Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Not Sari

On Monday night the lovely Andrea Bocelli gave a concert at the Marble Stadium downtown in Athens and I decided that a formal occasion like this was a very good excuse to wear one of my saris.

I was meeting a friend of mine at Syntagma and thought taking public transportation to my destination would be a cheap and convenient thing to do. I hadn’t bargained on how uncomfortable I would feel.

Despite saying that I feel no affiliation to any country, the Home Country is the one that I have been most strongly affected by. I spent most of my life there and it gave me memories, a language and a culture. Part of this culture is the wonderful clothes which I didn’t get to wear very often in the UK because the weather is usually too bad.

If you did manage to walk down the street in my small English town in traditional clothes, chances are no one would look. I did it a couple of times on sunny days and the most offensive thing that was said to me was a snotty little kid laughing and saying “Ha ha you’re getting married, you’re getting married, nya nya nya nya nya nya.” In a lemon yellow sari? I don’t think so, honey.

My experience in Athens was vastly different. I have worn traditional clothes once or twice before, but always with company. This was my first solo excursion, and I tell you, I understand how the Elephant Man must have felt.

To say that I got stared at doesn’t even cover it. The younger people were not much of a problem, they tended to look and then look at something else. The middle aged men had perfected the art of staring and then looking away the second I met their gaze.

It was the older people, especially the older women who looked at me like I was covered in the blood of a thousand Greek children. They looked disgusted. I felt like shouting “You know, I come from an ancient culture too! Just because I live here doesn’t mean I have to wipe it out so deal with it!”

The last time I felt that self conscious and stressed out was the first time I wore a bikini in public three years ago, but on that occasion my anxiety vanished the moment I realized not a single person on the beach cared what I was wearing.

I couldn’t get off the metro fast enough. But saying all that, I don’t plan on stopping either. I make no apologies for displaying my culture and why should I? And neither will the ten children I plan on having (for cultural diversity reasons).

As for the attitude of “Bloody immigrants coming to our country and xyz” Alexander “The Great” (note sarcastic quotes) came to MY country and tried to take the whole country! And I don’t think him and his army did as the locals did, they just did the locals, hence the northern tribes which claim descent from his army. Me and my saris are here to stay!


Rositta said...

I think you are very brave and I hope you enjoyed the concert. Since visiting here in Athens I see how intolerant this society is, I say f--ck em if they can't deal with it. Sorry, I generally don't use bad language, wipe me out if you want. I just get so upset here my blood pressure goes up. Wear whatever you want, wear it with your head held high...ciao

Anonymous said...

Hi Bollybutton,

I've been reading your blog for a long time now and felt today that I finally have to comment. Like you, I moved to Athens for love - my partner lives here - I'm from Australia and we decided to give it a go in Greece for awhile. Unlike you though I do have greek heritage - my father migrated to Australia in the 60's from Greece, my mother from Egypt (she is greek egyptian though) so I have the "benefit" of speaking the language and previous experience of the greek culture. Nevertheless I am constantly called "the xeni" and some of my bf's relatives do treat me like the evil Australian who is planning on taking the good greek boy away to "the other side of the earth", "the desert", "kangaroo country" etc etc. I cant even begin to tell you how helpful your blog has been and how inspirational. I wish I could have been there to cheer you on riding the metro in your sari. You go girl! I'm trying to adopt a "screw the xenophobes" attitude myself and I just wanted to say that I really admire what you're doing. I've been here for six months now and frequently wonder what the hell I'm doing here - I guess I just really wanted to say that your blog makes a huge difference and to thank you. Keep wearing the sari - I for one think it's a fantastic move. Best wishes, Debbie

bollybutton said...

Wow! Thanks so much for the support Debbis and Rositta. I thought I would get a bunch of people saying things like leave if you don't like it (which is often the case when I write such posts) The Greeks were the first recorded country to introduce the concept of a superior race, ie themselves, and everyone else became barbarians based on the fact that their foreign tongues sounded like buruburu to the Greeks. I think as a country they still haven't let go of the 'we're better than everyone else' mentality. It's a great thing to be proud of who you are and where you come from, but no one country or culture is better than another.

Live and let live.

Anne said...

I've been visiting your blog for quite a while and i like it a lot!

