By the time we reached my uncle’s house we had already stopped by or greeted a couple of my father’s friends or distant relatives on the way and had had a small lunch at my great uncle Christos’ place, who by 12 was already drunk and insisted on serving us some Tiropita and delicious lamb. We had also had a little impromptu with my special uncle’s family occupying my father’s and his joint house right next to my uncle’s (an interesting story which unfortunately I cannot go into detail here).
So we reached and everyone was super happy to see each other and I wondered how I managed to stay away for 16 years (I know that it has been 16 years because I remembered carrying the teen that was standing next to me on my arm as a baby the last time I saw her). It was basically the extended family of my uncle (including his wife’s mother and brother, his two sons and his daughter’s family of 6). Lots of food (particularly meat) as usual, and a never ending flow of wine and Tsipouro.
My Greek relatives resemble me much more than my German ones, which somehow made the long time gap since the last meeting even wronger.
Oh and yes, if you look at the photo I was indeed wearing a black mini dress and shiny high heeled pumps. Before you wonder what the hell I was thinking: I had seen similar dresses in the church on Easter and also in the provincial town, and I knew from other contexts that Greeks like to dress up. So I kind of assumed it would be appropriate to look like this. You can imagine that I felt a bit embarrassed when I realized everyone else was dressed casually and I seemed to be the city girl from abroad showing off. Anyhow, at least it got me a lot of compliments and good luck wishes to find a husband soon (I was apparently looking desperate).
I believe this is the first time I had a proper conversation with all of my cousins. When we were kids we used to spend time together every summer, but we had no words in common. Thanks to their English skills and my very rudimentary, but somewhat existing Greek, we actually got to know each other a bit this time. I spent most time with my cousin Litsa, who is closest to me in age (and looks). 4 kids, nurse, always lived in the village. Her husband Tomas and her used to have a sizable saving which they wanted to put into their own bakery. When the crisis happened, they lost everything and did not get access to loans anymore. Then Tomas lost his job. Litsa now took up a second job as a occasional waitress which sometimes leads to 16 hour days. But they still cope with a third of their former family income. I had a lot of respect for her. But did not know what to say, or if I could offer any help that would be appropriate.
The crisis is not visible in the streets, but in such stories, which I have been hearing a lot. Whether from my uncle and eldest cousin, both carpenters, now struggling for jobs as people save money with ready-made furniture. Or local Tavernas that don’t get customers anymore. In all this, people in the village at least have an agricultural back-up, unlike city dwellers. Litsa would still like to take a loan for a bakery, but apart from access to financing what is keeping her from doing this is the strict legal regulations: Hygienic standards of the EU, she says, make it impossible to start with a small home-baking business, and the tax and social burden for entrepreneurs are so high that even once started the business does not pay off. My mom later comments that she does not believe these rules to be new, but they are taken seriously now. I don’t know what to think.
Participating in the generous feast at their expense does not feel very comfortable. But Greek hospitality does not allow anything else.
The table round wants to know what the Germans think of the Greek. But before we answer someone replies to the question themselves: “That we can’t deal with money”, some nodding, some laughing. Another consensus is that the banks have been to seductive in giving away “consumption loans” to fulfill the luxury dreams of common people. People have been living beyond their standards, and now we pay for the chain reaction that happened. To be fair, I guess being German we also would not have heard other perspectives at this table at a festive occasion where everyone just wanted to have a good time. But the topic is abundant in Greece – it came up at my uncle Christos before, who made fun of Greeks complaining about Germans but then taking their money, and it came up with the owner of the guest house Spiros.
Wrapping up, we extend repeated invitations to each other, make jokes about how the next time we see each other should be in less than 16 years and so forth. My always cheerful cousin Teo – a bartender in Athens – plans to visit us with a friend during Carnival in Cologne. My arrogant self assumes that Litsa would also just love to go on holidays by herself in a modern city such as Berlin and I feel the impulse to gift her a travel ticket. But when I ask her where she would like to travel if it was entirely up to her, she says: Cameroon, taking care of babies in need. And adds that travel in Europe seems dangerous to her right now because of the terrorist attacks. Replies I did not expect. I will just have to come back here in the summer.
We drive back through the green hills of my father’s village towards the ocean, with full stomachs and – in the case of my dad – a bit too many spirits in our blood. Christos had mentioned that they recently added a guest room to their house, so I may return sooner than I think.