Cypriot Tales – Proksenia (Marriage Introduction)
Now here’s a word that would leave all second-generation Cypriots trembling in their boots, yes my darlings, it’s Proksenia time., because you are too happy being single, if you get married, you may be miserable, but at least you are married. You didn’t think that you were going to be able to enjoy your life indefinitely, did you? No!
Now you may find this really amusing, but this practice was ubiquitous amongst Cypriots until well in to the 1980s and beyond, but how did it work?
On the face of it, the idea was that we were introduced to each other in the presence of our families, an introduction with the blessing of all, but without the risk of the young lady’s panties going astray in the process because Yiayia Eleni would be keeping her beady eye on you.
Many of us were lured in to this trap, with all manner of promises, from the standard narrative which normally went like this:
“You’re just going to meet the girl, nobody says you must marry her, but you can’t run around with all these girls forever, they can’t cook and they won’t wash your clothes!”
Oh right! I get it, you want me to marry someone I don’t know or don’t fancy, just because she knows how to boil and Egg and turn the washing machine on? I’m happy as I am.
“No, this is no good, people are now talking, Ekama se O gios tis Kyriakous, pou en me ta DRAAAGS?” (Are you going to turn out like Kyriacou’s son who is on Drugs?) We find you a nice girl, you will have a family and we will be very proud of you. You will have a lovely future, that’s why we came to this country with Three pounds, to make all this for you”
(I immediately remembered the leathering I got for nicking a tenner from the till in the Fish and Chip shop, when I thought we were flush, turns out it wasn’t actually for me) Not to mention the fact that I know the real reason that they came to the UK, it was certainly not for me, I wasn’t even an itch in my dad’s pants at that time.
“I thought you came here because you didn’t have a pot to piss in?”
“Listen, you are going to get married, meet this girl, she comes from a lovely family and her father, he has three flats for three daughters, one will be yours.”
“Three of them eh? Now there’s a thought, but then, maybe not!
Anyway, with a combination of threats and promises, I agreed to go as many of you have done, and have probably lived to regret it.
On the face of it, what is wrong with being introduced to someone within the same culture, age-range and more importantly, someone who has been brought up to be just as miserable as any other English-Cypriot? After all, in the UK, we have dating sites, (oh yeah, I used to like those) but there is one major difference.
This is not an introduction; it is taking the Lamb to the slaughter! Really!
Once you are there, (on your best behaviour because you have been threatened, or bribed) the first thing is introductions:
I am Kostas from Lefkosia, Cyprus, this is Koulla from Lemessos, Cyprus and this is our daughter………’Tina’ Should I respond with, “Hello, I’m Antonis from Frenokomio, Cyprus?” (psychiatric hospital) perhaps not!
She seemed a nice girl, but that’s about it, I didn’t know her, didn’t know what we would have in common apart from having parents who ‘came to this country for us’ at the same time, I did spare a thought for Sharon, who I was out with the night before, she was great fun and she had a few Freckles in a strange place, that always made me want to get a pen out and play ‘dot-to-dot’
Ok, I’d best zip it, if I keep quiet and speak when I’m spoken to, I can get through this, I thought.
Then suddenly, all the family begin to cross-examine me. Where you go to school? What you want to study? What you going to do for work, now you going to get married?
“Wooooooooooooow!” I’m just window shopping, and while you’re at it, could you tell your daughter to stop looking at my balls……………lishasmeni!” (greedy girl)
I don’t know if you’ve been in this position, but it’s strange that the more you become conscious of something, the more you seem to do it without thinking. I was getting rather self-conscious about being looked up and down like this, I felt like a Chicken looking up at Colonel Saunders, but the more I tried to stop thinking about my meat and two veg being eyed up, the more I wriggled about and tried to tuck it away, not sure what the hell I was going to do with it.
I have this trait, when I am in such situations, I have this overwhelming, irresistible and uncontrollable urge to do or say something shocking. The little man in my head was really leading me in to temptation and I was struggling to keep a straight face.
All I can here is pointless conversation about the best way to make Keftedes(meat balls) oh yes, balls……..I know what I want to do, I want to stand up and announce:
“I am a Ball-shaver”
That will give them something to think about! On second thoughts, I’ll keep quiet and try to join a conversation, there are about five different ones going on at the same time.
Dad is discussing the price of Cod from the Pezevenkis (Pimp) who charges too much, whilst championing the merits of why Cod fillet is so much better than codling.
