Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Countdown to “the thing”


Four days remain until we’re due to attend “the thing.”

The year 2006 was my first appearance at “the thing” my partner has been attending every year since he was born. He dreads “the thing,” he complains about “the thing,” and he’s relieved when “the thing” is over.

Me? Well, “the thing” has only been a rare occurrence in my life since moving away from California, then ended permanently when my parents passed away many years ago. I also used to dread “the thing,” develop a stress rash after being at “the thing” for more than a few hours, and sometimes met up with friends for a shot of whiskey when “the thing” was over. But some part of me wouldn’t mind “the thing” if it meant I could have my family back for just one hour of one day.

Now my partner has brought “the thing” back into my life.

His thing is a lot different than my thing, but the general recipe and outcome are the same. Put a bunch of relatives with nothing in common around the same table, sprinkle endlessly with food, add some inappropriate questions and comments, mix with alcohol, stir vigorously with unsolicited advice, cut into portions to fight over and serve hot tempered. Now you’ve got a dysfunctional holiday gathering we call “the thing.”

Since I became part of “the thing,” much of the attention has shifted to me as the new person and foreigner. People speak to me like I’m 5 years old, explain Greek food as if I’ve never seen it before and “po, po, po” over my partner’s mistake in choosing someone not Greek. Dispelling preconceived ideas goes nowhere, so I take it with a grain of salt. I like to think of it as putting the ‘fun’ in dysfunction. Family is family, after all.

What’s different about “the thing” at his dad’s house is they crank up the stereo after dinner, kick over the furniture and throw down knives, plates and glasses to shatter at the dancers’ feet.

In my tenure in Greece and two years in Astoria, I’ve venomously denied all kinds of stereotypical inquiries about Greeks breaking plates while yelling “Opa!,” as I’ve never seen any evidence of it though I’m aware of the custom’s origins. I tell people we use flowers.

So “the thing” was a bit of a shock to me, like my life suddenly became a tourist cliché or a movie flashback from 1960 but without an Irish-Mexican guy playing Zorba. I was speechless, and my partner rolled his eyes and shook his head. As we got up to leave, his dad became emotional and broke down in tears at the door about not having any grandchildren. That felt familiar, as well.

Will it happen again this year? I don’t know, but if they ever come to our house for “the thing,” we’re using plastic dinnerware. I’m all for kefi, I just want to avoid flying to Mexico to replace my glasses and plates! 😉

Here’s hoping your “thing” is a joyous event.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Xronia Polla!!! >^^<

Related posts

Day after the thing
New Year’s in Greece
Christmas shopping hours in Greece


  Ioanna wrote @ December 21st, 2007 at 19:25

xronia polla kai kales giortes =)

  Chris wrote @ December 21st, 2007 at 21:05

I sympathize. I endure the same “thing” at my brother’s house. I almost feel like acting like Robert DeNiro in “Scent of a Woman,” and let some folks for whom I don’t care hear my opinions. But I restrain myself and overly enjoy the wine.

As for breaking dishes, I too thought it was an anachronism from the 60s. I’m surprised this form of destructive pseudo enthusiasm is still practiced.

Kat Reply:

I hear you! But I’ve found that telling relatives what you really think is just a waste of time and energy as nothing really changes. It’s only a few hours of your life, which you can get through by upping your intoxication level. LOL. Nice to see you here again!

  Thomas wrote @ December 22nd, 2007 at 00:06

I found your recipe for “the thing” a bit on the bland side. I would recommend three quarters cup of chewing-with-one’s-mouth-open, topped with a liberal handful of talking-with-one’s-mouth-full. After all, there’s nothing more fun than watching someone argue and choke at the same time.

Kat Reply:

Everyone should by all means feel free to customize their recipe to whatever suits their tastes. Some people have a helping of chewing loud, talking with their mouth open and spitting crumbs, some have smoking, fist fights and empty threats. I try not to think about people’s table manners because it disgusts me.

  The Scorpion wrote @ December 22nd, 2007 at 13:54

Don’t forget to add my ole favorite.

A big heaping full of long-winded concurrent monologues, as well as a dash of normal questions that are delivered as rhetorical ones, since they never truly let you answer.

