Being born and raised in Queens, New York is swell but does that alone makes you worldly? I mean yes it’s the biggest melting pot in the world as far as the variety of people packed in here, but does it matter? It doesn’t matter. You can eat all the Tikka Masala and Pad Thai you want but have you been to India or Thailand? Cuisine and language are a vital and necessary part of the package that makes culture. The problem is, culture is a precise recipe that has to be perfect. If not it wouldn’t be authentic nor would it work. Like any real good learning experience I got my hands dirty and started out young. My first real culture shock started at the age of 4 or 5 years old. I spent that summer abroad in Greece. I wasn’t in Athens, the capital and most populated city in Greece, I was in a tiny mountain village in Olympia, 4-5 hours away by car from Athens. I mean it when I say I got my hands dirty. I’m 32 years old and I’ve been back and forth almost as many times. Aside from a handful of funerals it’s all been in the name of vacation for me. To me it was normal, I’m American but at the same time a tiny piece of me could almost identify as being a Greek (National) also. It was either a hot & humid summer in & out of bodegas of the 5 boroughs or a hot & dry summer in the mountains of western Greece.
I got to hold onto two different identities that rarely if ever collided. They rarely collided because it didn’t matter, growing up in America for me meant no division. We have always been equal here and I never felt different being different because of the welcome I have always felt in this country. Yes they made fun of my foreign name a bit but it was more my weight that got poked at. Racism wasn’t a taboo growing up, it was part of our humor as well. I spent a lot of time with a butt buddy who had a Colombian family, in fact I nearly went to Colombia if not for the violent Narco-Terrorism going on. We coexisted even though both of our cultures existed on different sides of both the equator and ocean.
I’m still in shock, the red pill is still digesting in my stomach, It’s been sitting in there since I ate it circa 2001. Not only does my heart ache over this but it also burns. “Saturday Night Live” opened my eyes up to the media narrative. I had no choice but to notice, trust me I hate politics. They constantly made fun of the president. At that time it was George W. Bush, like him or not, sketch comedy shows aren’t the place to make political judgements. He was the president of the United States which is kind of a big deal so I started paying attention a little bit, I started to notice the trend. I never saw anything Hollywood that promoted the right, not even close, they were always poking fun at the right instead. After a while it became clear to me – only a racist fool would actually be a republican. Up until recently in my life I could never really lean to one side. My ideas fell into both sides, democratic and republican . So any extreme side wasn’t for me. I always tried to play it neutral for safety.
Playing it cool is something I have always been good at. When I was younger, around 10 years ago I went to Mexico with a friend of mine. We went to Cancun for about a week, the first night there I realized that I have to get us off the tourist section for as much time as possible. I realized the hotel is great for the hangover and rejuvenation but as far as any real culture goes I wasn’t sitting in beautiful Mexico surrounded by corny tourists with sunblock on their noses. My friend didn’t speak much Spanish, good thing for me was I knew just the right amount. I wanted to eat real Mexican food and party with real Mexicans in a real neighborhood, something that most people try to stay away from. After some smooth word manipulation I convinced my friend to hop on the bus and leave the resort with me. We didn’t go that far, less than an hour but we might as well have been in the fucking Congo at that point. I believe we passed by the city of Cancun, El Centro is what the locals called it. We drove for another 30-45 minutes to a small town with basically zero sight of tourism. Concierge specifically told us to stay away from anything that wasn’t local or sanctioned by the resort. What I failed to mention to my travel buddy was the fact that Quintana-Roo (the state of Mexico I was in) was in a drug war. It didn’t phase me because I knew that Mexico is always in a fucking drug war, so what difference does it make? I might’ve been a little wrong. As we ate our holy Mole Poblano, cops were outside driving up and down the blocks in white pick-up trucks wearing black masks and holding assault rifles. My friend wasn’t thrilled with that. Cops hiding their faces is a good sign that your safety is beyond questionable. Nobody likes to see that shit. I calmed him down with more tequila and some good food. It went on to be a spotty but memorable night, especially since we didn’t die. We drank with really poor Mexicans, half the people didn’t even have shoes on but I’ll never ever forget that taste of real Mexico. Nor will I forget the insane amount of cocaine-free alcoholism I endured to suppress the logical fear brewing in my head. You know, the old school style of drinking, where you just drink and drink with zero help. I wasn’t just suppressing fear of my own demise, I was trying to distract my pal as well. He was coming up with his own bright ideas of whats going to happen to us as well. Mostly illustrating Pablo Escobar or Joaquin Guzman style executions followed by uncontrollable drunk laughter. I knew the resort wasn’t going to show me real Mexico but with my own two feet and cold hard cash I got as intimate as I could with Mexican culture for a couple nights. During my days I even trekked into the jungle and swam in cenotes.
