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OFF THE BEAT: I'm Greek — you're weak

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SEPTEMBER 16, 2011

I’m Greek. Like really Greek. Although I’m in a sorority, that’s not really what I’m talking about.

You know, the “loud breeding Greek eaters” who think that every word in the English language stems from Greek, that everything in existence was invented by the Greeks and that not eating meat is a sin.

Even though I don’t fit every stereotype that comes out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding — my family doesn’t own a restaurant, I have absolutely zero first cousins and I haven’t had my family ship me off to Greece to get married (yet) — I still see many similarities between my life thus far and that movie.

For one, I have met maybe a handful of people who can actually pronounce my full name (Stavroula Alexandra Bidwell) correctly. Yes, I know my name is 25 letters long, with almost every letter of the alphabet, but all you have to do is sound it out. I remember being so jealous of my brother, Nick, who has such a simple name, although it is extremely common and stereotypically Greek.

But much to my dismay, I experienced some of the same teasing that Toula experienced in MBFGW: I recall having little girls in kindergarten asking me why my mom couldn’t have named me something “normal.”

Thank God I at least had Wonderbread sandwiches to take to school. And at school I also had the freedom to stop eating when I was full, not when I wanted to vomit.

I have only met one person in my life who can out-eat my yiayia’s (grandmother’s) will to force-feed. My brother’s best friend — after clearing about four plates of food and a few pieces of pie — asked my yiayia if he could have another piece, and she said he could get it himself.

That may not astonish most people, but growing up in my house — which I forgot to mention is conveniently located 50 yards from my grandparents’ house — you knew that no one would leave without at least three plates of food to take home and their pants unbuttoned.

Once, my mom’s cousin Frederic asked to have corn at Thanksgiving, so my yiayia made corn especially for him and all but forced it down his throat, one gigantic lump after another being plopped on his plate.

I know these things come from a place of caring and grandmotherly goodness, but I can’t help sometimes thinking that my adolescence seemed slightly like a sitcom.

Dating, for example, is a dangerous topic. I have not had a boyfriend who has gained the approval of my grandparents. Perhaps that’s because I have only dated non-Greeks.

My first boyfriend in my junior year of high school hugged me at a football game — a seemingly harmless gesture — and was met with a punch in the arm from my grandpa. That relationship lasted about a month.

The next one shot his chances of acceptance to hell when we were spotted kissing outside my house.

And my most recent boyfriend was not worthy because he was four years older than me. Oh, and the fact that at 20 years old, I was “too young” to be in a relationship.

But the fact that there is a family friend in Greece five years older than me who my yiayia likes to “joke” about, saying that we should get married, is a completely different story, of course.

Although some things are exaggerated in the movie, you can still see that people from certain cultures trust “their own kind” more. It’s all about knowing the family, where they come from, who they know and how they were raised.

And sharing a common heritage and language doesn’t hurt either.

But I never fully grasped the language, though a large portion of my elementary school days were spent after school at the church’s Greek school. This was made crystal clear when I went to Greece for the first time at age 18 and only knew how to say efharisto (thank you), s’agapo (I love you), nai (yes) and oxi (no).

But during my last semester at Cal, I’m finally taking an introductory modern Greek class. And it feels like home. Even hearing Greek reminds me of my family and all the things that I once thought — and at times still think — were embarrassing.

Now I know why my mom wanted me to go to church every Sunday, why she wanted me to go to Greek school, why she wanted me to join the Greek folk dance group and make friends and why she pushed me to finally go to Greece.

Overall, I consider myself lucky. Lucky to have such a close-knit family. Lucky to have a family and a home at church, aside from my biological family. Lucky to have lifelong friends who were raised the same way and who have the same values I do. I feel lucky to be unique, to have a culture, to have a story, a history and to have love in my life.

Now I know why everyone who isn’t Greek wishes they were.

Contact Allie Bidwell at 


SEPTEMBER 16, 2011