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Friday, November 12, 2004 

Conversing with an Immigrant: Basics 101

If you know any foreigners in your neighbourhood, here are some things you might want to be know before you start up a conversation with them. If you have already talked to them, and you receive strange looks from them, this blog might help explain why. I'm a Canadian living in Greece but any foreigner will be able to relate to them.

1. Which country do you like more, this one or the one you came from?
This is a loaded question for a foreigner. A lot of us will still prefer our home country to the new one because we're familiar with it. We grew up there, our families are there and for whatever reason we chose to live in a new country, the country in which we were raised will usually have an edge. So don't ask this question unless you're prepared for the answer. I always try to find something nice about my new country to say to them and then generalize the both of them and say that you can find happiness anywhere if you want to. They seem to like this.

2. You don't look foreign, you look like a Greek.
Some foreigners find this offensive. Is it really a compliment? It's more of a backhanded one if you read between the lines. What they're subconsciously implying is that they believe your nationality is inferior to theirs and what foreigner wouldn't love to hear that they don't look like the native population? These well-intentioned people don't stop to think that just because we're in another country doesn't mean we're ashamed of being foreign.

3. Are you American? Oh Canadian? Same thing.
Of course, if you're French, you don't want to be told that being Belgian is the same thing. Or if you're German, being Polish is the same thing. You should see Greeks have fits when I tell them, "Yes, we are the same as Americans...just like you and the Turks." If they don't turn their backs on you at this point, you've found a very tolerant friend for life. It's not that foreigners all have a problem with our geographic neighbours but each country IS different from the one next to it. I've lived in both the US and Canada and even though we speak the same language and share some of the same traditions, we are still different in many aspects. This comment is also a dismissive one...they don't know much about the two countries so they combine them according to what they've seen in action movies.

4. You shouldn't speak English with your son, he only needs to know Greek.
Call me crazy, but outside of Greece, who else speaks Greek? And even if my mother tongue wasn't english, it's always good for children to know as many languages as they can. All foreigners should attempt to learn the language of their new country but all their children should know both the language of his new country and his parents' language. It never hurts to be able to communicate with as many people as you can.

5. Your country has no history.
How many times I've heard this one, I can't count. I get so tired of hearing it that now my standard response is "your country has all the history in the world, and where has it gotten you?"

6. You're from Canada? I have a cousin in Chicago.
What do I do with that one? Chicago is in an entirely different country. Even after I tell them I'm from the east coast, they expect me to say something. Just what I don't know, but they wait for a response. Do they expect me to know their cousin in Chicago or tell them about my favourite restaurant in Chicago? I've never BEEN to Chicago. The people who tell me this are just attempting to find some common ground with me. I realize that. But after 7 years of being here, I still don't have a good answer for it. I can't give them a lesson in geography, that would be rude.What's worse is if they actually give me the name of the restaurant their cousin owns. I try to politely tell them that I don't know about their cousin's restaurant in Chicago any more than they would know my friend's school in Gdansk, Poland. It's that far away.

7. You're from Canada? It's a beautiful country. Not like here where we have so many foreigners.
Ummmm...the problem seems so obvious with this one that I can't believe people even say it. I'm not Greek. I am a foreigner as well. I'm part of that group which you believe is a problem for your country. Please, don't ever say this one to foreigners no matter how much you THINK it's a compliment, it isn't.

8. You need to get rid of your English accent in Greek.
Of course I do. I'd love to. They're right on this one. I'll do it today. Today, I will speak Greek without an accent. It's too easy to lose an accent in a foreign language, isn't it? That's why Greeks who speak English after 15 years of language institute training still speak with an accent. No wonder many foreigners feel embarrassed to speak a new language when they're constantly criticised. But don't give up my little foreign compatriots! Keep speaking the new language...your accent won't be as pronounced with more practice. Remember, we have to communicate first and become a world-renowned, grammatically flawless public speaker second.

9. Do you have your papers?
This question pops up when you've said something to them they don't like. It's intimidation. In my case, I hear this one mostly when people don't want to pay their bill in my stores. Their justification for not paying is the threat that they'll tell someone I'm illegal in this country. Just the assumption that I'm an illegal is amazing. It's strange. No policeman has ever looked at my residence permit. Just the thieving customers.

10. Can you get me into Canada?
I got into Canada because I was born there. Other than that, I don't know any other 'easy' way how to get anyone else "in". The Prime Minister and I aren't as close as we used to be so I can't guarantee you he'll take my calls anymore. I don't own a ship so I can't smuggle you there. What's next? Here's an idea...try Canada's Dept. of Immigration. Maybe, just maybe they might be able to help.

So, the next time you feel like striking up a conversation with a foreigner in your country, keep these things in mind and you'll be surprised how many NICE things we have to say about your country.

Well, here is the reality behind the myth:

1. If you came from a thrird world country, it's a given you enjoy this country more. If you came from any other country it's a given you like the beatches, the souvlaki, the cafeterias, the tavernas, the climate and just about everything in Greece more. So, the whole thread is pointless, it is a given you like Greece more, otherwise there is something wrong with you???

2. You are either hairy or you are not. If you belong to the first fraction, you look like a Greek. If not, you must be an Albanian refugee?

3. American or Canadian...the globalisation effect! Well, other than the fact the the Spanish spoken people are not so many in Canada and there are too many silly people speaking funny french, there is no difference. There is a reason why you people (emphasis on YOU) call it North America where you come from, more often that you will say Canada. Afterall, you look the same, talk the same, do the same stuff and also do whatever USA tells you to do. Just another state of USA as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Beg all you want to differ, you don't!

4. The reasons why you are told that is a. cause they don't understand english and they are worried you are making fun of them and b. cause they don't understand english and they are worried you are making fun of them.

