5.27.2008

Bunkererd down with Archie Bunker

During our long weekend in Athens, Max and I stayed in a lovely, ground-floor apartment, attached to a three-story house on the side of mountain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The property belonged to the father of Max’s childhood friend Yanni.

Yanni’s father, Mr. A, built the apartment onto the house with the expectation of living there after his son, the only child, married and settled down. This is a common arrangement and expectation in Greece. Children and parents live, if not together, than within the closest proximity. My own Greek father has held out a similar hope and always built 4- and 5- bedroom houses so that his children could stay on even after they were married. But oddly enough, aside from a brief stint after my divorce, his wish has never been fulfilled.

Mr. A’s wish hasn’t been completely fulfilled either. Even though he is almost 37-year old, Yanni has yet to find a nice Greek girl to marry and now lives alone in the apartment. Although the flat offers a private entrance, it shares an open, three-story foyer, with quick access to the main house.

Yanni vacated his place for our visit, and each morning Max and I would climb the ornate, marble staircase up to the main house where Yanni’s father would graciously wait with fresh brewed coffee and pastries. We’d spend an hour visiting while we waited for his son to join us. Our time with Mr. A proved to be the most amusing, memorable, and least politically correct, hour of each day.

Think an older, smaller, Greek version of Archie Bunker. Within minutes of our introduction he asked. “What do you think about the American election?”

Even though I’ve never lived in Greece like my husband did, I’ve been around enough mainland, old-school, Greeks to understand their general love of conspiracy theories and penchant for loud discussions. I knew better than to address the question if I ever hoped to make a good impression and be allowed to stay in the apartment. Fortunately, Mr. A didn’t give me time to answer.

“You know what I think?” he began with his thick and booming Greek voice. “I think it’s the Republicans who give the monies to Obama so that Hillary no win. This way, they know for sure the old guy win in November.

In one three-sentence statement, Mr. A would have briefly united Democrats and Republicans against him and insulted or offended any number of random Americans he had just met with his underlying tones of racism, ageism, and sexism. However, this American decided to sit quietly, offered her husband a sideways glance, and tried not to crack a smile. It was a little hard to do. Over the next hour Max and I heard conspiracy theories on just about everything—the 1988 election between Bush senior and American-Greek Michael Dukakis (yes, he was still smarting over that one) rising gas and food costs, the Olympics, the war in Iraq, and, of course, 9/11. Looking back, I don’t think there is a nationality or ethnic group that wasn’t berated in one way, shape, or form. Mr. A was an equal opportunity offender. He even criticized his own people.

“I always say if you take a group of 10 Greeks, you find 11 crooks,” he offered at least three times over the course of the weekend.

One morning, I was awakened by the sound of Mr. A yelling through the telephone. I learned later from Yanni, who had gone down to see what the commotion was about, that his father had called a local Athens news channel after watching a story he felt had been reported inaccurately. Although he tried to calmly reason with the reporter at first, Mr. A ended up accusing the station of “poisoning minds” and “contributing to the ruination of Greece.”

It was a typical conversation in the day and the life of a very colorful character.

Yet despite his outlandish, idle chatter and conspiracy theories, I sensed a sweetness and generosity in Mr. A. And at the end of our visit, when he offered warm hugs, kisses, and concluded that Max and I had done well by choosing each other-- a Greek American marrying an African Arab—I was even more convinced his pontificating was all talk and that he, like the character Archie Bunker, was not a malicious person, merely the product of the time and circumstances in which he was raised.

10 comments:

karey m. said...

i so love old guys like this! i think it's the italian in me...

he sounds lovely. and yay! you're so back!

Charlotte said...

Haha! Oh, the Greeks--yes, I totally know what you mean. Did you also get the mandatory etymological talk, as in "every word in the English language has a Greek root. Here, let me demonstrate ..."?

This *so* makes me miss my Greek friends ...

Glad you had a great time there!

Lise said...

Every neighborhood should have someone like Mr. A....it keeps everyone honest and smiling.

Dianne said...

He does sound like quite the character and I love how you clearly saw beyond his words. It's not always easy to do.

Cheryl said...

Greek Archie Bunker...wow. My mind is reeling...

kenju said...

What a character! He'll be one for the memory books.

gunfighter1 said...

I guess perspective rules all... I lived near Archi Bunker-types as a kid (the late 60's, early 70's... who spent a lot of time complaining about "the coloreds" I still fail to find them endearing.

patches said...

I've eaten dinner with a few Archies over the years. Often under the threatening glances of a parent giving me the, "don't you dare open your mouth eye stare." I understand what you mean about the differences between malicious bigotry and habitual bigotry. It takes restraint to sit quietly.

LZ Blogger said...

Diane ~
This actually sounds like a FUN weekend to me! Characters like "Mr. A" are really pretty funny too me... but then so was "Archie Bunker!"
I didn't however know about the Greek "Family Wishes" and the big houses for just that purpose.
... by the way, was Yanni the Greek guy who was just eliminated from the "Bachelorette?" ~ Just wondering! ^smile^ ~ jb///

Rositta said...

One long weekend...I will go through this again for 7 weeks come September (my brother in law). I too have learned to be quiet but when I can't I make sure I use words he doesn't understand as I'm smiling...my husband does though, LOL...ciao