Filo dough and filotimo

Reflections of the motherland from your friendly neighbourhood Greek-Australian

The smell of oregano-covered lamb, fresh off the spit, wafts in the summer breeze. Hearty laughter of old men playing backgammon can be heard over the light strumming of a bouzouki. In the backdrop of this dreamscape are wide-eyed tourists weaving between ancient ruins and unhurried locals sipping coffee outside their white-walled, blue-domed houses overlooking the caldera.

Greece is more than just a name on map. It has the power to instantly transport you to a vibrant country rich in culture, language, and history some fifteen thousand kilometers away. A country that many of our migrant grandparents carried with them to Australia when they arrived in the aftermath of World War II and the Greek Civil War.

This idea of Greeks—our family-oriented values, bottomless appetites and boundless desire to dance—is as true in 2018 Australia as it was in 1950s Greece. As a third-generation Greek-Australian, I can attest to being as loud and over-gesticulated when I speak, as enamored by traditional home-cooked meals, and as passionate about a Padelis Padelidis song as my cousins in the motherland.

But time has passed. It would be remiss to forget that the Greek-Australians who came before us were tasked with the overwhelming responsibility of creating a community where the Greek culture could flourish in a non-Greek environment.

Their establishment of language and dance schools, parishes, tertiary education studies, and commemorative celebrations like Greek Independence Day in Martin Place, molded the culture into an entity in its own right—that of the friendly-neighbourhood Greek-Australian you know and love.

And if there is one value that we have inherited from our parents and grandparents, it is our filotimo. Based on a quick web browse, it is untranslatable. I guess Yahoo Answers never asked my Yiayia and Pappou, because for them it is the simplest thing in the world to explain.

Filotimo is offering a helping hand without having to be asked. It’s welcoming a person into your circle as if they were already a friend. It’s treating others like long-lost family members. It’s allowing another person to feel at home.

This instinctual virtue has stood the test of time in Australia, and we have our antecedents to thank for this.

But how to thank them? With only our parents’ hazy memories of their university days and limited archives on Facebook, we ironically know more about the history of Greece than our history as Greek-Australians.

Along with the aim of fostering enthusiasm for Greek culture and language amongst students, the Sydney University Greek Society (SUGS) aims to recognise past members and committees.

“As SUGS reaches its 60th year, we find ourselves at a crossroads,” says Gabriella Piperides, President of SUGS. “The more we move forward, the more important it becomes for us to look back at where we came from. While we assimilate as Greek-Australians more and more, the values that brought us together stay the same.”

The dual challenge the current generation of Greek-Australian youth face is in not only ensuring the longevity of our Greek culture, but keeping the Greek-Australian subculture thriving and connecting to its history. It is a task many years in the making, faced by many children from migrant families.

But in salvaging the past and recording our present now, the hope is to give those Greek-Australians who come after us, an understanding of how their identities came to be and why we’ll instinctually offer you a seat next to us in class, invite you for gyros on Manning Lawn or share our patriotism with you by flooding your Insta feed with photos of Santorini every July.