Kat Reply:

LOL! And I’m sure those concurrent monologues are a little like the parathira on TV news where everyone is yelling louder to be heard, eh? 😉

  Dean wrote @ December 22nd, 2007 at 19:27

Imagine “the thing” when my sister (100% greek) puts her recipe together which includes her xeno husband’s south Florida Republican politican step-father and conservative Republican family. They are very good fun drunks but when we get together I second the notion of it being a waste of time to say exactly what you think.

Kat Reply:

Wow, what patience! I always follow the rule of not speaking about religion or politics. I loved my grandfather (God rest his soul), but he and I almost came to blows about Reaganomics once — it was the only time in 25 years that we fought.

  Cheryl wrote @ December 22nd, 2007 at 20:32

I don’t see anyone’s ingredients including a sleepover. My thing has a sleepover involved at our house, and we’ve had to limit it to 1 night or the thing would go on through the New Year…God help me! Oh… and the squatters only live an hour away.

Kat Reply:

After reading about your thing including a sleepover even though they could easily go home (hell, I drove farther than that in CA to a 2-hour event), I suddenly felt very lucky. Well, you take the cake…or uh, I guess you don’t take the cake. 🙁 You do have my sincere sympathy though.

  Stathis wrote @ December 24th, 2007 at 11:08

Καλό Κουράγιο!
if you cannot win them join them!

Kat Reply:

A lot of people wished me that same thing! LOL! But it sounded like many people had the same situation, so I returned the sentiment. 😉 Filia

  GP wrote @ December 25th, 2007 at 18:21

Hi it’s xmas morning on the east coast. Xronia polla everyone! I’m here visiting for xmas (I live in Athens) and got a kick out of this post.

I spend every xmas here, visiting my parents & family and I’m so thankful that I don’t have to endure xmas in Greece. I spend Easter in Greece and do the Easter “thing” with my husband’s relatives and that is bad enough. Exactly like you describe: a bunch of people with nothing in common thrown together and getting on each other’s nerves. I would lose my mind if I was in Greece for xmas too…

My east coast xmas “thing” is great, though. I feel lucky to celebrate with people that I really enjoy being with. We have such a good time.

Anyway, for those of you enduring the annoying “thing” today… hang in there. We’ve all been there – Kat’s advice is the best – take it with a grain of salt…

Kales giortes, kalh xronia se olous!

PS Kat – I loved your story of Mr. Takis!!

Kat Reply:

Hey! Good to see you again, I was wondering where you were. You’re one of the lucky ones, someone who not only escapes for awhile, but also has a family that is close-knit and enjoyable. I envy people like this. I even know some in-laws that vacation together because they actually enjoy each other’s company!!! BOING! Still, “the thing” makes for good storytelling after a period of recovery. Have a great time! I only lived on the east coast for 2 years, but I told my fiance that NY or Boston around this time is something we should do together at least once because it’s so magical…or at least I thought so.

  The Scorpion wrote @ December 25th, 2007 at 21:46

Update from Xmas Dinner: I ran the barrage of anti-American foreign policy issues as if I was Condi Rice herself. And of course, if I try to change the subject and tell an innocuous joke, then deadpan silence. Sure, they say that Greek humor is different, but my inlaw’s humor is non-existent.

Then comes the whole “Isn’t Greek cooking the best in the world and how lucky I am to eat Greek cooking”. Sure, I love Greek cooking, but no need to rub it in my face year after year. I get it already!!

My biggest suggestion to my inlaws is this: PLEASE GET SOME NEW MATERIAL!!!!! ARGHH!!

And remember, there is no Greek word for HUMOR and that’s why they use the same word in GREEK “HUMOR”, so I shouldn’t expect too much I guess.

Kat Reply:

LOL! I hear you. When I make a joke, no one gets it; when I’m serious, everyone thinks I’m joking. Comedia is a Greek word, though, isn’t it? Still, I get a kick out of it. Maybe my nerves are deadened. 😉

My fiance’s “thing” was slightly different this year, and I’ll likely post tomorrow about that. Right now we’re using different methods of recovery. I’m perfectly happy sitting here alone in silence, reading a book and tinkering on the Internet, and my fiance is out getting drunk with his friends. We’re not mad at each other, I just didn’t think going to another closed space with blaring music, smoke, alcohol and talking loud was the answer.

