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June 27, 2002

Greeks in Heat

Just in case you had any doubt in your mind, summer has officially arrived in DC. The heat and humidity are here and the Greek events are for the most part taking a long afternoon nap for the summer. Many of you may be planning on going to Greece. The rest of us are stuck here. But it really doesn't matter, because summer is truly a Greek season no matter where you spend it. You hardly ever meet a Greek who says that winter is their favorite season. Greeks have been conditioned since the dawn of time to thrive in heat and seek the sun. 

The first thing that Greeks, especially Greek-Americans, do when the weather gets warm and the UV index reaches 7 or above, is get a sun tan. For some it just happens without thinking about it, like the George Hamilton tan some get just from walking outside for 10 minutes at lunch. Then there are those who strategically plan their tanning, scheduling time on the weekends to methodically take care of it, making sure to turn over every hour on the hour. Of course you know there are those in the Greek community who don't even wait for the spring to start working on their tans. For these people it's summer all year long as long as they've got their orange, tanning-salon-produced base coat. But for most of us, Memorial Day starts the tanning season. I remember hearing a statistic a few years back of the low incidence of skin cancer among Greeks and took that as a sign of invulnerability to the sun. (If this was a study based on Greek men, then this would be understandable, as most Greek guys sport a hairy chest with an SPF-25 rating by the time they reach their mid-20s, if not earlier.) My punishment for such Greek pride, and listening to scientific surveys, was turning lobster red at the Eastern Shore the summer before my junior year in high school. I guess my "Sunscreen-is-for-Losers" ego wasn't large enough to shield me from the sun's harmful rays. (I should have gotten that printed on an extra large t-shirt instead… At least that way, my chest and back wouldn't have been radiating enough heat to cook souvlaki.) It was the early '90s, and neon and other bright colors were in fashion, so hopefully I didn't look too bad walking around Ocean City later that evening. 

While that was the worst example of getting burned by your Greek pride either of us has experienced stateside, we've seen even dumber sun-tanning methods used in Greece. We saw a girl basting herself in carrot juice once at the beach. We were like, "No! Stop! What the hell are you doing?! You'll turn orange for sure!" (I guess there are worse Greek food products you could put on yourself in hopes of getting a tan... Olive Oil... that sour cherry-flavored concentrate, "Visinada," your yiayia diluted in water and made you drink... that sometimes soft and gooey but often hard-as-rocks "Vanilla" that most Greek houses have a stale jar of in their cupboard, perhaps the only reason that every Greek should own a microwave oven... "Merenda," the tastiest of all these substances, usually found at the Costco in 32 oz jars masquerading under the name, "Nutella"...the list goes on and on. Stay tuned for a future article on "Stuff your yiayia served you after your afternoon nap to keep you quiet.") So yeah, back to the girl who was rubbing herself down with the equivalent of a V8 Splash juice drink. We didn't see her the next day. We assumed she got snatched up by some over-sized vegetarian octopus that mistook her for a giant carrot. 

The irony is that Greeks back in Greece are wearier of the heat than we are here, even in DC. We remember being in Athens a few years ago during one of their infamous July heat-waves. The temperature was about 96 degrees Fahrenheit, which on the Greek thermometer translates to, "Po, Po, Po, ti zesti." Did this faze us? Of course not. Athens is Athens, and yes, the air pollution makes the air quality unhealthy, but regardless it's not the heat and humidity of DC. An 86-degree day in DC walking outside your office at lunchtime feels worse than any day we've ever spent in Athens. We decided that the best place to taunt an Athens heat wave was on top of the Acropolis itself, with our shirts off, shaking our fists at Apollo and his sun chariot telling him to turn it up some more. 

So regardless of where you end up this summer, remember that you're Greek and that the sun and heat are your friends. Wear sunscreen if you want. We take no responsibility for any pain or peeling you'll get if you get burned, or for the ridicule you'll face from your non-Greek friends if their tan is better than yours. 

Read past feature articles.