Tanner prefers Greek
A little over a fortnight ago, federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner delivered an address on behalf of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the Antipodes Festival. There is nothing unusual about that.
What is unusual is that he delivered the entire message in Greek.
Also unusual is that he did not mince his words as you would expect.
There were some stumbles and a couple of mispronunciations but he quickly corrected the placement of the tonous and moved along.
The gathered crowd stood and listened and wondered why this middle-aged Australian politician knew how to speak Greek so well.
On the one hand, Lindsay Tanner’s efforts in learning Greek have been strategic. As the Member for Melbourne a large percentage of his constituents are Greek-speaking migrants.
Many times, he says, he has had to weigh up whether it is more effective to communicate in Greek or English.
“When I’ve been door knocking a lot of older Greek ladies immediately think of their Anglo son-in-laws who haven’t learned Greek and should have,” he says.
“I think they see it as a sign of respect, and it is.” On the other hand, he married a Greek-Australian woman in 1992 and became that son-in-law, so decided to give it a shot.
“It’s been a fantastic learning thing because you understand so much more about a different culture and society,” he says.
“I think the implicit understanding it gives you of other cultures and differences and the respect that it gives you for different ethnicities and so on is really, really important.
“For me it’s a matter that goes beyond just the practical advantages. There are obvious economic advantages but I think just being part of the world and being integrated into the wider world means that it’s really important for Australians know other languages and to understand other societies.”
Within that learning experience, he has also learned a lot about his native tongue.
“It made me realise what a shambolic language English is. People say to me, ‘it must be really hard learning Greek,’ and I say it’s not as hard as you think because unlike English the rules are logical and they stick to them, whereas in English the rules a illogical and they don’t stick to them.”
In 2007 much fanfare was made over Kevin Rudd’s ability to speak Mandarin. Since he has been Prime Minister Australia’s relationship with China has been a focal point.
Presumably then, if Lindsay Tanner became Prime Minister Australian-Greek relations would move beyond souvlaki, zorba and the Melbourne-Thessaloniki sister-city relationship.
“I often joke with people that the fact that he learned a language that is spoken by over a billion people and I learned one that’s spoken by roughly about 20 million people probably indicates why he’s Prime Minister and I’m Finance Minister,” Tanner laughs.
Now in 2010 much fanfare is being made about education reform, specifically the push for Modern Greek to be included in the national curriculum.
Obviously Tanner follows the party line but it’s safe to say he’s signed the petition in spirit. “I’ve avoided expressing publicly a view about that because it’s not appropriate for me to be interfering in my cabinet colleagues’ decisions but I think it shouldn’t be too hard to work out what my personal preference is,” he says.
On the issue of the Greek economy’s troubles Tanner is confident that the Papandreou government is “making the tough decisions that have got to made.”
He believes that Greece’s position may stabilised as “investors can see both that the Greek government is serious about tackling the problem and also that the major European countries are taking a degree of responsibility for making sure that one way, or another, the financial crisis is resolved.”
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