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English lawns,Greek donkeys in culture mix

In my primary school drawings, Greek donkeys had a tendency to crop English lawns. The sights, sounds and smells of Greece, my permanent abode, and English books (later, holidays in England) were responsible for this interesting cultural mismatch – or blend, depending on your point of view. Carrying things within you that do not correspond with what is outside, is, I feel, the result of living in one country (Greece) and being educated in the system of another (Britain). I may have swum easily between Greek kindergarten and British primary school (in terms of learning – I seem to remember disliking them both), and a stint in France at the age of 6 resulted in the input of yet a third culture (happy memories of trekking over to the local library and reading Enid Blyton in French), but later, your relationship between yourself and your environment become problematic. That does not mean school was not a happy time – it was – nor that my education was bad – it was excellent. My primary school largely succeeded in teaching us everything; it also «developed» us, which meant acting in plays by Shakespeare, singing in the choir, swimming lessons and access to a library, of course. I had a quintessentially British liberal education, which was to stand me in good stead, but I learnt the British had discovered and invented everything. My Greek counterparts were probably having the same thing drummed into them, so I don’t think I missed much. Education needs to be disgorged later in life, and teaching «the culture of the country» is often little more than a propaganda exercise. Secondary school was larger, more raucous, less disciplined. It was also multiethnic; I remember Lebanese kids speaking Arabic in the yard and seething with indignation at the disparaging comments made by Americans (largely Greek expatriates) about Greece. At least you didn’t hear much about any country’s superiority. Greece in the 1970s was ramshackle (those buses!) and even more chaotic than now. I loved it inordinately and knew little about it. It didn’t bother me then. We – those of us growing up in Greece and receiving a British education – grew up as foreigners, and liked it. It was a safe existence, accompanied by relative privilege. By contrast, school and university in England required both greater care and engagement. Accents and class divisions, irrelevant in Greece, were brought home for the first time. The «culture of one’s country» learnt abroad is one learnt in abstraction. But you can always adapt and learn. And what you feel you’ve missed out on in your education is something you can always come back to. In my case, there are no regrets. Nikos Kavallaris is happy using the English he learns from his mother Rosie, or the Greek he learns from his father Vangelis. His skills are developing through interaction with native speakers. At three and a half, he rarely mixes up his languages, correcting himself when he does: «Nai, Mummy – sorry – yes, Mummy.»