Top 10 Reasons Why Koreans + Americans + Cypriots = A World of Cultural Fusion
Although my family and I moved back to the States in July, we fondly look back at our time in Cyprus as a major milestone in our lives. My husband completed his book, which was the initial reason why we moved to Cyprus last year. Our older son moved into first grade at a new elementary school. I discovered the joy of blogging through The Seoul of Cyprus and have since continued my adventures in blogging at Hometown Betty. And well, our baby is not really a baby anymore. He’s grown into a full-fledged toddler.
Cyprus taught me many things, such as learning to adjust and be malleable to life’s uncertainties. And learning such things, as an Asian American, had some other unique challenges that I am here to share today. Here’s my top 10 list of how Korean, American, and Cypriot cultures collide into a crazy world of cultural fusion.
10. You don’t get your bags until a week after you de-board the plane. (aka airline customer service is r-o-u-g-h in Cyprus.)
We expected that our bags would be delayed when our initial home airport’s computer systems were down. U.S. airline representatives (reps) tagged each bag by hand (Alert #1). We were delayed between the second and third leg of our three-legged flight. Before boarding on our final plane to Cyprus, the flight attendant asked us to check in our carry on bag. With two very exhausted children in tow, we were clearly not in our right minds when checking in our carry-on that had our precious DSLR camera. (Alert #2)
When we arrived waiting for our bags at the baggage terminal, everyone spoke in Greek. (Of course, everyone spoke Greek, but it was a lot to take in after 20+ hours of travel.) The kids and I watched a British couple get into a verbal altercation with an airline attendant for what felt like hours. In reality, it was probably about 20-30 minutes. The girlfriend desperately needed a smoke, and the guy said, “Be cool. Let me handle this.” Both the airline rep and the gentleman yelled at each other. (Alert #3) The kids looked concerned but mesmerized by the dynamic scene that took place. Next, it was our turn as we discussed with the same rep about our missing luggage, all seven bags. No extra diapers, no additional clothes, no toothbrush. Nothing. But we took the British expat’s advice and remained cool.
9. Greek-Cypriots will look at you (a foreigner) like you’re a criminal, but then they’ll walk into a coffee shop with the car running and the driver side door wide open.
This would never happen in New York City. Never. I would never even consider doing that in my mid-size hometown in America. There’s this level of trust that I don’t think I will ever understand. Of course, if someone did consider stealing a car, I can’t imagine the car jacker getting far off the island.
8. You learn how to drive Cypriot-style.
Because the British colonized the island in 1925, there’s an obvious British influence of driving on the left side of the road (contrary to many other European countries). For this American, it took about three weeks before I could confidently say that I can drive on the left side without running over a bumper or two.
But the best part about driving in Cyprus is the parking. You can park on the curb, sidewalk, over the line, over two lines, nestled between a tree trunk and a stop sign – just about anywhere your little car can fit.
When pushing my son in his stroller around the city, I found their relaxed rules about parking to be hugely annoying. But halfway through our time in Cyprus, I learned how to navigate my stroller like Mario Andretti, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic. It was also like the first time you drive on your own after getting your license. I waited forever to make my move around an illegally parked vehicle on the sidewalk. Finally, when I realized that drivers wouldn’t stop for me, I made my bold move into the street. Drivers eventually moved inches over, barely enough for my baby in the stroller and me. Over time, I eventually moved along comfortably and confidently, knowing that drivers wouldn’t run me down.
7. If you like your butcher to cut your meat right in front of you after having a few shots of Zivania in the morning, then Cyprus is for you.
I guess I could have gone vegan in Cyprus, but that would have been a difficult dietary change with two growing boys. Nevertheless, the butcher shop is a unique experience in Cyprus. I still remember the first time I shopped at our local market.
Besides navigating to the back of the grocery store in what seemed about 18-24 inches of aisle space, I carried our younger child all the way to the back of the store in the deli and meat department. The pungent smell of raw beef, chicken, and pork mixed together was probably enough to knock out a pregnant woman in her first trimester with severe nausea.
