A Big, Fat, Greek Childhood: Growing Up Greek in America

growing up greek in USAGrowing up Greek anywhere that is not Greece is sure to make you stand out from the crowd at one time or another in your life. Many Greek traditions and a constant meddling of family in your every move all attribute to the unique experience of growing up Greek in America. Here are the top 10 things that set Greek-Americans apart.

1. How You Get Your Name

Greek children are traditionally named after one of their 4 grandparents. So basically, from the moment you are born, the weird customs begin and you are helpless. Hopefully your grandparents don’t have any hard to pronounce ancient Greek names that really don’t mesh in American society. The first boy who is born usually takes their paternal grandfather’s name, while the first girl is named after her maternal grandmother.

2. The Role of Family

Your grandparents are called Yiayia and Papou and fixate all of their attention on their grandchildren. They will let you eat whatever you want, whenever you want and behave a bit ‘spoiled’ as long as no one is around to witness. In fact, they won’t ever say to you, ‘Tonight we are having spanakopita.” Never. It is always, “What do you want me to fix you?” However, when people are visiting they get really strict and all of a sudden it’s like being at church.

3. Cousins are Like Siblings

Many Greeks will even call their cousins their brothers or sisters when introducing them to outsiders because this is really how they feel. Cousins are your first and best friends. Of course, they come as a package deal with your aunts and uncles who will probably meddle in your business a time or two. Also, you cousins might end up sharing the same names as you and your siblings, as half of their name pool is the same as yours.

4. You Will Never Eat a Hot Lunch at School

There must be something written that states that Greek children are just not allowed to eat school cafeteria food. But it’s not like you get a ‘normal’ lunch bag either. Try being in junior high school and whipping out dolmades and tzatziki at the lunch table, and good luck with the garlic breath that follows.

5. You Have Regular School and Then You Have Greek School

Your friends are outside playing after school but you have to stay in and do homework because after a quick snack you get to attend Greek school at the church – for a whole two hours a couple of times a week! It starts at age 5, and after around seven years of 850 hours of lessons you are released into the world as a weak versed Greek. As much as you resent it as a child, learning to read, write and speak Greek seems much cooler as you reach adulthood.

6. You Dress in Traditional Greek Costumes and Dance Traditional Folk Dances

Greek folk Dancing is a skill that only comes in hand when you are at a Greek wedding or other Greek celebrations. You can’t use it at the school dance or when you are hanging out with friends dancing. But, as a part of Greek heritage, the more than 4,000 traditional Greek dances play important roles. All parts of Greece have their own traditional dances that tell stories and are symbolic of historical events. These classes also take place at the church most times and if your lucky, you might be able to participate in some competitions with other Greek schools.

7. Greek Weddings

Being Greek you will have to go to a lot of Greek wedding, which is the perfect platform for you to use your Greek language skills and your Greek folk dance moves! The wedding ceremonies are seeped in tradition and while you are there, as you get older, your entire family will try setting you up with a nice Greek girl or a nice Greek boy. Lucky for you, escaping the chaos is made easy by joining in a folk dance, of which there are plenty.

8. The World is Made of Greeks

You will be an expert on a plethora of information that only other Greeks will find informative. Basically this means that you will know every word that stems from the Greek language, every adaptation of Greek cuisine and every celebrity that is Greek. If there is a connection to Greece, you will hear about it and be expected to know details as well. Besides knowing and loving celebrities who are part or entirely Greek like Betty White, Jennifer Aniston, Kelly Clarkson and Tina Fey, you will also find a place in your heart for people such as Tom Hanks, who is married to Greek, Rita Wilson, and you take issue with Brad Pitt for hurting a Greek…it’s a Greek soap opera to say the least.

9. You Will Never be a ‘Skinny’ Child

Greek Americans grow up rather ‘well-fed’. Not to say chubby, but let’s just say that you will not be skinny. And your parents do not want you to be. They feed you Greek dishes and pass down the traditions of family life revolving around food. Every big gathering, important holiday or occasion will all take place with an enormous amount of food. However, all of the hours you rack up Greek folk dancing, you will stay fit. And with such a good cuisine, this is one tradition you will be thankful for.

10. Celebrating Your Name Day at School

Always an award moment, many Greek children skip this celebration at their schools and just have a familiar gathering at home. It’s not easy to explain that name days outweigh birthdays in Greek families. But you will try in vain to explain to your teachers and friends at school that in Greek culture everyone is named after a Saint and every year on that Saint’s day you celebrate your name day. They might not get it but are sure to be more than happy to celebrate it with you when you bring in homemade baklava to share with the class!