Great Scot!

An interview in Neos Kosmos made Scottish Australian journalist Marjory McGinn - and her love affair with Greece - a media and sociological event in the Hellenic Republic

* Former Sydney Sun-Herald journalist Marjory McGinn spoke to Neos Kosmos last week about her book Things Can Only Get Feta – featuring her experiences of living in a remote hillside village in the Southern Peloponnese during the crisis. What resulted was sudden fame in Greece, with media reports and people singing her praises. Here’s the excerpt from her blog detailing her thanks to Neos Kosmos, specifically editor-in-chief Sotiris Hatzimanolis, who exposed her love affair for all things Greek:
Last week started off quietly enough, writing a few stories to promote my book here and there; some social networking. But by Monday night all that had been swept away. I found myself in the centre of a mini media frenzy in Greece. As a journalist, I am used to being on the other side of the notebook, so this was something new.
It followed a recent interview I’d done with the editor of Australia’s esteemed Greek newspaper Neos Kosmos, about why I and my partner Jim, and our dog Wallace, went to live in the wild Mani region of Greece for three years during the economic crisis, which became the subject of my book, Things Can Only Get Feta.
I was sent a link on Monday to the published story in the Greek edition of the newspaper. But it wasn’t quite the story I’d expected. The Mani adventure was certainly there, but this had a different spin. Here was a story that exposed me irrevocably as a woman who has had a long love affair – with Greece. Outed!
I blushed as I read about “the unbelievable story” of my “erotic relationship” with the country, and that I had been “besotted with the place” from the first moment I had set foot on Greek soil as a youth.
All true, and the feature was written affectionately and without irony by Greek Aussie editor Sotiris Hatzimanolis. I have indeed been in love with Greece all my life, from a fateful childhood friendship with a Greek girl called Anna in Australia, as a shy Scottish migrant, to my regular jaunts there ever since.
I didn’t think for a minute that Greeks would be moved by the passion of one foreigner for Greece. Boy, was I wrong, as the response to the story proved. Sotiris had known something about the Greek psyche at this moment in time that I didn’t.
The Neos Kosmos piece was picked up quickly by an Athens press agency and sent out everywhere in Greece. By Monday evening it was on most internet news sites and blogs – splashed with a similar headline “A Scottish journalist’s love affair with Greece”. One headline simply yelled, “Marjory McGinn in love with Greece”, like something you might have seen scrawled on the bike sheds in primary school.
The stories were sometimes revamped and occasionally in English, with a quaint Google-style translation. In one instance I was described as having “the most erotic relationship with Greece”, as if I’d just written a novel called Fifty Shades of Greece. I wish!
Greece and I do have a history, yet I have skirted around the issue of my affection for Greece most of my life because I’ve found that other people feel uncomfortable when you confess your love for a country, especially one that’s not yours.
By Tuesday, several Greek newspapers had contacted me for interviews and ran features in the following days, and one Athens TV station was keen for a live interview, but there were technical difficulties, and it’s still pending.
But this surprise publicity for the book isn’t the main point I want to make here.
The story Sotiris wrote had struck a chord with Greeks still suffering through the crisis, jaded and tired with their troubles. And the response to it was enormous. Our website, named in the stories, suddenly had 150,000 hits in three days – which crashed the site at one point. And there was a flood of emails, mostly from Greeks, with messages of thanks to an unknown foreigner for saying something nice about Greece for a change.
It made me realise how, over the past four years, there has been so little written about Greece that hasn’t been pessimistic, blaming, insulting at times.
Greeks have suffered critically during the crisis, as has been well documented already, but what I don’t think has been conveyed so accurately in the international media is how the crisis, and the effect of the austerity measures, has crippled their self-confidence as well as their standard of living. Many Greeks told us, when we were living in the Mani, they were ashamed of how low their country had sunk, even though it wasn’t all their fault.
So I want to share a few of those thoughts and wishes (both serious and light-hearted) from my recent correspondents (full names withheld). All the emails were sent in English.
“Thank you for being gracious toward Greece in these difficult times. We Greeks have been subjected to pure and evil racism because of the crisis, with an intensity that we never expected. In (some European countries), patients in hospital have said they don’t want to be examined by Greek doctors just because they are Greek. Greeks have been bullied because of the usual stereotypes. Greece is not perfect and there are many things to be corrected, but it is very unfair for Greece to be demonised the world over.” – Stergios
“Your story has made me really happy. It is an inspiration to Greek readers who really need something like this right now.” – Kelly
“I felt proud and grateful when I read about you and your love for Hellas (Greece). I would like to thank you for coming to my country and wishing that Greeks would love this country as much as you have.” – Giorgos
“Any anthropos (person) who falls in love with this place isn’t (doing it) by accident. For your information, Hellas (Greece) loves you back. We are living the economic nightmare here that those who would call themselves “human” have played out on us. I know we will win as long as we are together and help each other.” – Stephanos (Greek American living in Greece)
“I am so proud that you would visit my country, my people, my beloved places. Thank you so much for what you have done for us. I want you to come here again to love us more, to feel the Greek hospitality.” – Olga
From a woman who thought we were still in the Mani: “We will be beside you and protect you as guests. Greek hospitality is great to those who respect us. Our country is your country.”
And lastly, a comment sent to my Facebook page from Kyriacos: “Way to go, Marj! You are a pure Hellenic lady. Be well.”
So, what’s not to love about Greece and its warm-hearted people? Here’s my similar wish for the country. Be well! Or, as they say in Greek, na eiste kala.