I heard it from quite a few people: Americans, they say, always see the sunny side of life. If you compare the American-English tone of voice with the British-English tone of voice the American tone always fits an extra smile in there. Greek-Americans are somehow caught in the middle between their Greek over-analyzing tradition and their American new-world, new possibilities mood.
The Greek state of mind is by no means a simple one. It shifts from extreme negativity to outrageous optimism in no time. When it comes to making a balanced comment about any topic whatsoever, anybody realizes the word balanced is a complete misfit here. It really was not an accident that drama was invented in Greece.
One would think that since Greeks have it in them to be so over the top positive under pressure, then being Greek-American poses no esoteric problem whatsoever. And it would be so, were it not for the great low’s periods in the equation. I suppose what makes Greeks special is the ability to give ourselves a break when worse comes to worst. ῾Η φτώχεια θέλει καλοπέραση᾽=”Poverty demands having a good time”. A saying that almost makes no sense when translated into English; to a Greek person, however, it makes perfect sense. For us Greeks, going through a hard time is not something to endure but rather something to rise above. And the process of rising above is an extremely up-beat and sweetly emotionally charged one.
However, when things are fine and there is nothing to fight against, we seem to fall into a trance of negative and gossipy criticism of all people, things, theories and sentiments around us. And that leads to the core problem-question for us Greek Americans: Do we fall into the sarcastic criticism trap or do we stay put with our inherent or unconsciously (or very much consciously thank you very much) acquired American positivism?
Personally, I believe happiness to be a state of mind and a very concrete choice. A flight cancellation, the lack of parking at the mall, being late for … anything really, should not turn you to a caveman whose prey just escaped. Nagging, screaming, shouting and slipping passive aggressive comments shouldn’t have a place in a happy life. Nothing is important enough to ruin one’s emotional contentment. Yet, to believe that, you would have to agree that happiness as a state of mind is/can be a reality. And that is where I believe some Greeks would raise a disagreement. There’s this mythical belief/misconception that the never ending ups and downs inside the deep labyrinths of a dysfunctional Greek family are/should be considered “normal” and their toxic effects to our emotional well-being should be dismissed as personal shortcomings and/or otherwise triggered unimportant details that shouldn’t bother us cause it happens to everyone.
On the other hand, Americans go after their emotional demons. Every reaction that seems a little bit off should be accounted for. Everyone deserves a personal psychologist and/or access to innumerable dead-on specific self-help books.
And as if all of the above wasn’t enough the Greek need for absoluteness kicks in. It’s all or nothing. It’s now or never. Here’s what I think goes on inside the Greek side of our mind: Our idea of perfection -which Aristotle explained is always in the back of our heads- is way too stubborn to give in to the minor infractions of everyday life. In other words: WE WANT IT ALL. We want to find the perfect spot at the mall, we want “biftekia” the way our grandma made them, our team to win every time, gosh we don’t even know what we want and fervently look through magazines wondering about it. And in this whole process we forget all about the bright and sunny look on life that would allow us to actually enjoy any one of the above.
I guess the big question here is this: How do Greek-Americans feel about the all-American relaxed state of mind that says “I am where I am in life and I am perfectly happy with it”? The Greek mindset shouts “NO! You want more!” and the American mindset goes “Hmmm, that sounds nice and healthy. Put some Oprah on!” On a personal level, I guess I’d chose happiness every time. On a cultural level, I see your point, man!