A legal alien in Cyprus

'Denkpartner' by Hans-Jörg Limbach, 1980 (sculpture of the head of a man in deep thought)

This blog isn’t a personal diary but it’s worth sharing the latest development in my betting story. My work rate began to slow down about 18 months ago as family dynamics were becoming too big a handicap. Late last summer I realized that something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my commitment to see the betting through. A change of scene was the obvious solution and lucky for me my father owns an apartment in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Cyprus. It only took a day or two to make up my mind.

I’ve been striking out on my own in a suburb of the capital, Nicosia, for a couple of months now. I’ve got another 9-10 months before I return home—to stay any longer I’d have to serve in the military because my father is a born Greek Cypriot (he moved to London as a young child). I’d been here on a few short visits to relatives before but I’m sure many tourists still have a better feel for the country than I do. Anyway, I figured one more year should be enough time to finally get the betting up and running.

Thankfully, most things have fallen into place very nicely. The only real problem was that I arrived in time for some freak winter weather in January, in the form of heavy storms, gale force winds, the thickest fog and even snow when a cold snap hit hard! I’ve been piling on the layers in this top floor apartment because my father never installed central heating and the cold weather caused a minor problem with my hands, which led to a few visits to the doctor. But a small price to pay for getting back on track with the betting, plus it’s been an invaluable experience in general. Things are looking up.

Now that I’ve settled in over here, what better time to share a few thoughts about culture, which is what I really had in mind for this post. I’ll begin with Cyprus and Greek culture. The first thing to stress then is that my views are in no way intended as gospel. When you hear people banging on about respecting differing opinions that’s often actually code for ‘I’m right, you’re wrong and don’t argue with me about it’—none of that here, you’ll just have to trust me on that. Anyway, here goes nothing.

Most Cypriots speak English fairly well (I wish I could say the same for my Greek) and just by chance I got talking with the owner of a large local business, and life-long Cypriot, not long after I arrived. On a small Mediterranean island you get asked plenty of questions but I was surprised to also receive a lengthy, continuous spiel about life in Cyprus and how I must find myself a wife and settle down here immediately! When my turn eventually came I questioned him on his love for his homeland. His reply stuck with me: ‘Ask yourself, what is life [but a quiet one with a family in a tight-knit community]?’ We amicably agreed to leave it at that.

The transition from the commercial frenzy in and around London to the slower pace of life has certainly been one of the highlights, and if I had to choose between a sleepy village and a metropolis I’d honestly go for the former almost every time. Nevertheless, I doubt I’ll ever follow through on that gentleman’s advice. There’s a good chance that I’ll bump into him again and if I do I’ll try my best to put the following to him.

My background on my father’s side has presented me with an insight (albeit limited) into the culture on many occasions in my life, and my current stay has reinforced my long-standing view from day one. To me, Greek culture is like a rock—definite, unequivocal and immovable. I’m always reminded of Robert De Niro’s character in The Deer Hunter, Mike, in the scene where, exasperated and holding a bullet, he turns to one of the gang and says, ‘Stanley, see this? This is this. This ain’t something else. This is this.’ (One of my all-time favourite films and quotes.)

You can take my comment how you like, it’s intentionally ambiguous. All I can say is that, while I feel a connection to all things Mediterranean that goes beyond blood ties, to speak figuratively again, I’d prefer a way of life that’s more like the wind. No doubt that means a good deal of unpredictability and potential danger—maybe enough to even blow you over at times—but a sweet zephyr on a still night can make all the difference. That’s my gripe with the Greeks—where’s the romance? The wonder? The doubt, even? The meaning of life is all in the mystery, but that seems lost in the blank stares I’ve drawn as a foreigner here… I may well be wrong. I could dig a lot deeper, after all.

If it helps, I’m not at all patriotic. I was born and bred in Greater London where I’ve lived all my life, in the same town too since the age of three. But my mother also immigrated to London, from Colombia this time, and I’ve had the privilege of going on a number of family trips over there from a young age and being exposed to a way of life on the other side of the world. The great thing about childhood is that culture happens in the background and doesn’t get in the way of a good time. But as you grow up, cultural ties can clash and pose tough challenges. In my case they led to a failure to connect with others in a way that had always come naturally before—a real heartbreaker for me. That was enough to drive me away from all things nationalistic for good.

Most of what I’ve said in this post is each to his own, but culture is indeed double-edged and perhaps we should all give that some thought. Culture is ‘what works’ in society—sociological factors battle it out in an organic process of trial and error to shape the norms collectively known as culture. Sometimes this produces wonderful traditions, altruistic values and such—if only we could do away with the polar opposites. Actually, I believe that many of the problems start when cultural demands become a sincere reason (rightly or wrongly) for not taking responsibility for our flaws. That is to say that culture often hinders moral progress. Those who believe that life is what we make of it may find, as I do, that this stifling aspect of culture is too big a price to pay to wave the flag wholeheartedly. Two words to the wise: ‘critical thinking’.


Photo credit: tookapic / Denkpartner by Hans-Jörg Limbach, 1980 / cropped

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1 Response to A legal alien in Cyprus

  1. Whoa. Touché!

    Very well done, my friend. I have taken up your words and thrown them into the Twittersphere.

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