“Err, no thanks,” I replied.
“If you’re worried about leaving your friend on her own,” he said with all sincerity, “she's welcome to join us.”
While initial amorous advances are flattering, continuous entreaties for a late-night rendezvous are irritating, especially when the enamored young man follows you home. It’s considered stalking in some cultures.
If you’re not clutching onto a boyfriend or husband, you’re fair game. Brothers, cousins and uncles provide no immunity against the relentless onslaught.
That probably explains why Greek women cling to their men so tightly, although I suspect it’s more about preventing them from chasing after female tourists.
For the travelling female, however, it means you can’t sit in a café or taverna quietly reading a book on your own. You may as well put up a flashing neon sign that says: Here I am boys, go for it!
It all started with the Olympian gods
Zeus was a notorious womanizer. The Father of the Gods was regularly smitten by beautiful mortal maidens who were unable to escape his affections.
Greek mythology is therefore smattered with scandalous love affairs, jealous wives, revenge, power struggles and illegitimate demi-gods.
Exhibit A: Hercules. Hera (Zeus’ vengeful wife who was always plotting against his offspring) once cursed Hercules with a fit of madness during which he killed his wife and children. Zeus may have been a womanizer, but Hera was the original Desperate Housewife.
Exhibit B: Brad Pitt. Err, sorry, I mean Achilles, the famous warrior in the Trojan War whose mother was the sea nymph Thetis. She dipped Achilles in the river Styx to make him immortal, but missed his heel where she held him. Orlando Bloom, oops, I mean Paris, Prince of Troy, started the whole war when he ran off with another King's wife. Paris eventually killed Achilles after shooting an arrow into his heel. (The Trojan War is infinitely more complicated, but you'll need to read Homer's The Iliad for the extended version).
If the ancient Greek gods all played the field and lustfully pursued mortals, then what chance do fair tourist maidens have against Modern Greek men?
There’s an often used Greek expression which translates as “I fancy you” but includes the unmistakable message that “I desire you; therefore let’s make love.”
Greek men are so brazenly confident, they completely bypass the “I like you, do you want to go out on a date,” stage.
The first time I heard this expression was at the local village disco in 1988. My then teenage cousin was lavishing her attention on her boyfriend and left me momentarily alone (yep, flashing neon sign).
Having grown up in Australia where most boys weren’t so pushy back then, I admit I was somewhat flummoxed by such attention. After all, it wasn’t as if we’d been chit-chatting all night. If I recall correctly, the young lad appeared out of nowhere.
Even young Greeks in Australia who cultivated that playboy image were amateurs compared to their compatriots in the Mother Land. Or perhaps they just knew when to back off when a female really did want to sit in a café quietly reading a book?
I'm sure I appeared extremely prudish next to my flirtatious and extroverted cousins during my visits back to Greece.
Cocooned in a time warp
Despite our ancient Greek gods’ decadent antics, virtue and morality were rigidly enforced in the 1950s and 60s, just as hundreds of thousands of migrants embarked for foreign shores like Australia.
Among their scanty possessions were their strict moral codes which they guarded zealously and instilled into their young children, engraving them deeply into our subconscious.
When immigrants settle together in a new land they continue living according to the ethics of the Old Country at the time of their departure. Some (ie, my folks) stay trapped in this time warp, despite their children’s (ie, my) rebellious activities.
While Greece has long since moved on into the contemporary era of relaxed morals and a self-indulgent lifestyle, Greek migrants in faraway lands stubbornly hold onto outdated beliefs. This continues to amuse and baffle my Greek relatives.
The classic movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding is an excellent case study.
I recently watched My Life in Ruins which highlights how we (ie Greek migrants) unnecessarily complicate and over-analyze relationships.
Greek men will simply say, “I fancy you.”
And they just won’t take “no” for an answer.
Are we more reserved than those hot-blooded Europeans because we live in isolation on the other side of the world?