5. Your country has no history. A true statement. It implies that the rest of us that do have a history, we are taught all we need to know from it when you guys are now starting to understand how a civilisation functions. Look at our pioneer goverment, our impecable health system, our exceptional trafic network, our high end techonologies and so much more and the compare it to the Canadian stuff. I'm sure you will agree with me when I say you guys need a Greek to organise your country in order for you to stand a chance into making it succesfully into the rest civilised world!

6. Please read above paragraph 3. Both Canada and Cicago are USA territories! The only difference is that one is a state and the other one a city. But this is just a geographical misconception, no biggie.

7. Foreigners in Greece are considered only the albanians and russians. Since you don't have hips of them, you don't have the problems we do. Hence the statement.

8. Next time you can't tell the difference between greenpeace and green peas when someone is talking about it with a NON english accent, you will realise the importance of it.

9. We are all members of a neighboorhood watch program intended to keep us safe from the foreigners. It is each and every ones responsibility to ask anyone that seems to be a foreigner for his papers. By doing this, we allow our local police to deal more effectively with more important issues, like trafic violations and checking on how fresh the tzatziki put in a souvlaki sold at a public area is.

10. Well it is a given that we, greeks, are allowed and welcomed anywhere in the world. It's just that we try to save time and money and try to cut corners, so instead of going through the stupid bureaucracy, if you happen to know people in places, please say so and we won't leave you on the outside (if ya know what we mean).

Her-down to earth, realistic, reasonable, knowing all- husband. :)

1. Which country do you like more, this one or the one you came from?
Well the answer to this one is obviously the land of the Gods? Who in their right mind would pick anywhere else over the land that offers you a glorious climate, a great culture and above all, the ability to come second (no pun intended) in the Durex global sex survey. Who in their right mind would say "er... actually I prefer England! I love the fact it's soo grey, cold and depressing, I mean, I can't stand the good weather you guys have here. I'm sick of being able to go for coffee with my friends whenever I like or go to the beach. I'd much rather be back in the good old UK". So as Kostas says, the answer to this question is a given. In fact, it's only asked because they can't think of anything else to say to you.

2. You don't look foreign, you look like a Greek..
This is the biggest compliment you could ever recieve! Embrace it and make the person who said it your new best friend! It's if they tell you that you look like a foreigner that you should really get offended. I'm going to quote one of the truest lines you'll ever hear in your life: "there are only two kinds of people in this world, Greeks and everyone else who wish they were Greek". So yeah, if your told you look Greek. Be honored!

4. You shouldn't speak English with your son, he only needs to know Greek.
You ask where outside Greece speaks Greek, well Cyprus springs to mind for sure (even if they do butcher it with their TERRIBLE accent), also parts of Melbourne, Chicago and other culteral cities of the world do. Although I do agree your son should know the basics of English. Just the right amount to insult the American tourists before/during or after ripping them off.

5. Your country has no history.
How can anyone argue with that? Using Canada as the example, what history is there? Because before I met you, I thought Canda was right between Narnia and Never Never Land.

6. You're from Canada? I have a cousin in Chicago.
Again, this is sheer politeness. It's just to make you aware that they too have dark secrets and deep routed shame. You should be touched they are sharing painful family secrets with you like the fact they have relatives who 'choose' to live in the States. Can you imagine how much that hurts these people?

7. You're from Canada? It's a beautiful country. Not like here where we have so many foreigners.
Again, these people couldn't pick Canada out on a map, let's fact it. Most non Canadians can't. Even the Yanks would have a problem. The only thing they know about Canada is that they killed the Baldwin brothers (we've all seen the south park movie, we know what these Canadians are like!)

8. You need to get rid of your English accent in Greek.
Now this one totally brings to mind the following three words, pot, kettle & black! People speaking English with a Greek accent annoys me more than people speaking Greek with an English one.

9. Do you have your papers?
Again, as Kostas says, this is just the neigbors keeping their area safe (although I do think we need to adopt more toned down methods, rather than asking for your papers, you should just be asked to sing the national anthem backwards... now how many non Greek paperless terrorists would know that huh?)

10. Can you get me into Canada?
First of all, it's your social duty to sit these people down and tell them how depressing life is in Canada and how they really don't want to go there. Obviously they've been watching Canadian propaganda that gives the impression that Canada is a place with good infrastructure and normal people when we all know that is so far from the truth. Tell the poor misguided individual that if (s)he moved to Canda. The life there and the lack of decent coffee would more than likely lead to eventual suicide. Remind them that you lived in Canda, moved to Greece and now know there's so much more out there and how they'd be crazy to leave. Again, refer them to the South Park movie so they can have a true reflection of the "true north strong and free"

And finally:
"So, the next time you feel like striking up a conversation with a foreigner in your country"


I now realize it's impossible for me to live here. Ellas and Costas are destroying my blog!!!!!!!!!! hahaha
Is nothing sacred to you? It's a good thing your comments made me laugh, otherwise I'd have to consider taking your commenting privileges away. LOL


I often recall when I was living in Germany being a British lady I was often shouted at because at the time they thought I couldnt speak German and they would yell German at me as if I was deaf.......When I learnt German I asked why they shouted at me....they said to be understood.....I am not deaf and you dont go around shouting at people who have not mastered the language yet..Now since living in the USA I find that with my clear accent I still get problems here especially living in the south...Not many folk's understand me here either.And I often have to repeat myself...It does get quite frustrating and often I give up.Some people do treat foreigners with ignorance and with contempt.

Btw I love this site of yours....Keep up the good work..

Dusk (avsaa)

Seawitch, your blog keeps getting better. Although with Elas Devil's comment I now know the truth about the Greek price and the American price.

But, screw em, as we control the purse strings, eh....

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