Monday, 2 February 2009

Neo-ellines or ‘why I don’t want you blaming me for your character defects’

Enough is enough already.

I was browsing my favourite blogs this morning.
What do you want from me? I’m snowed in and work is slow.

So, while browsing, I stumbled upon a very interesting debate about whether the chaos that is modern Greece is cool or despicable; whether the general ‘it’s all about me’-ness you see in your everyday dealings is a trait of the rebelliousness and innate freedom of the Greek soul or a sign that ‘modern Greeks’ (Neoellines – the newbie Greeks) are a decaying civilisation.
This debate is neither new nor is it rare. Thinking about Greece, Greeks and all related problems as collective issues is not new. Neither is it helpful

So I say: enough already.
A group of rude, inconsiderate, narrow-minded gits who happen to be Greek are not the sum total of Greekness, no matter how many of them there are. And that’s not because ‘Greekness’ is something else. It's because Greekness simply doesn’t exist at this level.
How about we leave the motherland out of it and accept responsibility for our own defective citizenship, our own inability to function in a polite and considerate manner around strangers and our unwillingness to accept difference – of creed, politics, personal preference, colour, shape or football team?

Obviously enough, I do not consider myself as belonging to the group I castigate. You got me. And I know others like me. And I know many more who are not like me and are not like the ‘neoellines’ we all love to hate either.
We are all Greek, for our sins, and we are all ‘new’ enough, as in still alive and kicking. And complaining. About being parcelled up and labelled, burdened with behaviours we don’t condone or accept. Only that's not what most of us complain about. Rather the complaint is about the state of the neoellines, the state of us all. Well.
We are not all the bloody same. We are not even similar.

Obviously society exists. Obviously socialisation and the experience of living within a given society creates certain shared traits, common ground, recognisable behavioural patterns that are not necessarily meaningful anywhere else.
Yes, shared nationality gives you a nexus of meaning, a shared language in literal and symbolic terms. Yes you have narratives, stories, symbols and heroes in common – not to mention a language, religion and shared collective experiences courtesy of the school system, press and the thing called society.
But sameness? Shared personality traits? That, my friends, would not be nation, it would be a sci-fi thought experiment. Yet day in, day out we talk like we believe ourselves to be living in it.

If the ‘neoellines’ are overwhelmingly behaving one way, it does not follow on that they behave that way because they are ‘neoellines’.
Maybe they act like they do because it’s easy. Maybe they do it because they can get away with it.
And we make it easy because, those of us who disagree, let them get away with it.
And we let them get away with it by missing the errant person and deploring the state of the ‘neoellines’ as a whole. As if 'a whole' existed that was coherent down to the way we all drive, treat immigrants, scoff cynically at politics, dodge the taxman, park on the disabled ramp.
They get away with it because they make it about ‘all of us’ and we let them.

Well we are not all like that. And we are not all ‘the other way’ either.
And the sooner we say ‘enough is enough’ out loud and break the cycle of endless debates about the state of the neoellines, the better.

A bunch of inconsiderate bullies have been hiding behind a national banner long enough. And those who disagree with them shake their heads at the state of the neoellines as if they themselves do not fully belong.

Well, here’s some news for the new Greeks: no 'national character' in the history of humanity has determined behaviour to such depths and in such detail. Handy as it is to blame all ills on our shared Greekness, the joke is getting old and tired.

If every bad character trait, if every dark personality twist can be blamed on the burden and blessing of the national character, nobody will ever have to clean up their act. And that’s handy for some but awful for others and counter-productive for the group as a whole.

Who are the neoellines anyway?
Just over ten million people. as varied and different as the number suggests.
And if a bunch of them want to persuade themselves (and us) that their own indifference sum us all up, why the hell do we let them?

Enough is enough already.
We are not all the same damn it. And that’s a good thing.
And if you want to be rude, inconsiderate and narrow-minded, leave the rest of us out of it.


  1. mou vgikan ta matia na to diavasw, alla i skepsi sou einai exairetiki. oi neoellines einai toso diaforetikoi oso kai oi kokkoi tis ammou, i synistwsa omws proterimatwn kai meiwnektimatwn teinei pros ti deyteri kateythinsi

  2. ;-) na'sai kala
    oso thimomaste oti diaferoume, antistekomaste stin arrostia tou na dexomaste oles tis frikalees siberifores os 'ethnika dedomena'
    Ki afto, oso na peis, einai mia kali arxi!

  3. fisika kai den eimaste oloi na genikeuei kapoios einai poli adiko..filia!

  4. It's easy to act like a fool and talk nonsense.
    Besides, the majority of the people nowadays don't give a damn about character and personality. And individualism.

    Which is something sad and disappointing.

    P.S. I bake too. ;]

  5. @ Leviathan - pes ta kai na doume poios mas akouei! Alla emeis tha ta leme, mexri na stamatisoun oi kafroi na krivontai piso apo tin tabela tou 'neoellina' kai na erthoun antimetopoi me tin kafrila tous!

    @ bastard - you are right, you are so right. And still we shouldn't let them get away with it so easily. Individualism is all we have, when it's all said and done.
    Individualism and cake. We should swap recipes ;-)

  6. Even though I completely agree that not all of us fit in cliches and generic categories, I am just as mad about "neoellines" as I am about the "old Greeks" (if such a term exists). I wish I never fit in any of those groups, I wish my behavior and what I do with me life disassociate me from them...
    So where does that leave me and others like me? And if the term "neoellines" was at first accompanied with positive connotations to denote a "break from the old", how ever did we come to the present situation?
    And finally, is there such a thing as a new, emerging "label" that can more accurately describe people like you and me and a bunch of people I know who - thankfully - are "misfits"?...
    P.S. Keep up the good work!

  7. Hello Fanny – long time. You should visit more often ;-)

    I agree with you. And will go out on a limb here…
    Why do we need a label at all? If we live as thinking, responsible individuals at home, at work, on the street, then we are a group of thinking, responsible individuals at all times.
    A group of thinking, responsible individuals who happen to be Greek.

  8. first of all, what an amazing post!!!!

    I really like the way you posed the question: "whether the general ‘it’s all about me’-ness one sees in everyday dealings is a trait of the rebelliousness and innate freedom of the Greek soul or a sign that ‘modern Greeks’ are a decaying civilisation." I went to a friend's house the other day and I was shocked to find that, even though there were no greek people living in that house, there was a massive poster of the rebellions in Athens last December. These people admired the greeks for the fact that we are defending our beliefs. They do not know, however, our underlying inability for constructive critisism and ‘it’s all about me’-ness in our behaviour. Because here these exist and they cannot imagine a place where the people are not like that.

    I do believe we are all different - I AM an optimist. But it seems that the people that are supposed to represent us and take care of us believe the opposite - they believe that we are all like them. And I hate the fact that, as you said in the post, I let them believe that they are right. But everytime I tried, I felt like I was trying to change the direction of a slow-moving boat. I still hate myself that I let them think that we are all the same.

    Once again what an amazing post!!!

  9. @ greek girl - thank you very much for your kind words.
    And yes, Greek politics can look inspiringly rebellious and committed from the outside, if you don't look too closely. Because if you do look closely you will see that the riots have no constructive follow-up, the building sit-ins and occupations are a seasonal thing and the marches are invariably more about shouting than about political pressure.
    Of course the rotten political structures are more to blame than the people. But unless the people stop shrugging 'because that's what Greece and the Greeks are like' nothing will change.
    And no, we are not all the same. Thank God!