I have been extremely blessed with amazing travel opportunities. At only 20 years old I have gotten the opportunity to travel to over 12 countries and 4 continents, with almost every summer since I was 10 years old spent abroad. Realizing how lucky I am, I try to gain something culturally everywhere I visit. Whether helping myself grow as a person, or taking something interesting back to share with friends, this determination to learn something new about another culture has always proven to be extremely beneficial and formed me into the person I am today. The problem, however, is that here in Cyprus... I have been having an extremely difficult time figuring out the culture. I have all the pieces to the puzzle, but putting them together in a way that forms a picture of Cypriot culture is much harder than I anticipated. Here are the pieces to the puzzle I have discovered so far...
The Greek influence is very strong, especially in the south side of the island, where we are staying. What I have learned about the Greek culture so far is that they are very passionate people, both in love and in war. The war side of the passion we have experiences more times than any of us would have wanted. Many of these occurrences happened during our souvenir shopping adventures. Just the other day Jenna, Halie, and I went shopping in the old city. After looking at t-shirts in a shop for quite sometime, Jenna decided to keep looking around hoping she would find some cheaper. Sure enough in a store not far down the road she found the t-shirts for a Euro or two less than the other store. Well, on our walk back she decided to get a coffee mug from the original store we visited. After seeing the t-shirts Jenna had bought, the owner got very angry, very quickly.
"You say you got that cheaper somewhere else, that is offensive to me."
"You just wait and see the quality of those shirts. Mine are better!"
"You bring those in my shop, that is disrespectful."
Insult after insult, Jenna just put the coffee mug back down and walked out of the store, confused about what just happened.
I experienced the same anger through the taxi drivers. Many of them get frustrated when they cannot understand our accent over the phone, which is understandable. But one taxi driver in particular became furious when we decided to wait for our professor to come pick us up instead of take a taxi ride home. By the time our professor arrived I received a very offensive text message on my phone. Needless to say, we won't be trusting him to drive us around in his taxi anymore.
On the opposite side of that, the passion of love is also very strong in the Greeks. Their love for one another, their love for their family, and most impressive their love for strangers have been apparent to me throughout our visit. From the first friend I made, the older souvenir shop lady named Maria who called me her daughter after only taking 10 minutes out of my day to talk to her.... to the countless waiters and shop owners who want to be your friend after just taking an interest in their culture, or even just smiling in their direction... it is easy to feel welcomed on this island.
Another very apparent quality of Greek culture is the pride they have in their heritage. You cannot walk 2 blocks without seeing a giant Greek flag waving proudly. Everyone keeps up with all the mythological Greek stories and legends. And everyone keeps up with the traditional Greek dancing, which we actually got to experience first hand.
When the waiter pulled us around to the back of his restaurant last night, we had no idea what to expect. We saw a young boy dancing and two girls sitting on the ground clapping. The waiter told us to sit like the girls and mimic, so we did. That's when the boy started swinging his legs over our heads and sliding on the ground right up to us. He would slap the girls' feet and jump up and yell "Opa!". Then he grabbed a chair and tried to balance on it, but instead had to jump off before he could fall on his face. He looked like he was having the time of his life. He grabbed our hands and pulled us in the center with the other girls. The only direction he gave us as to how to dance like the Greeks was, "Step with one foot going behind the other and walk like a drunk old man".
This we picked up relatively easily, however I was up for the challenge... I wanted to do the hard stuff. If I had a plate in my hand at that moment I would have definitely broken it and screamed "Opa!". But for the sake of the restaurant and it's limited plates, I instead decided to attempt the slide. I jumped up and down, took a deep breath, prepared myself... they full out lunged into a slide. Bad idea. I had forgotten I was wearing shorts and landed on a very rocky floor, which was not appreciated by my knees. The bruise on my knee is a constant reminder that I am no professional Greek dancer.
After our short, but epic Greek dance experience... we interviewed the waiter for our film project. During his interview he confirmed all the Greek culture traits I had picked up on. However, he also added how many other cultures influence the very unique island of Cyprus. For example sitting on the table during our interview was a Hookah. This original Arabic past time is now smoked after dinner, sometimes even with Cypriot coffee.
Once he said this, I recalled that right down the street from our apartment was a popular Syrian restaurant with Arabic food and Syrian workers. I also remembered that most of the waiters and store owners I had talked to all over the island were from Bulgaria, Lebanon, Nigeria, all over the world. Also European tourists could be found EVERYWHERE. And the influence of Britain, from being a part of the United Nations, was apparent with all the strange spellings of words in English. Like "Colour" instead of "Color". And of course on top of all that half the island is Turkish.
After realizing this, my head was spinning. I thought I was back to square one with figuring out this whole Cypriot culture puzzle. I hadn't factored in all the other outside influences, and had no idea what to make out of it?
That's when the waiter we were interviewed cleared everything up for me. I asked him what his favorite part of the Cypriot culture was.
"I love how we have a mix of everything and every type of person. We take a little from every culture to make it our own. And when tourists or people from other places come to visit Cyprus, or even come to live... we greet them warmly. Our island is so small, that when these people come, it feels like they are coming into our house. We offer them coffee, we sit and talk with them, and we learn from each other."
When he said this it all became clear to me. I was trying to put together a puzzle of Cypriot culture to make a picture I could understand. But what the waiter was trying to tell me is that the pile of puzzle pieces WAS in fact the finished project. There are so many people from all over the world coming to Cyprus and influencing the culture, and the original Cypriot welcome the people with open arms.
The Cypriots are known for putting their family first... but I didn't realize to know just how BIG of a family they have.. the entire island is their family. And, without questions asked... they let us become part of their family too.
(Pictures by Zaina!)