On Being Greek: How The Backstreet Boys Taught Me Globalization
When I went to Greece as a 14-year-old, I was not impressed. From the very first moment I stepped off the plane, I knew my three weeks here were not going to be as exotic and awesome as my friends were anticipating—I walked into the bathroom to relieve myself after the long plane ride and as I left, a man washing his hands pointed to the sign that apparently said this was the Men’s room. Whoops.
I had dropped out of my Greek language classes years and years before, because I refused to learn the language that my parents felt was so necessary to “know my culture.” The joke was now on me, bleary-eyed from sleeping on the plane, muffle-eared from a sinus infection, and clueless, because let’s be real: I was 14. In retrospect, everyone thinks they were clueless at 14. Literally, too, the movie Clueless had come out when I was in sixth grade, and it was already a cult classic among my friends and me. Just being associated with the word Clueless was (and still is) a weird sort of compliment.
But also because I was fourteen, I had lots going on: eight grade had been a stellar year. At the end of eighth grade, we had a graduation dance that was pretty much the most fun I had ever had. ‘NSync was big. The ‘We Like to Party’ song was huge (this was way before the creepy Great America Man). After the dance there was an after party… with girls and boys. And we actually talked to each other. So what if my date ended up convincing my bestie to kiss him on the cheek during a group photo (which I only found out when I developed my disposable camera). But I wasn’t mad—I felt like I was on my way to fulfilling my dreams of having a mixed group of friends, just like Kelly Kapowski (she was my first hero, girl-crush and identity I wanted to steal).
But then my parents wanted us to all go to Greece to visit my grandparents. My grandparents’ house was one of the nicest in the village—yet, they did not have a fully functional shower. It was a drain in the tile of the small bathroom, with no shower curtain or separate shower walls necessary. When you were done with your shower, you would just squeegee the water into the drain. After my first time taking a shower there, I put on one of my favorite outfits—L.E.I. jean shorts with a drawstring and a black GAP logo fitted tee shirt. I had recently learned how to use a diffuser, so I flipped my long dark brown hair over and worked in the gel, and scrunched it with the long fingers of the diffuser.
As I flipped my head back, the door of my bedroom (really a living room that I was sharing with my mother and father) opened and a group of strange teenagers walked in.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair fluffed up horizontally to my scalp. It was not curly as I’d hoped—it was just… large. Practice makes perfect. It seemed frizzy was a popular look in the homeland anyway.
“Do you want to go for walk?” my dad’s cousin’s daughter asked, in really pretty good English. And then she introduced the other 3 people with her—Yanni, Niko, and Haroula.
We clunked down the big hill to the old school were my dad had gone as a child—it was the first time I’d ever thought about his schooling as a child. There was a water pump and trough. We sat on the steps. I didn’t know what to say to these people.
The cuter of the two boys said something to the others and they laughed. I smiled politely and looked at my cousin. “Say it in English,” she prompted him.
The boy looked at me. My heart sunk down. “Why do all American girls paint the toenails?” He asked. “Every American girl has a different color. What do you hide?”
I found that most Greeks had strong opinions on Americans, more particularly American girls. I missed my friends.
The days passed slowly in Greece—my grandparents almost couldn’t bear us to be gone for more than a few hours, there was only one movie on one of three TV stations (Ghostbusters II), and I had plowed throughEmma (I told you, Clueless was an instant classic, so I was curious to explore the original) and the same issue of Seventeen magazine that I had bought in Chicago.
A week into our trip, my cousin invited me out for another walk. There was a girl wearing suspenders, jean shorts, and a tee-shirt accompanying her. She had close-cropped curly brown hair, and looked like a typical bumpkin girl from the village. I missed my friends again. We started walking and in broken English she asked me, “Where is you from?”
“The United States. Chicago,” I replied.
“Oh!” Her eyes lit up. And then, in textbook perfect English she sang, “Tell me why–Ain’t nothing but a heartache. Tell me why–Ain’t nothing but a mistake. I never want to hear you say, that I want it that way.”
That’s right—the iconic Backstreet Boys song ‘I Want it That Way’. When she heard ‘America’ she instantly thought of one of the two BIGGEST boy bands in the world. And that is when I realized that my borderline obsessive preoccupation with music, movies, and boy celebrities could actually work to my advantage in Greece. Here, I was synonymous with Nick Carter.
I learned an important lesson about globalization. Just because I missed my friends and healthy doses of pop culture thousands and thousands of miles away, that didn’t mean I couldn’t connect with the youth of a tiny village in Greece. We could still have tons in common. The song was a small familiarity that made me feel better about being so far away—and not to mention, it cemented my love for BSB.
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