Caught between…two worlds

Many Greek Cypriots yearn to return to their roots but may find that their nostalgic vision doesn’t always match up to the reality. Melissa Reynolds finds out what it takes to live the dream

Australia is considered to be one of the world’s most desirable places to live, offering opportunities and lifestyle that most foreigners can only dream of.

Naturally, if you are born in Australia then the rest of the world may appear more fascinating, and for young Australian Cypriots the chance to experience an ancestral Mediterranean paradise provides an alluring and exotic alternative to life in the suburbs.

The reasons for repatriation vary, but for the majority the transition is far from easy, both from a practical perspective and in making sense of Cypriot identity. Arrivals seeking an idealised pre-1974 Cyprus are almost certain to be disappointed.

Changing demographics, rapid modernisation and newly acquired wealth have altered both the lifestyle and many of the island’s traditional values.

On the plus side, residency in Cyprus offers a choice of beach, mountain, city or village lifestyle, access to Europe and the Middle East, 300 days of sunshine a year and most importantly, a far greater sense of freedom.

On the downside, the absence of Vegemite, vast shopping malls and customer service will be the least of a re-pat’s concerns once they’ve experienced Cyprus’ antiquated bureaucracy, limited job opportunities, laughably low wages, its rapidly escalating cost of living and dual pricing system.

Many re-pats suffer a form of culture shock as Costas a researcher from Melbourne says; “Culture shock in the sense of not the actual Greek Cypriot culture but the administration of the place; the bureaucracy, the apathy….ignorance and arrogance. Anything to do with government just blows my mind.”

As for surviving Cyprus’ roads, the best advice is to forget almost everything you’ve ever learned behind the wheel of a car.

One of the most challenging issues for re-pats is the fulfilment of their military obligations. However, army camaraderie can be a good way to make friends and, aside from what even the locals describe as a colossal waste of time, Costa says the experience is not as daunting as you’d expect.

“It was hellishly boring but nowhere near as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I was actually a bit scared going in, I had this image of screaming and yelling and running and doing 400 push-ups a minute but when I got there I realised that all you do is sit around and smoke and chat all day.”

Estimating that the average ‘make or break’ period is a year to 18 months, Costa advises re-pats to forget stereotypes and arrive with realistic expectations.

“They all come here with an insanely positive attitude which is all good to begin with but they all come crashing down really fast,” he says, bemused by his contemporaries’ horror at the cost of a Cappuccino (around $7.80) and picture-postcard illusions shattered by the presence of global brands like McDonalds.

“I’ve come to realise now that for me personally my kind of Cypriot that I was expecting to find actually doesn’t exist here – he exists in Australia. I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is not what they think it is and it’s not the Cyprus that they left behind…’s moved on, it’s progressed.”

Kypros agrees and says that those blinded by nostalgia will find it difficult to adjust.

“Most of those who left in the 1950s they’re still in the 1950s in Australia, their heads are still in the 50s or 60s and they come back to Cyprus and they think that everyone’s like they were when they left them fifty years ago – but everyone’s different now, people have changed,” he warns.

“Cypriots are more into money now; it never used to be like this.” Greek Cypriots who have spent a long hiatus overseas find that it’s not only the inimitable Aussie twang that sets them apart from the locals.

Just as difficult to shake off is an Australian mentality, frequently at odds with that of the locals, and applicable to issues ranging from the environment and respect for the law, to politics and religion. What’s more, they have to contend with an overwhelming number of British Cypriots who enjoy considerably more political clout.

“When election time comes around their vote matters,” Costa claims, describing an unsuccessful attempt to consolidate a powerbase for the ‘forgotten’ minority through Facebook to enable Australian Cypriots to arrange social link-up’s and to share advice and experiences. George a chef also born in Australia believes that “People are very different than in Australia- they’re very close to each other.”

Ultimately as George points out, “When you are from Australia, or you are from Cyprus and lived in Australia and you come back, to the Cypriots you are Australian. ”

Now I feel I am a Cypriot, an Australian Cypriot. I know I can understand in Cyprus they have different things than the Australians and they act different also.”

While it may not offer the opportunities available Downunder, and despite the challenges and financial sacrifices, Australian Cypriots are discovering that the reward for perseverance and resilience is a enviable lifestyle which even their former home would find difficult to match.