The Bitter Tea of Xenitia: The beginnings of a digital narrative

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By Sofia Gkiousou

I need to start the English version of this post by explaining the word xenitia. Google translates it as exile which is a good translation while at the same time inaccurate in every sense. In Greek, xenitia is the word we use to encompass places outside Greece, the act of moving abroad and our vast history of self-exile and economic migration. It is a word that brings to mind films, songs, and family histories. It feels painful. It is the Greek expat experience in one word.

My nickname is “Auntie Sofia”. People often ask me why I picked it, since I am relatively young, but I did not pick it myself. It came naturally because I’m the shoulder to cry on. My friends share their problems with me, looking for a sympathetic ear, someone to chat about their ideas for solutions.

I started my blog as Auntie Sofia in 2004, having just been two years in London. At some point I began receiving questions about moving abroad. When I got tired of answering the same thing to everyone, I started publishing blog posts about these topics on the blog.

Over the years I have been asked all sorts of stuff. From the simplest (“how to look for a house”) to the more specialized (“What vaccinations will my dog need). Some questions I can answer and some I cannot.

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Based on the discussions I have been having all these years with people who want to move abroad or have just moved, I have understood two very important things.

Firstly, moving away from Greece during these last five years is, for some, a very tough one way street. I was used to talking with students and young professionals who wanted to live somewhere else or do something different, but this changed dramatically with the Greek crisis. Now I chat mainly with parents, people who have lost their homes, people who have been forced to return to their parents’ house.

Secondly, there are always people who insist on stereotyping, regardless of how hard I keep trying to give a true picture of life abroad. They believe that in Britain we get paid exorbitant amounts, that jobs are infinite, that we live like kings. They believe that “these foreigners” are to be feared. They believe that if one migrates, one risks the deterioration of their culture and identity. They also believe that being abroad is a Greek ancient tragedy – a choice made only out of necessity since nothing compares to Greece.

When it comes to people going through great difficulties I am very saddened by what we discuss. I try to give what information I can as well as honest answers, to note the positives and the negatives.

For those who see only the stereotypes I have tried everything to no avail. One day, quite randomly, I wrote a blog post about a fictional TV series presenting all the stereotypes of life abroad. The big money, the pain of exile, the eventual domination of the Greek abroad. I wrote in a humoristic manner, in good spirits, eager to show reality through a bit of satire.

I had no idea when I clicked ‘publish’ that the idea would touch so many friends and blog readers who immediately started sending their contributions. The title “The Bitter Tea of Exile” was proposed by friends and voted on by readers. Whole characters were born out of discussions on twitter. Actors have shown interest and are already participating.

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Left to right: Kostas Velianos, Konstantinos Kavakiotis and Sofia Gkiousou.

Fast forward just a bit and I now have an entire digital narrative for a fictitious television series and its creation. We have the production website, a facebook page, the screenwriters’ blog. We even have a song!

Our first video – the official song of the TV series – was published just a few days ago.

Thus we have begun. Who knows where we will end up.

 

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