Mum’s still discussing the art of making a sodding meatball and the poor girl, had to go and make the Tea with Kanella(cinnamon) now this is what we call ‘Posh Tea’ you don’t get Kanella if you are riff-raff!
In these situations, you really do hear some of the most embarrassing rubbish that you could possibly believe, it’s a combination of showing off and virtue-signalling. I heard the dad say this and I couldn’t believe my ears, roughly translated it is:
“Young girls are a big responsibility, when you get the chance, you should just marry them off and let them go”
You twat” I thought, “she’s not getting ‘the chance’ with me!”
This was followed by another classic:
“Toutes to Londinou, ksapoloun ton enan, jai pianoun ton allon” (these girls in London let one man go and their on to another)
“Oh fuck yeah, that’s my kinda girl, got any names and addresses mate?”
Really, the mindset has to be heard to be believed!
I was just watching the clock, hoping that the time would pass, so I could keep my end of the bargain and get a paid holiday to Cyprus. Yeah, yeah, I know, we all have our price and I was prepared to endure a few hours of sitting there drinking Tea with Kanella and listening to the science behind balls, sorry Meatballs for a flight to Kypros, wouldn’t you?
However, the course of events was about to change, because suddenly everyone looked at me and said,
“Why don’t you go and have a chat with Tina?”
“OMG I don’t know this girl from Adam and now I’m supposed to have chat with her, what do I talk about?”
This is probably the most uncomfortable situation you could possibly imagine, apart from not wanting her to feel awkward, (how do you do that?) I was more thinking about how awful this was for me, but looking back, how I felt must have been nothing compared to the way this poor girl must have felt.
I wasn’t sure how to play this, what if she had her eyes on someone else and was just going along with her parents, just as I was? Should I just be upfront and offer her a ‘get out of jail free card?’
I decided to test the water first, so I just asked:
“If you were still single for the next four of five years, what would you do if you could?” (yes, that’s it, let’s see if her life’s ambition is to make me breakfast and wash my sovraka)
Well, this knocked me for six:
“If I could, I would travel, I want to backpack around Europe and then I want to go on a few holidays with my friends and I want to go to Glastonbury and, and and.”
Thkaole mavre, I don’t know what annoyed me more, the fact that I was not included in her ‘plans’ (you’ve all heard about Cypriots and their ego haven’t you? Well it’s true!) or that I was being pressured to marry someone who actually wants to galivant around with her friends.
While we’re on the subject of friends, why do all these Cyps in London have friends with all these strange names? Kyri, Dezy, Rezi, Mimmi, Manny, Mounni! It’s much better in Northampton, we just have Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria and Eleni…………SIMPLES!
Anyway, enough of this nonsense, chat over. We walked back in to the lounge, nearly tripping over their ugly floral rug with tassles and knocking over their ‘English Rose’ Bone China (God I hate that stuff)
This was it, this was when they all looked at me, with that desperate look on their faces, all dying to leap out of their chairs as though they had sat on a drawing pin and yell it out loud, that word, that f*cking word……………..”Yia sou Sympethere!” (hello in-laws)
I knew it, I could see it, I could even feel the noose, tightening around my neck, but I thought that the best thing to do was to act stupid and not even admit that I had a clue what they were thinking.
As always, they all did that classic Cypriot expression which means well? It’s a cross between a Jewish shrug, a little shake of the face like you’re shooing a Fly and at the same time you here the same word from everyone in sync……….”eeh?” (well?)
Then they all do ‘the look’ to each other, I don’t know if they were disappointed, or if they thought I was a waste of space or what, all I knew was that I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.
I think my parents got the message, in part, they were disappointed that I wasn’t tempted by the virginal Tina, or just that they did not have the opportunity to utter that word I absolutely hate……….Sympethere!
It’s a sad reality that so many Cypriots were victims of this custom. If you were to get a straight answer, assuming that is possible, the vast majority of Cypriots have married because of their parents, or to please their parents, or in fear of their parents, or to get away from their parents.
Unfortunately the pendulum of morality always swings too far, has it done so in this modern age? Who knows, but what I do know is, that there is nothing that is more degrading to a woman, than to be presented to someone she does not know (and maybe not like) in this manner.
I for one, reached my fifties before I found myself and judging by the antics of many Cypriots I have met, many of them have yet to do so. I struggle to find examples of parents acting in a manner which they feel is best, that can be so destructive.
If this resonates with you, if you are from a similar culture and you identify with this event, all I can say is that to pacify your family, or your community will cause you more harm than you could possibly imagine. This is YOUR life, the only person who should decide your fate is YOU!