Foreigners and Intercultural Marriages in Crete

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Men in Crete

How much should a girl adjust in Crete?

By Caroline Holland

It is a well-known fact that Crete possesses a wonderfully colourful culture with masses of history and mythology, giving this island its unique charm and character.

The island has been invaded and under the rule of many countries – the Romans, Venetians, Turks and Germans. Although tainted by these countries, the Cretans are proud that throughout their struggles they have kept their heritage and language intact.

That was until tourism and immigration invaded!

Crete is constantly being influenced by western ways. Although the Cretans are tolerant towards tourists, in most areas, it is a completely different ball game for the expats who have made this island their new permanent home – especially for the single foreign woman who suddenly finds herself in a mixed-culture relationship.

Living on an island which has a large population of foreigners – either for a fortnight as tourists or year-round as an expat – intercultural marriages and relationships are almost as popular as the practice of lapping up the sun on its many beaches. This “culture clash” is extremely difficult to overcome for both foreign men and women. However, since it is the “poor innocent” Feminine Species (FS) that is most susceptible to the Mediterranean charm of the Cretan Man (CM), this self-help article is for “girls only.”

traditional wedding in crete

So, just how much should a girl adjust, or compromise, when faced with the cultural clash of a mixed-relationship? My advice to any girl who decides to enter this arena is to first come up with a game plan, then thoroughly check out the opponent’s home field and local rules.

Rule #1 – try to obtain, as best you could, a complete understanding of the CM’s culture and mentality (This is not easy, since most CMs don’t understand these things themselves).

Always remember, Cretans are a very proud people with close family units and tight-knit communities, where the strong arm of the Greek Orthodox Church plays an influential role in everyday life (CM live at home with their families until they are married, no matter how old they are). This is a solid team effort you will be going up against. Also remember, your opponent’s goal is to overwhelm you with culture and family life until you succumb and find yourself sitting on the front steps knitting a black scarf. While, on the other hand, your goal is to maintain as much of your own identity and still enjoy a fulfilling relationship with the CM of you choice.

Everything seems to come to question where culture is concerned. Roles within the home, social status, even your appearance can be affected. In many cases the pressure to change is not just enforced by your partner, but by his family and even his community.

I have divided men of Crete into two categories. The first are the city dwellers, which are slightly more modern and have a bit more experience of our western ways. They are more open minded, in general, because they tend to interact with foreigners on a more regular basis. Be warned, however. They still spring from generations of Cretan ways and are backed by that formidable team of mother, church and village.

The second category is the more traditional Cretan man. They are more wary and are of lesser understanding to the European influences. They often come from more rural areas of the island where the oozing mass of tourism hasn’t yet seeped into the cracks of the family structure. Beware: these CM often play a more “deadly” game. They’re like wolves in sheep’s clothing (some are actually Shepherd’s), coming down from the mountains to woo the na├»ve foreign maidens into total submission with tales of living the carefree life on a hillside in Anoghia. Before the FS knows what’s happening, she’ll be selling goat cheese from the back of her car.

In general, CM are very laid back especially when you need something doing, like helping you fix a leaky faucet. You must make sure to hold them to an exact day and time, and always, always, remind them with a phone call on the morning of the appointment.

They are proud and patriotic, and sometimes reckless especially when throwing fireworks at Easter or shooting guns at weddings, and driving their car anytime. Make sure your life insurance is paid in full. They can be very opinionated, having a view on everything. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t know better I’d say the words “I don’t know” do not exist in the Greek language.

They don’t get offended if you disagree with their views and often relish the opportunity to get into a debate. However, you will never win, and these debates could last a long time and get very heated, so you’ll have to know just when to say, “well, yes, I guess you’re right.”

Also, the CM’s family and friends do not believe in privacy and don’t consider it impolite to ask personal questions like: how much do you earn; how old are you, and why are you not married? I am almost thirty, childless and single, and I’m often asked why this is so and then given a sympathetic look as if this is my biggest failure in life.

Other things can be pointed out too, like you have put on weight, or your hair needs cutting or your face is spotty, etc. So I would recommend being thick-skinned, although it’s not really impolite to tell the observer to mind your own business when you’ve finally had enough.

As open as the Cretans are with their opinions, so they are also open with their homes. They are very hospitable and will open their homes to you and, of course, their fridges! When visiting Cretan homes it is advised to go hungry for a day and a half because kilos of food and liters of drink will be offered to you about every ten minutes. It’s almost rude not to accept, but, hey, you can be as rude as you want when you’re trying to keep your svelte figure. Don’t forget, while the hospitality is genuine, this is also a favourite play by the CM’s team to change you into “one of them.”

They can be almost as overpowering with their culture, as with hospitality, and a FS in a relationship with a CM has to be careful not to lose her identity, as well as her shape.

Many foreign women try too fast, too soon, and suddenly find themselves unhappy and lonely. After all, if your CM wanted a Cretan wife, there are plenty of them around.

Okay, here’s how it is. Go ahead, get into that relationship if you want . . . after all, there are many pluses in being with a CM that I haven’t mentioned here because this is a family newspaper. But, keeping your independence is very important, and you can do that by either taking a job or having a hobby. Most importantly, know where your local expat hangout is. When you don’t have your family around, the next best thing is other expats. They will help you keep your own identity and help you find that even balance between your own culture and that of the CM. And, after all, a lot of them are in the same situation as you, and you will find someone to commiserate with – or brag to!

So how much should you adjust? Very little. It must be like any other relationship with an even “give and take.” And, when you finally get that even balance with the CM, you’ll find a satisfying and lasting relationship. But always keep one wary eye on his family lurking in the background.

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