Australians in Athens: Making the best of living in Greece

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By Kathy Karageorgiou.

Australians in Athens (AiA) is a Facebook group which also hosts various events for its approximately 1,500 members, with all Greek Australians welcome.

AiA is celebrating over 10 years of operation, being founded in June 2012 by Tina Doumas with the help of George Xenakis. Predominantly comprised by its namesake – Australians in Athens – the group also has a strong membership of Greek Australians in Australia.

AiA’s main administrator now (since 2015) is Angela Vlahoulis, who is in her 60’s, and a proud grandmother of two granddaughters. Though born in Greece, she moved to Australia at the age of one with her parents, returning permanently to Greece around 20 years later.

“AiA is a fun group, and I try to keep it that way by not getting too serious and political. A lot of the posts I put up may seem silly, but it’s to help people forget their problems,” Angela adamantly expresses.

“Some of my posts can be a bit spicy, and a few people get offended, but I can’t be people’s psychologist.

“We make the most of it with our group AiA. It’s a great group with a sense of humour. We have coffee mornings, taverna nights, etc, often giving events an Aussie vibe like including chocolate crackles at a Xmas party! COVID slowed us down a lot, but we’re bouncing back with events, and planning more.”

“There are long term members in AiA as well as new ones, and many close friendships have been made – including marriages!”

Angela explains that although she grew up in Australia (having visited twice on holidays in 1994 and 2008), she never really felt she belonged there.

“Here I feel free to say what I like, to be myself. It’s a different mentality. I can’t stand being constrained,” she says.

In closing, Angela says: “Although I’m a Greek-Greek, the Aussie in me is still there.”

With a sparkle in her eye she adds laughing, “all Greek Aussies are welcome to join the group; the fee for the Aussie ones is chocolate freckles or cherry ripe when they visit Greece!”

I also spoke to AiA member George Ginis, in his 60’s as well, who lives permanently (born and bred), in Melbourne, Australia. He tells me that he joined the group to connect with Greece and with Greek Australians in Greece in particular due to their English speaking ease. George praises the group for its wonderful members including the close friendships he’s forged.

As he relates how his heroic mother brought up her three kids alone, he tells me that his father migrated to Australia in 1933, but passed away when George was only six years old. George himself now has three adult children and is expecting his first grandchild.

Although divorced for many years, George is very close to his children, stating, “my children are my life.”

He explains that although he loves Greece and the lifestyle, whereby -“unlike Australia where they live to work, in Greece they work to live,” George’s health issues and desire to be with his children, see him not planning to live in Greece. But, the AiA group keeps George’s bond with Greece strong – a love for the country that he’s passed on to his children, who enjoy holidays in Greece.

George claims that he’s heard many rumours that Greeks in Greece aren’t friendly.

“My experiences have proven otherwise” he says. “It’s basically, if you’re a smart alec, of course you’re not gonna get treated well.” This was another reason George joined the AiA group: to learn more about Greece, particularly through the eyes of Greek Australians who live there.

Another AiA member (and part of the admin. team), who I spoke with, is Georgina Kloukiniotis. Born in Australia, Georgina came to Greece when she was 20. Now in her early 60’s, Georgina’s membership in AiA was prompted by her desire to meet Greek Australians like herself.

Although content with her life here in Greece, Georgina sought out the group because she found that “Greeks in Greece still regarded her as a foreigner.”

“They called me ‘η Αυστραλέζα’ (the Australian), even after many decades here. Though my Greek husband saw it as the best of both worlds! In AiA though, we understand each other as Greek Australians. Most of us came to Greece at similar ages, our parents backgrounds are similar, we relate to how we grew up, etc.”

Asking her what she misses about Australia, she tells me – “Autumn in Melbourne, the smell, leaves falling, the cleanliness in the streets, our houses and their architecture and yards. I also miss the peace and quiet.”

Animated, Georgina relates that when she was still new to life in Greece and began dating her now husband, “he’d come and pick me up at 10pm, when I was ready to go to sleep! That soon changed of course, but to this day, early nights have stayed with me – something that came from growing up in Australia.”

Other Australian ‘habits’ that Georgina tells me she adheres to include… “getting Vegemite for my Greek husband! He loves it,” she laughs. “I also make Aussie specialties like lamingtons and sausage rolls, and we have family picnics.”

Georgina also states though that it annoys her when she hears Greeks from Australia criticise Greece, positing, “It’s important to know this country’s history, and apart from its wars, to consider the geography of the rocky, Greek land that made life difficult for our people.”

Perhaps such insight also comes with living in a place for a long time, as many AiA’s have. Georgina says the group’s marvellous events and overall community, embraces Greek Australian’s as bicultural.

“Apart from providing a good time, AiA also acknowledges our fears and ‘ifs’. It exorcises the bad.”

Sounds like a wonderful group to me!

Angelo Tsarouchas Skits and Wits tour

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