Mr. Portokalos: “The root of the word Miller come from the Greek word, millah, meaning apple, so there you go. And our name, Portokalos, is come from the word meaning orange. So today here, we have apples and oranges. We all different, but in the end we’re all fruit.”
While helping a couple of friends put together an interpretive speech of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for an upcoming speech tournament, I found myself watching the movie over and over again. And Like most people, no matter how many times I watch the film, I laugh! Not because of the humorous lines or situations, but because I can totally identify with it and because I know that everything in the movie is legitimate.
How do I know?
Because I married a Colombian.
The Colombians and the Greeks have a lot in common. It’s true, I have never seen Colombians roast lamb on a spit in the front yard (as happens in the movie) but they have definitely done it in the back yard. And I have seen them do many other things that, to me, seem very strange (although I’m sure I’ve done a lot of things that seem strange to them too!) So today I thought I would have a little fun highlighting some of the similarities I’ve noticed in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (hereafter called MBFGW) with my experience with my Colombian in-laws.First, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite subject, food.
SIMILARITY #1 – FOOD
Mrs. Portokalos: Ian, are you hungry?
Ian: No, I already ate.
Mrs. Portokalos: Okay, I make you something.
Like people in every culture, Colombians like to eat. And Colombians are extremely hospitable. You cannot enter a Colombian home without instantly being asked if you would like something to eat and drink. But rarely will they accept “no” for an answer. “Marty, you want fruit? You want cake? You want meat? You want ox tails? Marty, (heavy sigh) eat something!” Eating is an integral part of the Colombian inner workings. But what they eat is a little different than what most of us are used to. Most people initially think that Colombian food is similar to Mexican food. They are very wrong. Colombian food has its own very distinct flavor and most of it is yellow. Yes, yellow. The rice, the potatoes, sometimes even the chicken and beef all have a bright yellow hue. My mother-in-law once showed me the can that the yellow stuff came from but I still haven’t figured out what it is. Meals are frequently served with plaintains (a type of banana) that have been fried or baked, and sometimes topped with what I have been told is guava paste. They also love to serve almohabanas, which are kind of like a cornmeal patty stuffed with cheese (they’re actually pretty good!) And then there is my favorite (Not!) Changua! Changua is a breakfast soup made with milk and onions that has poached eggs and bread floating in it. When my mother-in-law sends home food for my husband (which is every time she sees him) it is almost always changua.
But lets get back to that lamb on a spit. When I first started dating my husband I was invited to one of his family’s many parties. This occasion was to be very special because they were serving lamb. Very fresh lamb. In fact, as fresh as it gets! Yes, a few minutes prior to the serving of the meal, I learned that my future in-laws had purchased a live lamb and slit its throat in their kitchen. I suppose a sheep has to be slaughtered somehow and somewhere prior to its cooking, but knowing its means and location of demise, I couldn’t eat it.
SIMILARITY #2 – PHYSICAL AFFECTION
Toula: “…everyone, this is Ian.”
Entire family: “Ian!” (family pushes Toula out of the way as they mob Ian, bombarding him with kisses.)
When I was growing up my father showed his affection for my sister and me by bringing us fresh squeezed orange juice every morning and making sure there was air in the tires of our cars. My parents would give us brief hugs and call us “sweetheart” and “honey,” but the only time I ever remember kissing my dad was when he gave me away at my wedding. In the Colombian culture, affection is shown by kissing every person you see on the cheek virtually every time they enter or exit a room. Every young person (even if there is no relation) is called “Mijo” or “Mija” (my son, my daughter) and every adult (even if there is no relation) is “Tio” or “tia” (uncle and aunt.) When leaving a family gathering, which usually consists of a minimum of thirty people, it is required that you go to every person present to kiss them goodbye and say some parting words of endearment. Exiting a Colombian party has been known to take longer than the Peloponnesian War.
SIMILARITY #3 – NAMES
Mr. Portokalos: “Over here, is my brother, Ted, and his wife Melissa, and their children Anita, Diane, and Nick. Over here, my brother Tommy, his wife Angie, and their children Anita, Diane, and Nick. My brother George, his wife Frieda, and their children, Anita, Diane, and Nick.”
