A Guide to the Cypriot Psyche
A Guide to the Cypriot Psyche
Contrary to undoubtedly well meant advice from people who have every reason to want me out of jail, I feel the need to write this, as I know that it is the Christian thing to do.
Laurence Durrell, writing in the 50’s about the idyllic Cypriot and his idyllic lifestyle described how a local joker, giant of a man, put a motorcycle on a tree as a joke on someone. Millions of readers of “Bitter Lemons” visit our island every year, certain of seeing motorcycles hanging from every other tree. To see their innocent, baffled and disappointed faces at such a distinct shortage of two-wheelers decorating our flora is enough to drive even a Cypriot to literature. As a result, I shall now attempt to introduce the uninitiated to the Cypriot psyche.
It is important to understand that even we Cypriots psychologically operate on two levels. The conscious and the unconscious. On the conscious level, we know that we are the navel of the world and that we should really be invited to take our rightful place as one of the permanent members of the United Nations, sitting at the same table with the USA, Russia, China and the smaller, less deserving nations, such as the UK and that odd country, France. The right of veto should have been ours from day one. We consider our absence from that round table to be a self evident injustice to us, as we are obviously the cleverest race that God, in His infinite wisdom, saw fit to create.
It is not our fault that we are, incidentally, also the handsomest race in the world, to the point that every woman we meet wants to jump our bones. We are constantly tortured by the sneaking suspicion that most of our woes are based on this simple accident of nature and, in moments of unmanly weakness, we almost wish that in the card game of life this hand had not been dealt to us. It would not surprise us if this is the reason that the secret service agencies of all the super and semi-super powers, driven by constant bouts of jealousy, relentlessly conspire against us. Of course their jealousy is in no way soothed by the fact that we are the tallest and fairer skinned nation on earth. Neither is such jealousy helped by indisputable statistical facts, such as the one revealed by our Minister of Communications and Works, who had to open his mouth and reveal, at least twice on national television, that we have the best road network in Europe. No wonder that spitefully jealous foreigners refer to him as Mr. Bean. “Their” ministers usually cannot even utter a single word, hanged as they are usually found, by their own silky nylons, wearing what must have been uncomfortable female string underwear.
Foreigners are at a loss why our farmers, at least once a year, will leave their brand new Mercedes’ at home and, driving their tractors, some without air-conditioning mind you, will block the highways of the realm in protest against subsidies which are slow to materialize. Or against demands by an unreasonable and unsporting government that social insurance contributions deducted from foreign workers but never paid to the government, be handed over, or risk going to jail like other less productive self employed businessmen. They cannot understand that our revolutionary spirits demand free rein and a free medium of expression. To suggest that such revolutionary fervour be directed at the hordes of mainland Turks occupying a large chunk of Cyprus real-estate would only confuse the issue and divert the essence to incidentals. Besides, we saw what happened to the last guy who tried to take down a Turkish flag.
It is a mystery to the uninitiated foreigner why the road blocking is not countered by the powers-that-be, by having the traffic police pass by every five minutes, pasting parking fines on those tractors, thereby accumulating a couple of thousand quid’s worth of parking fines within a day for each individual revolutionary. In a country where one in three members of the available work force is either a government employee, a semi-government employee or a bank employee, all of whom enjoy permanent employment status, which actually means that they cannot be dismissed from their jobs short of committing grand larceny or mass murder, it would be unsporting to hold a grudge against poor farmers so close to a presidential election. Besides, if the government will use tax payers’ money to give juicy jobs to deserving supporters who betrayed their own party during the last presidential election in order to bless us with the current president, it is only fair that at least some of those tax paying farmers get a few lettuces back in return.
We are rightfully proud of the fact that, per capita, we have the most university graduates in the world. Is it wrong to want all our children to become brain surgeons? Of course not. What if it takes years of driving back and forth to the homes of illegally operating government teachers and costs us a fortune in private lessons to get our slow babies through the exams? This is a case of the end justifying the means. Of course it would have been much better if lessons in ethics were a major part of those private sessions, supplementing whatever shortages in that department we might have at home, but then you can’t have everything. In any case, such lessons might have proved to be an obstacle, because when our babies graduate; they have to compete with everybody else’s babies as doctors, lawyers, ambassadors and other government employees. Too many small fish in a very small pond makes earning a living as a lawyer, for example, somewhat of a problem. Are our babies to be blamed if they have to accept the occasional unofficial backhander here and there in order to make ends meet?
