Growing Up Greek

Baa-Baa Bouzouki!

Opa! Meaning “Hooray!” people shout with joy as they watch gleaming Grecian traditional dancers twirl about and jingle to and fro to the unfamiliar Mediterranean music playing for their utter enjoyment. People of all ages flock to see these unique performances, often conducted by Grecian heritage women, or by women who simply enjoy the art of Greek dancing. “Zorba the Greek” is a popular song favored by many fans of Greek music and dancing.

Greek dancers wear form-fitting costumes with sheer material attached that flutters like the wind. Their costumes often have gold or silver coins attached and dancers have tiny cymbals in their hands to clap with the rhythm of the music. Historically, while forms of belly dancing are scarce, the art of this traditional form of Grecian dancing was recorded as far back as the early 18th century. Grecian belly dancing has two distinct social contexts; one is a folk or social dance, and the other a performance art. Along with other types of Greek dancing, this is a dancing style many Greek girls begin to learn at young ages. More commonly today, people will use belly dancing as a type of exercise in a class, as it will give you a vigorous workout.

Unlike most music played of any genre, Greek music is graced with a main instrument called a Bouzouki, similar to a miniature guitar, but with four sets of double strings! The Bouzouki has extraordinarily distinct sounds which simply makes anyone move to its dazzling rhythms. This is the music Greek families have played by the campfire for centuries and even in households today. There are current popular Bouzouki artists who tour and produce albums, such as St. Louis native, Christos Sarantakis.

All this music and dancing would not be the same without some delicious Greek foods. Lamb anyone? While many Americans prefer the cuisine of select beef, Greek families are accustomed to lamb. While you can find some lamb in grocery stores, more often, people have to rely on local butchers for the purchase of lamb in America.  Some other famous Greek dishes include Spanakopita, a spinach pie made of phyllo dough, and Baklava, a very sweet dessert also made of layers of phyllo dough. It’s customary for Greeks to season food well and lemon is often used in much of what is made. For those who have their tongues twisted saying the common name of the famous Gyro, rest assured– you now will know how to pronounce it: it is spoken as ‘Year-Oh’ and formally pronounced with a rolled “R.”

Now that you are learning your way around some of the foods prepared in the Greek kitchen, watch out for the Koutala! The mere mention of this wooden spoon caused every child to stop and silence themselves. This is used for discipline and was passed down through many generations.  Although the Koutala is preferred for cooking, it was quite persuasive when keeping youngsters from misbehaving.  So who was in charge of disciplining the children? The women!

Though, traditionally, Greek men are the bread-winners of the family; it’s without a doubt Greek women rule the nest. From discipline to how money is spent, it’s more typical for  Greek women to have stronger opinions and personalities than their men. More so, everyone knows the toughest person in each Greek family is YiaYia. YiaYia is “Grandmother” in Greek. It seems most fitting that Greek women are strong-willed by nature, as most commonly, women outlive their husbands by as much as decades, so their strong presence is very important in families.

Oddly enough, while both Greek men and women share the same olive skin tone, curly, dark hair and shorter stature, it seems Greek women look years younger than their true age throughout life.

Growing-up in a Greek family while living in America is becoming more uncommon as generations pass. While there are still some second, third and fourth Greek-American people, it’s more common to find children who are born as 50 percent Greek, as it is not as customary to marry a Greek spouse as it once was. Nevertheless, anyone can bring lively and delicious Grecian traditions into their household and have delightful entertainment learning and practicing them.