In MBFGW, it is apparent that the Greeks are fond of the names “Anita, Diane, and Nick.” Colombians also have favorite names. How many times have you been to a party where three out of five of the men present are named “Herman?” (Actually, in Spanish it is “Hernan.”) And in Colombia, virtually all the baby girls are named “Maria” after the Virgin Mary. Sometimes, as in my husband’s family, they will even give the name “Maria” to two daughters in the same family. This really makes it quite easy if you go to a party and can’t remember a lady’s name. Just call her Maria and chances are you’ve got it right.
And speaking of names, my husband’s family has had a terrible time learning how to say my name. Just like in MBFGW when the groom’s mother’s name is changed from “Harriet” to “Harry” on the wedding invitation, my name, “Marty”, has morphed into, “Mory.” Had I written out similarity #1 the way my husband’s family says it, it would have been, ““Mory, you want fruit? You want cake? You want meat? You want ox tails? Mory, eat something!” My husband gets a real kick out of this and has taken to calling me “Mory” in moments when he is taking a stab at wit.
SIMILARITY #4 – HOME DECORATING
Toula: “Our house was modeled after the Parthenon, complete with Corinthian columns and guarded by statues of the Gods.”
Colombians seem to be drawn to the elaborate. Like the Greeks, Colombians have their own very ornate version of French Provincial when decorating their homes. And just as Greek statues abounded in MBFGW, statues and figurines predominate in Colombian households. One member of my husband’s family had a replica of Michaelangelo’s David in her back yard in all his original lack of attire (although when my cousin-in-law became a Christian a very handy shell was added to cover David’s unmentionable.) And let’s not forget the plastic covers that adorn the sofas. Furniture lasts forever in a Colombian household because essentially it is never taken out of its wrappers. Just don’t sit on it on a hot day while wearing a pair of shorts.
But while there are many similarities between the Greeks and the Colombians, I think the Colombians have a few areas in which they surpass the Greeks. The first is speeches. Colombians love to deliver speeches. They give speeches at every birthday, anniversary, wedding, funeral, baby and bridal shower, holiday, and at events like “take an obscure Colombian to your third cousin twice removed daughter’s quinceniera day.” On these momentous occasions every single person in the room stands up in turn and tells the person who is at the center of the celebration…something. I’m not sure what because it’s always in Spanish so I never have quite figured out what they are saying. But it must be something other than “I love your poncho” because everyone cries. (Although I think they would cry over someone loving a poncho.) I must confess that after twenty-four years of marriage I have yet to make a speech and finally, FINALLY, another gringo has married into the family and I’ve noticed that he doesn’t make speeches either. (Although, I think he is weakening. He gave a speech at his son’s first birthday party a couple of months ago. Be strong Eric! Be strong!)
Another item in which the Colombians outdo the Greeks, is in what I call automotive togetherness. Colombians believe that no matter how many people are in their party they must all travel to wherever they are going in the same vehicle. Fourteen people in a Nissan Sentra is not the most comfortable mode of transportation. I have tried to use the argument that it is unsafe to cram so many bodies into one car because there are not enough seatbelts for everyone, but I am always out voted because they say they can double belt (or in most cases quadruple belt.) Just a note, they never end up quadruple belting, it’s just a ruse to get me into the car.
To be totally fair, I think it is important for me to say that the family has changed considerably since my marriage. The younger generations are abandoning many Colombian traditions and are becoming much more “Americanized” (whatever that is.) The statues and plastic covers on the furniture have slowly disappeared and they are even serving macaroni salad at family events. But, while they are making many outward changes, inwardly they are just the same; very warm, loving people who have accepted me even when I haven’t been the warmest and most open person in the world. And the bottom line in all this is that while outwardly our cultures might be very different, “in the end, we’re all fruit.”
Note: Before publishing this I obtained my husband’s permission to do so. I have also shared my initial impressions of my Colombian in-laws with several of my Colombian in-laws and we have had a good laugh over many of the above mentioned items. So don’t worry, I haven’t been disowned. Yet.