Polish diaspora in Athens and choosing baby names
Athens is becoming a big multi cultural community. An expanding immigrant population is filling the neighbourhoods, such as Kypseli (where we live for two months) which sadly makes Greeks move away.
This is what it might feel like to be a Turkish immigrant in my home town Cologne in Germany, also known as ‘Little Istanbul‘. Foreigners don’t need to learn the language of the country they live in, shopping in their stores, living the lives of their country of origin. Still, somehow I don’t see Athens dominated by one ethnic group, instead there seems to be a mixture of immigrants of diverse origin.
The good thing is that the Polish diaspora is actually well integrated due to a high working morale, similar cultural and compatible religious traditions and therefore well liked by the Greek community.
In between African, Russian, Middle East and of course Greek grocery stores, you will find Polish food delis.
Delikatesy and Produkty Polskie do not solely serve Polish inhabitants but are popular with their Greek neighbours.
The affiliation is mutual. A traditional meal in Poland is Ryba po Grecku – Fish Greek style. This is my version with tomatoes, garlic and dates.
As we were talking to Tomek’s Greek-born Polish auntie Magda (on the left) and her friend Chrissa (on the right), both women sharing a similar background, we were thrown into the most exiting and lively history lesson.
A large number of Greek citizens who fled as refugees from the Greek civil war were admitted into Poland from 1949 to 1951. This is when auntie Magda left for Poland with her parents and siblings.
Chrissa was dramatically separated from her parents and brothers in Greece, a communist affine family at the time, believing the stories of communist prosperity. Chrissa claims to have wanted to leave her impoverished Greek village for ‘streets made of sweets not stones‘ as a seven year old, enrolling herself as a refugee, only to realise the consequences of her ‘big mouth‘ when she was ruthlessly taken from her mother. Despite her desperate screams and her family’s protest she was not left with her family in Greece.
In Poland, the Greek refugees were celebrated as anti-capitalist heroes and given significant government assistance in building new lives and integrating. Initially, they found employment on farms, for which they were well suited because of their rural background. However, many later gravitated towards urban areas.
Chrissa was living in an orphanage with all its sadness but enjoyed thorough education so that she graduated as a history teacher and taught in secondary schools in the city of Police, Poland.
Auntie Magda was enrolled in the same college getting a pedagogics degree, met Chrissa at campus and helped her out a lot (letting her into the girls’ dormitory at college as Chrissa was yet waiting to be assigned a place). Interestingly auntie Magda, who had a family and home in Police had spent some time in an orphanage as well, as her parents couldn’t support all their children.
Chrissa was not able to reunite with her family for thirty years and was not able to build a strong bond to her parents. Christmas is a tough time of the year she said. She also told us how she saw her brothers again in 1975 to whom she has a very close relationship and years later her parents. Her family lives in Athens now.
Both women decided to leave Poland to go back to Greece in the 8os, auntie Magda following the opportunity to work as an educator in an Athenian nursery school and Chrissa deciding to reunite with her family in Athens.
Auntie Magda made herself a home in Athens despite her family’s decision to stay in Poland. Magda’s Polish is now worse than her Greek and she jokes about how she is more of a Greek than her Greek friends. My favourite auntie Magda quote when crossing the street is: “It’s red. Let’s go.” She is a real Greek.
Auntie Magda seasonally helped out at the Pavlides chocolate factory near the centre of Athens where the first chocolates were produced in 1840. It now belongs to Kraft Foods. After a great lunch we had Pavlides Gioconda chocolate pralines which are my favourite of the limited chocolate variety in stores. Greeks prefer to visit their exquisite pastry shops for cake and desert.
Tomek’s mum shares the fate of being an orphan with Magda and Chrissa. She also grew up in the city of Police in a children’s home with her sister, after their parents died at a young age. She met auntie Magda at school in Police and the two became good friends. Their friendship still lasts, each visiting the other alternately in Greece or Poland.
Tomek’s mum (the bobbed blond) and Magda (long haired brunette with fringe). 1968.
It was fun to look at auntie Magda’s old photo albums together.
We even found a picture of Tomek as a baby with his mum (in colour).
Tomek’s mum loved to do those puffy 60s hairstyles. Auntie Magda was joking about how she had two heads after Tomek’s mum was done. Both are having fun in rural Police in Poland in those pictures.
Tomek’s mum at a Greek party with two lads (none of them was going to be Tomek’s dad).
Best friends in Greece. Best 80s looks.
Some pictures showed the tremendous architectural changes in Athens since the 60s. Whole neighbourhoods, like Kypseli where we live, lost their neoclassic houses which were bulldozed to make room for six storey concrete buildings in the 70s. It was interesting to see how Omonia Square has been transformed. It is now ugly, reeks of urine and mainly has been taken over by homeless alcoholics.
Omonia Square in the 70s.
Madga and Tomek’s mum in 1978. The year Tomek was born.
HOW TO CHOOSE A NAME FOR YOUR CHILD
While poking around old pictures auntie Magda told us the secret of how Tomek got his name.
At the time of Tomek’s birth, auntie Magda was in love with Toumazos. Tomek’s parents had a four year old son and now wished for a baby girl (to be named ‘Magda’ after mum’s best friend).
With not much time to think about boy’s names in hospital, Tomek’s mum chose the name of her best friend’s love for her newborn boy, Toumazos. The Polish version is Tomasz and the common short form Tomek. I love this story.
This is Toumazos and Magda in the 70s.
I asked my parents how they came up with Dasza and their response was that they liked the character princess Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya in Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina and after consulting a name book Darya turned into Dasza. As complicated as it began I remember everyone struggling to get the spelling and pronunciation right during school, uni and employment years.
Peers managed to twist it into something embarrassing and during my exchange year in the States, pupils thought I was named after Santa’s reindeer ‘Dasher‘. To make life easier I wrote my name into pronounceable ‘Dasha‘ in England and the States or Germanised it into ‘Dascha‘. Times changed and now I am actually having reactive fun misspelling my name in the worst possible case scenarios of name distortion with friends.
Children are increasingly burdened with bizarre names. With TV and multicultural influences name giving has been more colourful than ever.
Let’s just say that naming a child is a tough task which can bring about offspring being called Apple (Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter), Jermajesty (Jermaine Jackson’s son), Moon Unit (Frank Zappa’s daughter) , Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches and Honeyblossom (Bob Geldof’s daughters).
If you liked this post, you can click ‘Like’ or alternatively name your child after the facebook feature ‘like’ an Israeli couple did for their baby girl.
Do you have an offbeat, celebrity-inspired or ‘trendy’ name to share?