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March 28, 2003

Kiss Me, I'm Greek?

The Guys @ DCGreeks.com ask:

Where's my McGyro?

Where are my Olympic Donkey and Goat?

And what do you mean my foustanella only comes in white? 

Earlier this month on St. Patrick's Day, we were feeling a little left out. On the day when everyone is Irish, and everyone wears green, we thought to ourselves, "Where is our overly-commercialized random holiday?" Greek Independence Day falls eight days after St. Patrick's Day but it is just another day for most Americans. You don't see everyone wearing blue and white and we don't have a national symbol like a shamrock, or a national mythological figure, like a Leprechaun. Think about it, almost every holiday in this country can be signified by some commercialized symbol -- cupids, leprechauns, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, a Jack O'Lantern, turkeys, Abe Lincoln, or a bottle of Corona. But what about Greek Independence Day? What about the Greek-Americans? Why isn't it that everyone is Greek on Greek Independence Day? Where are the "Kiss Me, I'm Greek" T-shirts? Where is the holiday candy that goes on sale three months before the actual day of celebration? 

What this community needs is some marketing focus like those surrounding some other countries and other ethnic groups. For starters, there are too many Greek restaurants -- what we need is a mega chain. If we say Irish restaurant, you think Bennigan's. Italian? - How about the Olive Garden? When in the mood for Mexican, you think Chi-Chis. Forget actual restaurants, think about menu items. You've got Belgian Waffles, English Muffins, Danish, and despite Congress' best efforts, there are French Fries, French Toast, and French Dressing. Think of a Greek food that starts with the actual word, Greek. If your first thought is "Greek Salad," think about what a weak national association you just made. 

Isn't that terrible? Sure our food keeps its original and proud name, like soulvaki, baklava, moussaka, but there is no clear cut sign that you are eating something that was inspired by the Greeks, and you could easily mistake that for some other culture's food. We saw a statistic the other day that 3 out of 4 people prefer the taste of a gyro to a McDonald's Quarter Pounder, but if that was the case, wouldn't you think there'd be a McGyro by now on the New Tastes Menu? It's not like McDonald's hasn't put all sorts of other stuff from different countries on their menu. (Remember the Chicken Salad Oriental, back in the 80's before everyone started becoming politically correct? Speaking of politically correct, what's the deal with Grecian Formula? Since when were Greek men known for coloring their hair or for not going gray?)

Ok, enough about food, think about the fact that Greek-Americans don't have a mascot or national animal to identify themselves with. One of our earliest memories growing up was watching the coverage of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and seeing the big Russian bear mascot. And four years later, who could forget Sam the Eagle at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Think of other countries where their animals are automatic associations. China has the panda, England has the British Bulldog, France has the frog. (Oh wait, never mind, that's a derogatory term for a Frenchman.) Australia is really lucky because really almost anything with a sack is a national symbol, kangaroos, koalas, etc. 

The Athens 2004 Olympics are a glowing example of our lack of a national animal or symbol. The mascots for next years games are Athena and Phevos, two "children" modeled after Ancient Greek dolls, that are supposed to represent the gods, Athena and Apollo. We wish we could show you a picture of what these two look like, but we'd probably get in trouble with the International Olympic Committee.  Honestly, they look like blobs with feet, like Grimace after about 50 skin peels wearing blue and orange sweatshirts. (Can you tell we've got McDonald's on the brain in this week's episode?... Now where are those two McBaklavas we ordered off the Dollar Menu?) 

At least in 1994, Greece had an animal to represent its dismal World Cup team. Ah, Penelope the Soccer Fox, how we miss you so. (Wait a minute, are there even foxes in Greece, or did they become extinct after one too many of Aesop's fables?) We think that Greece did right in going with an animal back then, but really they should have picked a different animal, more representative of Greece.  Heck, Greece has two national animals, the goat and the donkey, but the Olympic committee is too headstrong and too stubborn to ever take our suggestion. 

Greece doesn't even have a national sport. Sure there are many countries and cultures out there that claim soccer as their national sport, but only a few like Brazil or Italy actually should. For example, Canada has hockey, America has baseball, and Spain has bullfighting or running with the bulls, or any sport that has people taunting bulls for fun. Any nominations for a truly Greek National Sport would be appreciated. (And no, tavli is not a sport and neither is badmouthing Americans.) 

And don't get us started on the National Costume, a fashion disaster. Yes, we've got the foustanella, but does anyone really like it. At least the Scottish version of a man-skirt isn't pleated and it isn't white. Think about it, after like the age of 12, guys really shouldn't wear white underwear anymore, especially not a skirt. So shouldn't the foustanella be some other color? Actually, what would be cool would be a "formal" foustanella, to rival those private school dorks who wear kilts to their proms with tuxedo tops, or those Bermudans who wear shorts all the time. Keep the white shirt, put some cool Greek key cuff links on the sleeves, and make the vest black, the skirt black, the tights black, and the hat black with a white tassel. Greek Guys could get married in that get-up. 

Anyway, it seems that this culture has a long way to go in giving itself universal mass-market appeal. Until then, we'll be in the backyard, putting homemade "Kiss Me I'm Greek" t-shirts and foustanelles on our donkeys and goats and sending pictures to the Athens 2004 organizing committee. We hope Penelope the Soccer Fox doesn't eat them when we leave them out at night. 

Read past feature articles