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What It’s Like Growing Up Greek

Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Because that is my life. Half my family is named Nick (my middle name is even Nicole, or in Greek, Nikoletta), I have tons of cousins who I am so close with I consider them my siblings, and we roast a lamb on a spit to celebrate Easter while Greek dancing in our yard (except we usually do it in our backyard, not our front yard).

Greeks are a proud people, and I am no different. Ask anyone who knows me, and one of the first things they will tell you is that I’m Greek — because it’s one of the first things I tell people. It’s a huge part of me, and if you’re Greek, it’s a huge part of you, too.

Growing up Greek is a beautiful thing, and something I cherish deeply. I am so grateful that my parents, who were both born in America to Greek immigrant, instilled this culture and these traditions in me for me to continue to pass on to my children one day.

Fellow Greeks, this one’s for you. And if you’re reading this and you’re not Greek, here’s a little glimpse at growing up Greek.

What It’s Like Growing Up Greek

1. There is no such thing as privacy

Literally, no such thing. Oh, Michelle is dating someone?! The entire family knows within 24 hours – and not because of social media, because our grandparents, our parents, our theas and theos (aunts and uncles) and the cousins talk all the time. It does not just end there though – news spread through the Greek community like rapid fire, because we are all somehow connected.

On top of this, there is likely always someone at your house when you get home. I grew up not knowing who would be in my house when I walked in, because we’re all so, so close we just hop over to each other’s houses whenever we feel like it. I came back from a weeklong stay in Cancun back when I was sixteen to find my theo laying on my couch just hanging out. It’s normal. No invitation is ever needed.

2. We truly care about each other. 

That lack of privacy and overbearing family can seem like a negative thing to some… but it’s beautiful too. We love and care about each other so much, we want to know what’s going on.

And when things get bad, we know we have a support system around us. Someone is in the hospital? They are barely alone in the room because there are so many of us going to visit, we literally take up the entire waiting room. The first time I got into a fender bender (not my fault, for the record!) my entire family called me to check in on me to make sure I was okay. Theas and theos stopped by to see me. It wasn’t even anything big, and they were all there.

3. Your cousins are more like siblings.

I get asked all the time how I’m related to someone and it’ll shock them when I say “oh, that’s my second cousin.” Their immediate response is “but you’re so close!” I know. Because we are.

Because it does not matter how we are related, we are family. We grew up like siblings. Our children will grow up like siblings. They were our first friends, and they are some of our best friends.

4. Greek school is real.

And so is Sunday School. And so is Greek Orthodox Youth Association. And if you are Greek, you were likely in at  least one of them. If you were me, you were in all of them.

My situation was a big different though, as I went to a Greek-American Day School in Queens, New York. Rather than having to go to Greek school after “American” school (as we all called it) or on Saturday mornings, I was in a parochial school, surrounded by fellow Greeks, where I had all my regular classes as well as 45 minutes of Greek class daily, where, you guessed it, we learned the Greek language, the Greek history, and the Greek mythology – all in Greek. Antigone? Yes, I read it, just in Greek, not English.

5. Yelling is our way of talking. 

“WHY ARE YOU SO LOUD?” The amount of times I got this when I went away to college was ridiculous. I didn’t even think I was loud – this is how I always talked and how everyone around me always spoke! We are a very loud people, to the point where yelling becomes your regular speaking voice.

In all honesty, few things make me feel more at home than hearing two Greek men yelling at each other on a street corner. We’re not yelling because we’re mad, we’re just very loud, passionate people.

6. Easter is likely your favorite holiday.

Well, Easter is my favorite holiday, and not only because we do roast a lamb on a spit and Greek dance around our yard. It’s another reason to come together, not only as a family, but as a community as we attend church during Holy Week and the entire Lenten Period. We dye red eggs and cook tsoureki bread. We then celebrate (and eat ALL of the food) all together.

Related: How I Celebrate Greek Easter

7. Pitas are part of your every day food. 

Every holiday has some sort of pita. Even Thanksgiving. You know, because when the Pilgrims landed in America they whipped up a nice spanakopita (spinach pie) to go alongside the turkey. There is no family event without some form of pita. And that is a delicious thing.

I could go on and on about many other things, such as how close you are with your grandparents, how yiayia (grandmother) is always trying to feed you, how you hated Greek school at the time but now you are so grateful you went, how you escape to Greece every chance you can get, how you proudly walked in a parade dressed in an ethnic costume at least once in your life to celebrate Greek Independence Day, and so much more. But for now, this is just a glimpse into Greek life. And if you couldn’t tell already, I am so proud to be Greek.

About the Author

Michelle Ioannou

Michelle graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelors of Arts '13 and a Master of Arts '14. She's currently working in corporate America with a side of freelance writing. She wants you to learn from her experiences and mistakes so your 20s can be your best decade. When she's not working, she's likely planning her escape to a tropical island.