And what about the ones who are clever, but are too lazy to study, never making it through high school or university? Naturally we do not have stupid children. We only have children who are too lazy to study. They are the ones who reluctantly become tradesmen. The problem here is that since they were born for higher things and they know it, they do not really take to their trade, so if they will do your plumbing in a haphazard and indifferent manner, it is not because they are stupid, it is only because they are doing plumbing until something better shows up. Hence the many excellent sandwich vans one finds generously sprinkling the best road network in Europe.
I do not want to bore you with further descriptions of the way we operate on the conscious level. I shall now cover the unconscious level. And this is where the Cypriot is to be really admired. Fact: We are descendants of peasants, who in turn were descendants of slaves. The few families, who are the unavoidable exception which makes the rule, are those who betrayed their countrymen and became tax collectors for the Turks over the latter humanitarians’ four hundred year rule of Cyprus.
In truth, the Turkish occupation was a relief from the Venetians’ inhuman occupation of the island, which included serfdom and religious persecution. The arrival of the Turkish tourists in Cyprus gave us Cypriots the first opportunity we were ever given to own our own land, to become self employed tradesmen and farmers and to be relieved of the time-honoured tradition of the Middle Ages, the “prima notte”, the right of the local lord and master to spend the first night with every potential bride. A tradition of the Middle Ages which the European foreigners’ cannot smile about, as their own ancestors also had to undergo as a matter of course. For sound political reasons, the Turks also saw fit to persecute Catholicism which was entrenched on the island by the Venetians and as a Turkish counter to their enemies, to encourage the growth of the Greek Orthodox faith, the Turks thereby actually becoming the patrons of Orthodoxy in Cyprus.
Despite a background such as ours, we still want our children to become Little Lord Fauntleroys, rubbing shoulders with other Fauntleroys, preferably the ones more befitting the description, but failing this, the other imitation ones will do almost as well. And there’s the rub. We might put ourselves in hock for the rest of our lives to send our children to overseas universities to acquire doctorates, but when they come back with their impressive degrees, usually in economics and business management, their social behaviour continuous to be a reflection of our own. They indelicately slobber their food, just like we do. Their normal way of speaking is in the shouting mode, as if everybody else is deaf, just as ours is. We, being the offspring of peasants and slaves are an uncouth and uncultured lot, unable to culturally elevate ourselves, never having the benefit or the luxury of reading great literature and learning from it. Before trade unions, the working hours were determined by dawn and dusk, so who had the time or the energy to read books, in the unlikely event that we knew how to read. But our children, who do not face the adverse conditions we and our parents did, should know better. They should know to combine the reading of their subject matter with great literature, calculated to interest, elevate and, why not, to amuse. We could certainly do with an improvement of our sense of humour as well.
Literature is the great equalizer of social strata. It is also something which is unconsciously imposed on us by our family and our peers. If our parents read at home and read to us when they put us to bed, we shall also acquire the habit. If a Russian brick layer has been used to seeing his parents read at home, in all likelihood he will read a book on the bus going to work. His peers will be likely to copy him. In Cyprus we know deep inside ourselves, in our subconscious level, that we are lacking in social and literary graces. We know that we are unable to endow our children with these necessities for life and, guilt ridden, we mortgage everything we own to send our children to private lessons and expensive schools, in the hope that someone else will undertake this responsibility.
That is the reason that we are so demanding of our various incompetent governments. We want them to realize what we are too ashamed to shout out aloud. That we want our children to become much, much better versions of ourselves, but we do not know how to do it. That we expect them, the politicians, to have the common decency to help us, their affluent, but deprived, graceless and uneducated compatriots. The political party which will realize this need of the average Cypriot will win elections by landslides, if only they will offer a proper, advanced educational system, geared exactly to that end.
In truth, the Cypriot is a truly admirable achiever. He started out with less than nothing and despite all the odds against him, he has managed within a very short period of time, to reach a level of affluence enviable by any standards. On his way up, he has worked twelve hour days uncomplainingly, rarely taking care of himself, but selflessly destroying his lungs in the mines which were the only source of a decent income at the time. He has toiled on arid or mountainous land, stubbornly forcing it to produce the everyday necessities for his family. He went without in order to save enough, first for the punishing high school fees of the time and then when times demanded more, he sacrificed more by saving enough for university fees.
Yes, we are descendents of peasants and slaves, we are an uncouth and uncultured lot, we lack social graces and we have our other various faults. To be fair, though, we live in country where foreigners can walk in our streets at any time of the day or night and feel safer than in their own street back home. It is still not unusual for us to stop and help a complete stranger, or to open our home in selfless generosity to a miscellany of newly met visitors. And to top it off, we still have a few people who will seal a contract with a handshake and work dammed hard to ensure that they keep to that contract. It may not be such a bad place after all.
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