My culture has always been a strong part of my identity. Being Greek has been synonymous with being me. Throughout my school years I was always known as the Greek girl. It’s been my go-to fun fact in ice breaker games for as long as I can remember.
“Introduce yourself and tell us a fun fact about you”…“Tell me a little bit about yourself”…“Tell us something that people may not know about you”… The answers to these questions inevitably and eventually led to one simple statement: “I’m Greek”.
Greek. It’s what I was. That, and tall.
I was aware of the annoyances of a big family, the absurdity of being a vegetarian, and the danger of old grandmothers long before “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” became a hit.
But while my culture provided me with a concrete identity, a blueprint of who I was, it also left me feeling a bit out-of-place when I wasn’t immersed in it.
As a Greek growing up in the US, there were a lot of things that my American friends did that I couldn’t do (sleepovers, dating, and cheerleading, to name a few). I became very good at crafting excuses for not participating in these very American activities. The real reason of course was that it was easier to come up with excuses for my friends than to begin to explain to my parents why I would ever want to sleep in a stranger’s home: “Why? You don’t have a home of your own to sleep in?”
Growing up and moving on to college was a total culture shift for me. Dorm life made sleepovers as easy as walking down the hallway, pizza became a standard dinner option, and football games were a weekend norm. By year two, I even got myself an American boyfriend (oh the horror!). I was still the kid whose parents came to visit at least one weekend per month, but the remaining 27 days, I was as American as Sunday night football.
Looking back now, and without giving you a full account of my life, I realize that for a long time I swung between cultural extremes. Depending on the situation, I would choose to be either Greek or American. My Piscean ability to adapt to situations made this pretty easy for me. The scary thing is that I got really good at fitting in. When I was with my American friends I made a point to not mention my Greek-ness. And when I was with my Greek friends, I made sure to talk about Greece as if I had grown up there all my life and the US was just a stopping point for me on the way to something else. In hindsight, I realize that I had just gotten really good at pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I was just so tired of always being different.
It was a while before I was finally able to reconcile my two cultural sides. But eventually I did. I realized that my culture didn’t determine who I was. It didn’t dictate my identity, it provided context for my identity. There were other qualities that made me me. Qualities that I actually chose and developed on my own. Qualities that, in addition to my culture, make me who I am.
Now I’m just Chrissy. Not “Greek Chrissy” or “American Chrissy”. Chrissy. Or Chrisanthy. Depending on who I’m with;-)