Friday, 4 November 2011

Kicking against the cliché

We all love a good stereotype, don’t we?

They serve as a kind of mental shorthand that save us the trouble of actually thinking or examining something before we make up our mind. They save time and effort, easily find supporters, and are an absolute Godsend for tabloid headline writers.

Trouble is, though there’s often a seed of truth in most stereotypes, the cliché rarely tells the whole story. Like a caricature, they simply zoom in on a single characteristic and magnify it so much that it eclipses every other feature.

I’ve been battling the clichéd ideas of many folk for years, especially since moving to Greece more than 20 years ago. I quickly revised my ideas about all Greeks being consistently loud, flamboyant and prone to smashing plates. And contrary to their expectations, many Greeks I met were surprised to learn I don’t like beer, am bored to distraction by football, couldn’t make a dainty cucumber sandwich to save my life, have never had a hangover, and – until the Family Tree fanatics uncover evidence to the contrary – I am not related to the Queen.

I do, however, like Marmite.

I am undeniably English in many ways. It’s a simple matter of fact. I’m me, I’m English, I’m happy with who I am but I have no reason to consider myself superior or inferior to anyone by virtue of my accident of birth.

I am not responsible for the highs and lows of my mother nation (Note the Greek friends: Blame Lord Elgin for the looted Marbles, not me!).

I have as much in common with David Cameron and the Milliband of Brothers as I do with a small furry creature from Outer Centauri.

Sad to say, elected representatives rarely mirror the lives and outlooks of the people who vote them in. They are almost always way more privileged than the hoi polloi they claim to represent. Many have never had a real job outside politics. Few have any real concept of the daily kitchen sink dramas that punctuate our mundane lives.

When I first arrived, Margaret Thatcher was still in residence at No.10 Downing Street (yes, I’ve been here THAT long) and the response of many when they learned where I’d arrived from was “Ah! Maggie Thatcher!” with varying degrees of admiration or disgust, depending on their political allegancies. Lord knows how much saliva I wasted trying in vain to explain just how NOT like the Iron Lady I was.

So, I have a vested interest in trying to smash clichés that inevitably raise their ugly heads.

Over the past few months, the Greeks have received a very, VERY bad press internationally. And this week, the actions of politicians have made them seem like Drama Queens of the worst kind.

But don’t fall into the cliché, I beg you. Contrary to the message perpetuated by headlines in publications like the Daily Mail, most Greeks are not lazy, dissolute, donkey jockeys who are good for nothing but a bit of local colour when you’re on your annual hols on one of their islands. Most are hard-working, highly educated, ambitious people who just want to pay their dues, raise their families and live a decent life.

Yes, there have been explosions of violence amid the mostly peaceful (if noisy) demonstrations outside Parliament. But can you honestly say they were more horrifying that the outbreaks of feral looting and destruction in London and other English cities this summer? Despite the high passions you see on show on your TV screens, statistically violent crime in Greece is (still) at much lower levels than in many other countries.

Yes, there is corruption and tax evasion. Isn’t there everywhere? Most Greeks DO pay their way – it’s the privileged few who have the influence and resources to wiggle their way out of their obligations that have landed the country in the current mess they’re in. Just think of the UK MPs’ expenses scandal – does that mean every Brit is a crook?

Yes, there has been endemic mismanagement of many elements of many aspects of Greek public life for years. But can you honestly say that everything where you live is run as it should be?

Yes, some Greeks are chancers who will take every chance to cheat the system or pull a fast one for financial gain. Have you forgotten good old Del Boy and his like, those lovable rogues that can be found on any British High Street?

Despite our differences, there’s more that unites us than divides us.
So next time you see the bi-polar antics of Greece’s politicians or the anger of the crowds in Syntagma Square in front of Parliament, bear in mind the ordinary families that are just trying to make the best of things as their lives are dragged along in the wake of high drama.

All they really want is to sit down and relax in the company of people they love, and perhaps share a laugh over a cup of coffee.

As for me, well when it comes to beverages I DO fit the cliché.
When the going gets tough, I put the kettle on.

1 comment:

  1. And people like you, my lovely soul sistah, are that vital link towards understanding and empathy. It's through blogs like yours that we can hear the real voices in amongst the chaos and the melee - not the rhetoric of the politicians, or the dry analysis of the broadsheets, but actual people facing the consequences and dealing with them. I know that it feels like you're powerless, but you have a voice, and a very clear and informed one at that, and you do good with your blogging, you really do. xx