I live in Athens and i can only say that you should stick to your traditions and saris! A thing that is making Athens more appealing as time goes by, is that it's becoming more multicultural as opposed to what it was 15 years ago. And it's great to see people from different cultures keeping their identity. I believe that in the future less and less pleople will be staring at anything that is not considered to be greek. Well, i try to be positive about it :-)

And i am sure your sari looked fantastic!

deviousdiva said...

Good for you.

Anonymous said...

I would have stared, too, I am afraid, but out of pleasant surprise or curiosity, not xenophobia or racism. It's always nice to see people dressed in their traditional dresses. It brings so much colour to everyday life.

I am sure my fellow-Greeks abroad would be all wearing the Tsolias outfit or even the tunic if they were still used nowadays :-D

Hope said...

I agree with Anne. Athens is slowly starting to become more multicultural which is great!

But it will take a long time for more traditionalists to not feel threatened by the change.

bollybutton said...

I accept that a sari on the Athens metro is a [retty rare sight so I was expecting some funny looks but I really wasn't ready for the hostile stares I got. People will look, that's natural, but I'd prefer it if they spoke to me and asked my why I'm dressed like that. I'd be more than happy to explain. I just wrote an article on the history of the sari.

Blackbird said...

I'm so shocked you got mostly hostile looks; besides the fact people should be open to other cultures I think the sari is absolutely stunning to look at. I would have stared but out of admiration.

I'm so glad you make no apologies for your heritage!

itelli said...

I'm happy u have this attitude. Most of them stare out of ignorance. I would have stared too. Or, to put it in the right context, it's hard for me NOT to stare when I come across something similar in the UK. But that's because I am not familiar with any of that.

And (just to push it a lil bit further) I think people who say they are shocked are taking it a bit too far. Wouldn't they stare if a Masai Kenyan decided to enter the N.Y. or London underground with spears and shields? I bet they'd have called the coppers to take care of the "terrorist"/"cannibal" if u ask me.

AL said...

Looks like we have to do this again together this time... bring cameras along!

and on another note, hugs!

Louloudaki. said...

Regarding a comment left previously I very much doubt a Masai would be regarded as a terrorist or canibal by many..or would receive hostile looks. Some people are ignorant but luckily a lot more people are sensible when it comes to seeing someone in their cultural costume. People would stare of course but I believe because it would be something strange and interesting. I agree with the others that I'd expect bollybutton to get stared at but not in a negative way and not by so many people. How horrible.
Stay brave, bollybutton! I wish I had seen you in your beautiful outfit that day!

AntigoneSis said...

Hi BB,
I would have been staring at you from sheer envy! I want to wear a sari, too! :-)
It's funny b/c here in the American Midwest I frequently get looks from members of the Indian community wondering what I am!
One question--why would you not get married in a yellow sari?

bollybutton said...

Hi Tig,
Because we wear red on our weddings. It would have to be a red sari.

Anonymous said...

I would have been guilty of staring too (although I always try to keep it to a minimum), out of simple curiosity of course. But don't let the oldies unsettle you. They give hostile stares to anyone and anything that doesn't conform to their set of old-minded ideas. Be it someone from another culture, or someone dressed unconventionally, or a guy with long hair, or a couple making out in public, or someone listening to music through his ipod, or someone wearing ripped jeans or even someone talking to a cellphone! It's not as much xenophobia (although that still exists as well) as it is intolerance to anything different or modern. But thankfully, as other people pointed already, things are getting better and as the older generation will eventually die out instances like that will be a thing of the past.


chase said...

I must echo the support you have received. I can imagine how it must have felt. Odd, though that nobody has pointed out one relevant consideration, i.e. that by and large Greeks have no qualms about staring people in the eye and being direct more generally. They can be contrasted with the English whose politeness has another side - indifference (lots of people like this about English culture and it does have its advantages for foreigners - see Jeremy Paxman's book on the English for this). I understand that Cypriots were at first very disconcerted on the streets of London because no one looked at them! Interestringly, I believe that some of the suspicion that greeted South Asians immigrants in England was to do with their tendency not to look people in the eye. I guess though, you will know a lot more about these subjects. It would be interesting to hear your view. BTW I am not trying to explain away racism.