  FMS wrote @ December 25th, 2007 at 23:23

The trick with “the Thing” is to have relatives or inlaws who do not speak the same language. This is difficult to achieve with one’s own immediate and bloodline family [although I claim partial success in that sphere] but very easy if your “significant other” is Greek and his/her relatives do not speak English. Of course, this is a very good reason NOT TO LEARN GOOD GREEK, because you will suffer greatly if you do. The few useful phrases for “The Thing” are: Poly kalo einai; Oraia; Bravo; Xronia Polla; Geia Sas.

With this constrained vocabulary, you will not suffer too much and can simply eat and marvel at various inanities. You can also smile benignly which they will interpret as the lower intellect of xenoi. Your significant other, of course, will be made to pay the price for the lack of a suitable victim and will probably vow to make you learn fluent Greek for the following year’s event. Resist it at all costs!

  FMS wrote @ December 25th, 2007 at 23:28

By the way, Scorpion, there is a riposte to the Greek cooking self-recommendation. I have learned Turkish and Arabic cookery, so I describe in great detail how much better the Turkish dishes are than the Greek ones. Every little spice, every little detail. For some strange reason, nobody ever talks to me about Greek cuisine these days :-))

  The Scorpion wrote @ December 26th, 2007 at 09:42

FMS, your advice not to speak Greek sounds a lot like an old American friend of mine. He’s 84 years old, and has been here since the late 1940s. His reasoning on why he has never learned Greek was simple: He said he’d either have killed someone by now or been in jail, so decided it was safer for the Greeks that he didn’t know what they were saying.

Now, on the topic of the Turkish cooking, how does that work for you? Does that ever get you hostile remarks? Seems like it could be dangerous… Do tell……

  FMS wrote @ December 26th, 2007 at 13:48

Scorpion: on Turkish or Arab cuisine, I have probably confined my comments to specific Greek circles. I remember about 10 years ago, offering to bring some food to a Goodbye House party [it was being demolished to make way for 4 polykatoikia]. I made Turkish chicken kebabs. I announced them at the party: “queue here for your Turkish kebabs!”. There was a lot of disgruntlement, then someone who likes good food tried one, and said “This is wonderful”. Suddenly, the queue started and almost immediately they were all consumed! So, I asked, “And how was the Turkish food?” The reply was: “like Greek but more delicious/spicy”. Only one person, with a low level of education, refused to eat them on nationalistic grounds.

So, after that and many other occasions, probably people know better than to talk about Greek cuisine with me. The few who don’t are usually kept in check by those who know, when such discussion starts. So, it is perhaps reputation [rather than my unexpected comments] which saves me from these banal conversations:-)

Re learning good Greek: I cannot say in public, but there have been a few specific incidents in my professional life where I thanked God that I had not learned much Greek. At the time, I had wondered why my Greek assistants were trying to conceal anger and outrage. So, I agree completely with your American friend, because I would have lost my temper if I had had a high level of [written] Greek.

  Kat wrote @ December 26th, 2007 at 15:13

I find FMS’s advice to be sound. Most anyone I tell about Greek food being similar to any food (especially Turkish) gets irritated and/or insists that Greek food influenced the rest of the world, not the reverse.

And with speaking Greek, my fiance’s relatives include a pair of English teachers, however they never speak it with me, so I’m able to claim less fluency in Greek, thus giving me the option to stay quiet and not engage in the many conversations that could otherwise annoy me in my state of “ignorant bliss.” I’m pretty sure I’m not missing anything, and they probably are happy about it as well.

  sibad wrote @ December 29th, 2007 at 01:42

Having such a good giggle reading about ‘the thing’ and the comments. Thank you and Happy New Year.

  Theophilos Xenos wrote @ January 5th, 2008 at 07:16

LOL !!! I’ve been through “the thing” in the past… but now, thankfully, I do not have to do this any longer, although I do attend “the thing” held at friends’ homes from time to time. The aimlessness of this exercise is indeed overwhelming but, somehow, “the thing” has come to be synonymous with “bonding,” hence, I think, its persistence. The sad fact is we need a lot more than “the thing” to promote strong family relationships — and what’s required, not too many are prepared to do. Happy New Year!

  Claudia in NJ wrote @ January 30th, 2008 at 21:54

The suggestions in this post are hilarious. I go to the “thing” twice a year. In between we have many little “thingies”. Whenever I am asked to bring a dish, I make something out of a Turkish cookbook. They all love! my Greek cooking @@ (I am Colombian).

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