• I have been in situations where conflict has arisen with friends, at work, out in public, simply because my intentions were misunderstood. (Supplied)
While it may be the norm to ask Anglo-Australian guests to BYO their own meats to a BBQ, this request might offend Greek-Cypriots. Koraly Dimitriadis examines the cross-cultural examples that divide us and asks whether better communication skills can bind us.
By
Koraly Dimitriadis

6 Oct 2016 - 12:16 PM  UPDATED 6 Oct 2016 - 4:44 PM

 If I had a BBQ at my place and invited family and friends from my Greek-Cypriot background asking them to BYO their own booze and meat, my guests would probably be perplexed, offended, and think me inhospitable. Yet in Anglo-Australian culture this is the norm.

Every cultural background not only has its own set of traditions but it can also express themselves in vastly different ways. I have been in situations where conflict has arisen with friends, at work, out in public, simply because my intentions were misunderstood. I came across as too intense, too open or too loud to be understood by cooler Anglo ways.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ I would ask myself. 'Calm down. And what was with all the hands gestures?’

It can be as simple as a smile. Or not. In Australia, a smile is a sign of affection, warmth or maybe sarcasm if someone’s rubbed you the wrong way.

But in Indonesia, if you smile or chuckle it’s often because you’re ashamed or embarrassed by something you’ve said or done. When Bali bomber Amrozi was filmed and photographed smiling throughout legal proceedings in Indonesia, he was dubbed the ‘smiling assassin’ by the media. This inflamed the pain felt by the victims’ families. While this is an extreme example and no one knows (or is excusing) what the smile meant, you can see that living in a multicultural society can bring up all sorts of communication issues.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ I would ask myself. 'Calm down. And what was with all the hands gestures?’

I have been told I am too open with people I have only just met. I give too much of myself, share too much, act like I am good friends.

‘Don’t let people in so soon’, my best friend, who is from an Anglo background, says to me. In fact, when I first met her years ago I couldn’t understand why she was so hard to win over. It took a long time whereas I was – too open.

And then there are men. Anglo men. They are confused and scared by the openness, my Mediterranean passion.

Only until very recently I would get deeply hurt and offended by these comments, this – rejection. I would turn on myself, criticise myself for once again saying the wrong things, being the wrong way. I needed to be less intense, to chill out, cool down, like an Anglo. But then I took a trip to Greece and noticed that despite the financial crisis, one thing remained: philotimo, a word that has no English translation. It encompasses a set of traits a person should have, the way they function within their society, the courtesy and friendliness they show through their actions.

And then there are men. Anglo men. They are confused and scared by the openness, my Mediterranean passion.

Treating a stranger like someone who is a good friend is philotimo. From the taxi driver stopping in the middle of the road to help direct a motorcyclist, to a waiter not charging you for the bread you ordered after your food came. When you are standing on the road to cross the street, cars just stop so you can cross because people have the mentality of ‘well, you know, I can stop and help this person cross the street so I will, because it’s a nice thing to do and the right thing to do so I’ll do it’.

This friendliness towards strangers extends to how people interact in social settings when being introduced to new people. It’s part of the Greek way of life.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were aware of all these nuances when we interacted with people?

As I write this article in Cyprus, I think of my aunty and I in the car the other day. She was really raising her voice to a level that if you were in Australia you would think the person was utterly furious with you. Because I am quite sensitive, when people yell at me, I shut down. But she wasn’t angry at me at all. She was just trying to make a point.

Comment: Hey, white people, please don’t call me a 'wog'
You may think it's a term of endearment, but for Koraly Dimitriadis, it's as offensive as ever.

So rather than react, I told myself it’s a Cypriot thing: ‘don’t take it personally’. Spending more time in Cyprus I repeatedly have to tell myself this, and I have found it is a good habit to adopt: always consider the background of the person you are talking to in deciding whether or not to be offended. ‘Am I taking this person the wrong way?’ is a good question to ask yourself when interacting with someone who has a different cultural background than your own, rather than making rash judgments.

Being true to who we are encompasses being aware of where you come from and how that has influenced your personality. I’d encourage people to take a trip to ‘that place’ sometime in their life. That could mean visiting your country of origin, your parent’s country of birth or the countryside in Australia.

The more time I spend in Cyprus the more I make sense.

I now embrace my openness, loudness and intensity. I no longer see it as a weakness. I see it as me.

 

Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, poet, filmmaker and the author of Love and F**k Poems. Her debut theatre show KORALY : “I say the wrong things all the time” will premiere at La Mama in Nov-Dec 2016.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @koralyd, Facebook, Instagram @koralydim

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