Gossiping Greeks stay abreast of the times

Airing dirty linen in public is practically a national sport in Greece. Professional and amateur critics gossip with a passion. All secrets come out sooner or later. The traditional habit of gossip has now become popular in electronic form, according to a recent survey. A study on the values of Greeks aged 17-28 was directed by Efstratios Papanis, assistant professor of sociology at the University of the Aegean. Researchers asked whom Greeks gossip about, whether their comments were positive or negative, and what role new media such as the Internet play. The place of gossip in Greece is closely connected with changes that have taken place in Greek society, Papanis told Kathimerini. «Greeks have adopted more individualistic ways,» he said. «Fewer than half of them (39.4 percent) are active in associations, teams and social events, with 33.4 percent stating they don’t have time for them and 52.6 percent saying they would get no benefit from them.» At the same time, «trust and solidarity have been replaced by caution (73.2 percent). Only 26.5 percent of young people trust others.» The survey also shows Greeks only trust their own family and friends. Most say they have two to five close friends that they are involved with and comment on, while 2.9 percent say they have no friends. Fifteen percent of the sample state they feel cut off from other people and 52 percent feel indifferent to others. Against this rather grim background, gossip has a free rein. «At a time when human activity is becoming increasingly individualized, gossip creates the illusion of participation in the social round,» explained Papanis. While gossip about friends tends to take the form of social control, commenting on other groups functions like a game that maintains social cohesion. «Gossip creates symbolic bonds between us and the people who are in the news,» said Papanis, who believes that the information spread by gossiping makes us feel sure we’ve kept up with what’s going on. Gossip is the most ancient method of broadcasting news, but the old sources have dried up now that the neighborhood has lost its former importance. Of those sampled, 35.1 percent say they would not trust any neighbor, 29.7 percent are cautious of their neighbors, while 34.8 percent trust them. «For centuries the neighborhood was a transitional stage between home and the city, the family and society. It offered emotional support and security because it was static, permanent and familiar. Now, by contrast, television and the press bombard homes with information. News is personalized, you can access the Internet on a mobile phone, while the neighborhood is becoming complex and chaotic,» Papanis said. «People share cultural capital through the mass media. They meet virtually and comment on TV personalities who feel familiar to them, and get interested in their private lives, just as people used to in the neighborhood.» He believes that gossip has seen a revival through blogs and social networking sites like Facebook. «Gossip has become interactive. After all, the big thing about gossip is to spread it quickly. The recipient forwards it, and it is passed on. The source is deleted. The rumor doesn’t belong to anybody. It’s a collective product of which nobody claims ownership.» Tittle-tattle may be uplifting Some studies have linked gossip to relaxation and stress reduction in the workplace, according to Efstratios Papanis, and it helps pupils acquire social roles. A study by the Oxford Social Issues Research Center showed that gossip had physical and psychological benefits equivalent to those of antidepressants. But there is a downside. Gossip contains sizable measures of myth and conjecture, and may depress those whose self-image is dependent on the views of others. A recent study by the Max Planck Institute showed that social comments affect how we make important decisions, our attitude to those around us, and the criteria by which we judge and evaluate others. Gossip may take the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to this notion, our attitudes toward someone are influenced not by their behavior but by impressions we have formed on the basis of negative comments other people have made about them.

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