thought she was Hispanic. Captivatingly beautiful, with dark skin and long dark hair – I was smitten from the get-go. But I had no idea she was Greek. I didn’t really know what Greek people were “supposed” to look like. Her name wasn’t “typically” Greek, with an “-opoulos” or “-akis” at the end to tip me off. Not until much later, when I actually asked her how to pronounce her last name, did it come up that she was Greek. 
I was pretty shy when it came to asking girls out, but I did manage to muster the courage to do just that. And was quickly turned down. More than once. But I kept trying and, finally, she agreed to go on a “date” with me and a bunch of mutual friends to a baseball game. Thus began the relationship that would, 4 years later, lead to our wedding day. 

As we continued to date I got to know more about this exotic Greek beauty and her family. But I never got to meet any of these people when I dropped her off at night. I later found out that she was afraid that her overbearing Greek family would scare me away, so she kept me away from them. (She wasn’t too far off – about 6 months into dating her I was told by her uncle, through one of his sons, that I needed to either marry her or stop seeing her) It was probably several months before I ever set foot in her house, and when I did it was literally for only a few seconds. She would bustle us out before her aunt and uncle, with whom she lived, could “scare” me with their old-world Greek attitudes about a “xeno” dating their niece. That’s right, me. The “foreigner”. In the country of my birth, with a family tree showing relatives on this continent back to the 17th century, I was being called a “xeno”, an outsider, because I was not Greek. 

Eventually I was allowed in the door long enough to actually meet the people who lived there. In this part of the family were an aunt and uncle and their 7 children, 3 of whom still lived at home, with 3 others living nearby. Now, I come from a small Methodist family in the suburbs. I have one older brother and two actual cousins. That’s it. So to be plunged into the mayhem of a large Greek family was absolutely a shocking experience. The noise, the yelling (which I was told is “just how we talk”), the coddling of boy children and the over-protection of the girls. But she was worth it, and all-in-all, it was fun to become part of such a big family….

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