Once a year, the four of us embark to the island of Kos to visit the in-laws. On stepping off the plane, it begins. My Britishness versus the Greek’s Greekness. I start to melt, regardless of the time of day. Pieces of me slide to the blistering runway and I realise all too late my pre-planned arrival outfit is actually a wet suit. My kid’s immediately start to whine about their own discomfort. Favourite blankets are handed to me, slippery toys and half-eaten sandwiches. They demand to be fanned, carried, my daughter screams “guys who turned on the heating!” I placate them, fan them, wipe their brows, apologise to strangers, explain their tiredness, and smile demurely as the stranger sympathises. “Yes, yes it IS a long flight”. I pray they do not start trying to chat to either one of my kids. Small talk to small children, whilst melting, do not go well together. As we approach a slippery silence I look about to find my Greek. There he is up ahead, can you see him? An invisible coat hanger stuffed in his mouth, unaffected by the heating, and looking generally fabulous. He waves to old classmates, runs his hand through his hair, and looks up the sky, eyes closed, coat hanger intact. The three of us slither over to him, and he is our Greek Scot once more. He locates the heating dial behind my daughter’s ear and turns her down. He throws a bottle of water over our sons head, and he fans me with his passport whilst asking if I remembered my antihistamines.
The next day we trot to the beach. I set up camp, still melting and now dripping with factor 50. By now, the kids have acclimatised to the heat and have pulled on the bronzed protective skin that their genes have predetermined. My Greek is away being Greek. Truly at home, I know the wee chat he is having could last for several hours. My kids shout me from the shore and it is time. Surrounded by native mermaids I begin my shassy to the water’s edge. Barefooted I realise too late the temperature of the sand against my usually frostbitten feet, and I have no option, run, run, run, no not like that! Why am I prancing on tiptoes, why is an invisible crab pincering my ass? Is that my boob I can feel outside of my wet suit? I launch myself into the sea, aiming at my children and maiming several sea creatures.
The other main barrier on this journey is the language. My Greek is much better than it was to begin with, sure, but I am still at the stage of general enquiries, menu reading, and weather observations. This frustration is most apparent when we spend time with yaya (grannie). She bristles with unasked questions, attempts to read our minds, and stares at her grandchildren. I imagine a shutter behind her eye taking snapshots of them to rewind and play in her internal cinema for the rest of the year. The mother in me aches for her. She has brought our Greek into our world (literally); she is the beginning of his story. We stare at each other intently as she says, “very hot today”. Papous (Papa) is unaware of this language divide. He generally communicates through the food that he makes for us. The cook in me is fluent in this language. I can taste his love in the calamari he has cooked us, I can feel his devotion in the pastichio he rustles up for the kids, and I can see him in the corner of my eye peeking out of the kitchen to witness our yummy noises.
The Greek and I are competent in Spanish. On trips there, we both feel a sense of being at home. We enquire about the origin of the wine, we ask for a high chair, we receive complimentary tapas that we sit atop our beers and wiggle our bums with contentment. My children both attend Gaelic medium education. They too have developed a visible sense of belonging to this community through the language they are learning. They attribute these languages to different people. English for mama, Greek for dada, and Gaelic for each other.
Language gives us a sense of identity and comfort through familiarity. Just as the Greek is at home shouting and bawling about feta and Papandreou, I feel like Dorothy Gale whenever I hear someone say, “am bast**ding frozen tae the marrow bone”. Language is never static and is always evolving. We all too have our own family discourse that only relations are fluent in. When my mother refers to “tumshie”, we all know she means her mother, and not a turnip. My father is a key orchestrator in our linguistic quirks. For example: Many years ago, my parents stayed in a hotel called the Don Jami. In short, it made Fawlty Towers seem like the Hilton. For my entire life, Don Jami has meant a cheap imitation or something that does not come up to standard. For example; my son loves “Salt’N’Shake” crisps. If I attempt to feed him Aldi’s “Salt Your Own”, he shrieks “mama these crisps are pure don jamis!”
Language is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It has been described as the core of humanity. Our written and spoken language allows us to form lasting bonds with one another, allows us to convey feelings, desires, emotions. It allows us to participate in a culture, a society, an economy. Written down it can create beautiful stories, emotive poetry, and records of our time.
Fluent in Glaswegian, English, Family, semi Spanish, pigeon Gaelic, it seems I now need to turn my attention to Greek. To aim for the day, when I can say to the airport worker, “Here carry this lot of shite, I’m positively melting”. To ask the taxi driver to wait until I have the kids seat belts in place before zooming into the night. To tell all the mermaids to look the other way as I prepare for my catwalk to the ocean. To tell Papous “that calamari was frigging amazing”. However, most importantly to say to yaya;
“She is as determined as your son. He is an excellent candidate for a sleep deprivation study”.
“Thank you for our Greek.”
“We will see you soon.”
“We love you.”
Happy Sunday xx