PATTY CHONDROS & MAREE BOUTERAKOS: Great Expectations
There are many stereotypes about Greek culture. Most of us have heard about the feasts, commitment to family and expectations placed upon younger generations. The Pin sat down with Patty Chondros and Maree Bouterakos, a mother-daughter team and two generations of Greek-Australian women, to discuss the stereotypes and realities of Greek Culture.
THE PIN: Can you describe your childhoods?
PATTY. I grew up in inner city in Fitzroy with another twenty-two people in one home. There were four families, each family had a room to themselves. Dad and mum worked a lot and we sort of fended for ourselves, parents weren’t really around to be honest. We were taught Greek and struggled when we went to school, because English wasn’t our first language.
MAREE. I grew up for the first five to six years of my life on a farm out in Epping with my grandparents. I grew up learning Greek as my first language because that’s what my grandparents both spoke, English was spoken when my parents were home in the evenings. We moved away from the farm into our own home, but very close by, so we had close relations with my dad’s parents who continued to own the farm for many years. We did go to Greek school, I went on a Saturday morning and continued to learn Greek verbally through my grandparents and extended family. In our own household we would only speak English.
Do either of you recall when you became aware of differences in race and culture and how that came about?
P. I found it difficult when I was younger because my parents wouldn’t allow me to integrate. None of the kids from school were allowed to come to our house unless they were the neighbours and most of them were Italian or Greek.
[My parents] were scared they were going to change us to the way their lifestyle was and the way the Australian people were living, I couldn’t understand what their fear was. Every time I’d bring a non-Greek person into the house they wouldn’t make them feel welcome. They’d be civil but they wouldn’t make them feel welcome.
M. I noticed it as a child when my friends were playing sport on Saturday mornings and I had to go to Greek school. Greek school was separate to the primary school that I went to, the children were completely different, they weren’t any of my friends from school. I never liked going so I started noticing it then, that I was a little bit different to the other kids because I had different commitments on the weekends.
Do you feel connected to the Greek community in Australia now?
M. Yes and no. I don’t have any Greek-Australian friends. All the Greek’s I know are my family members. I don’t particularly feel connected however I do think there is a clear distinction between the way that I integrate with my family and the way my Anglo-Saxon friends integrate with their families, in terms of the responsibility that I have to visit my family members and the pressure that is placed upon me. There is the expectation that I should live the traditional Greek-Australian dream. At 27 I should be married with children, I should have a husband who has a good job and I should be at home, up-keeping the family home..
What aspects of Australian culture stand out in stark contrast to Greek culture?
M. When you turn 18 in Australia most parents will kick you out of the house...
P. I was just about to say that, some of the people at work can’t understand why my kids are still with me, they don’t understand. I would never kick them out. If I did anything like that my family would disown me.
Family just expect you to be there and drop everything for them. It’s just what is done. There is a lot of pressure. I found it very difficult when Maree’s dad and I separated. My mum wouldn’t accept it for three years, she just completely disowned me, because that’s not what you do. She couldn’t understand the separation back then. They’re not backwards, they’re just set in their ways.
M. And also the expectation around food. Generally when you visit a family member you either take food or you leave with bags of food. Food thing is a big thing. It could be anything but you just have to take something.
Considering Australia has the largest Greek population outside of Greece, would you truly consider yourself bicultural when our Greek community is a large part of Australian culture or are there distinct differences?
M. I definitely think there is a difference. There are very clear distinctions between the two cultures but as the generations go on, it changes. All of our [Greek] family friends and relatives in mum’s generation that have married are with Greeks. In my generation almost none are with Greek-Australians and even my grandma will say to me things like, ‘it's okay you haven’t found a Greek-Australian to marry, we will open the doors to other cultures if they come from a good family’.
Are either of you ever asked where you are from?
M. I think more so when I say my last name, not really if I just introduce myself as Maree. No one in Australia would ever ask and I guess if they did I’d just say Northcote [laughs]. When I travel I say I’m Greek-Australian because that’s when I’d get that question generally.
P. I’m asked a lot, where I’m from.
M. What, even in Australia?
P. When I started work they said that I’ve got an accent. I don’t know why...
Patty, how do you respond when people ask you where you are from?
P. I was born here but my parents are Greek.
Thinking back to Maree as a child, has she become the kind of woman you thought she’d be in terms of how much Greek culture she has adopted and Australian culture?
P. No, I’m actually a bit surprised, she follows a little bit more of the Greek culture than I thought she would. Even for Easter, she likes it when we do the red eggs and the biscuits and stuff like that.
M. Yeah, and also I like bringing my [non Greek] friends to that environment too. They don’t get those kind of traditions, Greek Easter is different to Australian or Anglo-Saxon Easter. I like to invite my friends to my family gatherings because I like them experiencing a different culture without them really stepping outside of their own suburb.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
MAREE BOUTERAKOS. LEARN THE LANGUAGE! I wish I knew Greek better than I do and I wish I could read and write [in Greek] to the point where I could be a professional translator because I think it’s quite valuable. I wish I told myself as a child and I wish I pushed myself more to learn more greek.
PATTY CHONDROS. To have the courage to do what I really wanted to do and not follow the expectations of family. I got married at 23 because I thought that was the only way I could leave the house. I had a job, I was educated, I had a new car, I had a house in Doncaster I had bought and I thought my only option to leave the family was to get married.
- This interview has been edited and condensed.