The amount of time I spent in Mexico might as well have been seconds compared to my time in Greece. If you add up all the time in Greece it’s probably equivalent to few years, the difference was the condition of the two countries. On its worst day Greece is paradise compared to Mexico as far as crime goes. I don’t have any family in Mexico or else I might’ve been lucky enough to absorb some real Mexican culture like actually staying in a regular town nowhere near a beach resort. Next time I go I plan on staying with a local on his ranch. He told me there is a rifle by every door just incase. Now I feel much safer, not.
To really see how another civilization/culture gets by and how they function takes time. For example, If you pay attention to sanitation schedules. You wonder about the size of the trucks they use and what time of the day they work. All the “small” things add up. Culture is surely affected by government, especially in such an old place like Greece, the fargin birthplace of western civilization. These things are a part of a city’s lifeline that contributes to one common goal and that is keeping a city running healthy. A healthy city produces a healthy culture. My point from before, time, you need a lot of it to start noticing things like that. What about basic taxes on physical items and services? What items are being taxed and why? These questions won’t answer themselves, especially if you’re only in town for 5 days.
Compared to Mexico, in Greece I had a lot of downtime, enough real time to really be engulfed in their culture. Enough time to not only be comfortable with my environment but to live it like it’s normal. Generally in pretty much every home kitchen I’ve seen, women leave the food out all day rather than refrigerate it. You’d all think that this means food poisoning but aside from one or two stomach aches that could’ve been caused by 100 variables, I never had a problem with this. I’ve eaten food cooked by indigenous Mexicans in the Yucatan Jungle so that wasn’t going to phase me.
The supermarket was a 45 minute drive down the mountain which wasn’t too far but then again the townspeople are currently too poor to constantly be taking shopping trips. Filling up carts at Costco doesn’t exist, its mostly the bare necessities, not to mention the price of gas is about $8 per gallon. To say the least the option to order Chinese food is out. People here are living paycheck to paycheck, for most there is no extra money to throw around. That means paying attention to every Euro spent.
Try not to pay attention as to why and pay more attention to what. There are many factors involving the Greek meltdown, you can blame the people, you can blame the government or you could blame the European Union. I’m not an expert on that, I’m more focused American culture vs the rest of the world or in this case Greece.
Even their weird sleeping patterns are something to be closely examined. Oddly enough, it coincides with their sporadic eating habits as well. For the most part their food is healthy, especially in small doses, but it isn’t that simple. They’ll eat a light breakfast, work then lunch right before they take a nap into the late afternoon. I kid you not they even close their businesses while they sleep. After the late nap it usually turns into a late dinner before falling asleep again. Now maybe this isn’t every citizens lifestyle but I assure you it is the majority. Could you imagine a business closing down for a month because everyone went on vacation? That’s not very business oriented. Life comes first in Greece. They truly work to live, they don’t live to work like us. I understand why but at the same time I also see how limiting that can be to growth and prosperity.
The majority of the village, made up of barely 100 people, gets income from either olives, animal feed, meat, milk, grapes or other produce. As hard as farming and working the land can be it also provides a lot of down time which brings us to Greek table habits. While we complain everyday that we are bored and can’t figure out what activity to tackle, those people sip on coffee or an ouzo and gossip about whatever minimal drama that might be going on in the small village. The lifestyle is so far from New York City that it might as well be Mars. The speed of life is 2 full steps back. When all the news is old, when all jokes are told and all the laughs have dried up with the water. Living in such a rural area can really stir up your wonder. It makes you more curious about the details you never considered big and small, important or irrelevant. I really think that this curiosity, pondering how and why we live so differently at the same point in time is the reason I still exist. I love the USA even more because of this drastic difference in lifestyle. Every time I leave I’m reminded of my home, my privilege, my American privilege. I love Greece but without the USA to show me why, I don’t think I would know how to love.
I believe that a culture can be preserved perfectly down to the very last detail when left in its country of origin. The problem I believe is once you take the culture away from it’s origin it slowly starts to bleed. It slowly starts to die. If a new population whatever size doesn’t actively practice language, cuisine and traditions, it’s original culture would definetly die. The great thing about the United States of America is that fact that although we all naturally assimilate we also still get to keep our culture. All neighborhoods change eventually, people spread out to different places and usually a culture will decay in most cases. In the United States there are never any roadblocks in preserving culture, assimilaton might dilute it a bit but the culture will still thrive. We have always been accepting of all cultures and I personally never saw otherwise. Only in the recent decade has the media set up the story of racism in America. It’s totally a crock of shit.