Mixed marriages are no longer a rarity

“Do you Haralambos take Svetlana to be your lawfully wedded wife?» Nowadays weddings of a Haralambos to a Tamara, Fatima or Susanna are becoming all the more common, as Greek men and women join foreign partners in holy matrimony, turning the tables on traditionalists who advocate «homegrown» bonds of marriage. The influx of thousands of immigrants to Greece on the one hand and globalization, which has turned all established ideas of identity topsy-turvy on the other, have meant that in this day and age mixed marriages are no longer an oddity – either in the capital, or the provinces. Kathimerini recently conducted some research at Athens Municipality’s registry office. What transpired, in short, was that 10 percent of the wedding ceremonies that take place each year in the capital are between mixed couples. Yiannis and Tamilla When Yiannis first met Tamilla through common friends in an Athens club, he never imagined that just a few years later they would be joined in wedlock. He is Greek and she Russian, and at first their close friends and relatives thought they had nothing in common. But love, they proved, cares little for nationality. «It was love at first sight,» says the 30-year-old Yiannis, who currently works as a computer engineer with a big firm. «We got married five years later.» He says they have never had any serious problems, though the fact that Tamilla has been waiting 20 months to get a residence permit has made life difficult for them. «She can’t find work because she doesn’t have a residence permit,» explains Yiannis. «She has studied economics; she’s very active, but the red tape has forced her to stay at home all this time. That in itself is a problem.» Other than that, the only thing clouding their relationship, though slightly, is that Tamilla has trouble communicating with her mother-in-law. «They get along really well; they want to talk more, but they can’t,» says Yiannis. «I also have the same problem with her mother, whom we visit frequently in Russia.» Nana and Stelios Thirty-four-year-old Nana Salaberige from Georgia has lived in Greece for the past nine years. She is married to 49-year-old green grocer Stelios Kalafatelis and they have a seven-year-old son, Alexandros. «I was lucky that my husband’s family and friends never gave me any problems,» she says. «They took me in, embraced me, from the very start. Nevertheless, I faced all the difficulties faced by migrants in Greece. The bureaucracy involved in getting a residence permit was a nightmare.» During the early years of their marriage, Nana began to discern some of the inherent contradictions in life in Greece. «At first it all looked rosy. But, the Greece I came to know is much different than the one we were taught about in school. I always thought that here I would find a better quality of life, higher levels of education and culture. The biggest concern for Greeks today seems to be what they’re going to eat and at which taverna. That is a little disappointing. Also, where I grew up, in Tbilisi, we were a close-knit community. My home was always full of friends and relatives.» Her son has been taught to speak Georgian too. «In my country,» she says, «we have a saying that the more languages you know, the greater a person you are. I brought my mother over from Georgia a while ago and now they spend a lot of time together. We are trying to teach him Russian as well; it will be an asset for him later on in life.» As far as friendships are concerned, Nana says «other than the friends I have in common with my husband, I have just one close friend from Georgia; we used to be at school together.» The biggest problem plaguing Nana right now is the issue of her citizenship. «I think it an insult that the State demands 1,500 euros to make me a Greek citizen. I live in Greece, I’m married to a Greek and I’m raising one more Greek. I work, I pay taxes, I have the same obligations as everyone else. I think that if the procedures with certificates and paperwork were easier, people would not be compelled to pay for forged documents. The system stinks from the very top.» Maria and Tomasso Maria and Tomasso did not meet in Greece, nor in Italy – the countries they respectively hail from – but in Afghanistan where they were both working with humanitarian missions. «It was quite strange,» says Maria. «In a place like that it is very difficult to strike up a relationship, especially as it’s very hard to get about. But we managed.» Today they are married and they live in Athens, until, at least, they get called to serve another humanitarian mission in some other corner of the globe. «We both really love what we do. We share the same dream and the best thing about it is that neither of us has to sacrifice our work to be together. We decided to move to Athens temporarily because it is less gray than Milan, where Tomasso comes from,» explains Maria. «But we will travel as soon as we have the chance.» Maria explains that even the language barrier they had some difficulty with early on in their relationship is becoming a thing of the past, as Tomasso is learning Greek at a language center. «Other than that, we have never had any problems. Our cultures are not that different anyway,» says Maria. «At the end of the day, nationality is not important; the dreams two people share are.»