On one memorable shopping trip, I witnessed the butcher (with the rest of his butcher friends) take a shot – or two – of Zivinia, Cyprus’ strongest alcohol at 45%, at 11 o’clock in the morning. No joke. Although, the butcher offered me a shot, I couldn’t muster up the courage to take a shot that early in the morning, but secretly I wished I had the guts to drink up with them. Perhaps, then we could have been drinking buddies for life.
6. You get asked if you’re from North or South Korea.
If you’re of Asian descent, someone in Cyprus will inevitably ask you if you’re Chinese. When you say, “No, I’m from America,” they ask the obvious secondary question, “No. Where are you really from?” I get asked this second question a lot in the States too. So I kindly respond, “My parents are from Korea, and I was born in the States.” They look at you flabbergasted. Then they pause for a moment and finally ask, “North or South?”
Everyone, say it with me now – “Say whaaaat?”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many North Korean defectors who can safely leave North Korea, let alone make his or her way to Cyprus?
This happened on several occasions when a Greek-Cypriot neighbor or a complete stranger met us on the street. People think Americans have a difficult time understanding political and cultural issues around the world. It just goes to show you that it’s not easy to understand the Asia-Pacific political and cultural climate either. Add my Texas accent to the mix, and it brings in a whole lot of other confusion.
5. Once they know you’re Korean (the American part is irrelevant at this point), they assume you love “Gangnam Style” too.
Okay, maybe they don’t ask that out loud, but secretly, they’re thinking it. Remember Psy, the Korean pop Internet sensation that went viral? Psy had just hit the American music scene right before we left in 2012. I thought I wouldn’t hear much American music, let alone Korean music.
Well, let me tell you how much Greek-Cypriots love “Gangnam Style.” Our older son would come home asking us to play that song because kids at his school would sing it during recess.
But the classic example of their love for Psy was when I watched two Greek-Cypriot children stop in mid-play at an indoor playground and start to dance Psy’s exact moves. The recognizable “da-eeee-ee-ee-ee-ee, da-eee-ee-ee-ee, eeeeh” synthesizer prelude would begin and those kids had the dance moves memorized to a tee. There’s even a Greek parody called “Opa Cyprus Style,” which you can watch on YouTube.
4. You can walk onto some of the most beautifully secluded beaches in Cyprus, rivaling that of other famous beaches around the world.
Beyonce and Jay-Z step aside, please. If you ever wanted to feel like royalty or an A-list celebrity, then come to Cyprus. It’s an island, just like many other beautiful islands around the world. You can go to the party beaches in Ayia Napa or see middle-aged topless European women frolicking in Protaras. Or you can find the most secluded, untouched beaches in the occupied territory in the north. The waters are so clear and blue that you feel like you’re living in paradise. That’s what happened when we visited Turtle Beach. I realized what a beautifully secluded beach experience could do – provide the ultimate beach experience.
3. If you like movies, such as Gladiator or 300, then Cyprus is for you.
Cyprus is an untapped country filled with tons of history dating back to ancient times. I mean, we’re talking about stuff of biblical proportions! My husband’s an ancient history professor, so we get a privately guided tour at every ancient site around Cyprus. It also doesn’t hurt that the book he’s writing about pertains to a very old bishop from the 4th century as well.
You can visit an alleged site where the Apostle Paul was flogged. Also, you can go see the Greek goddess of love’s ancient site, the Birthplace of Aphrodite. This site is supposedly known to have magical powers, if you can muster up enough strength to swim around the rock three times. If you accomplish this, then you will have eternal youth. Personally, I’d rather put on my nightly Olay cream. That seems a lot easier than braving ocean waters for this non-swimmer. But hey, if you’ve dreamed of doing it, then I say, go for it!
2. If you feel like you’ve explored enough of Cyprus or feel like you’re experiencing island fever, then you can globetrot around the world at a moments’ notice.
Cyprus is uniquely situated in the Mediterranean. It’s part of the European Union, so it has the obvious European connection. But it’s also very close to North Africa, which you can take a short direct flight to see the ancient Pyramids in Egypt. You can fly to any number of Arab-speaking countries in the Middle East, such as Lebanon or The United Arab Emirates (UAE) to gain an appreciation for other cultures. And of course, Cyprus is a former British colony, and many British expats live, travel, or vacation in Cyprus, so there is always a direct flight to and from the UK.
Because Cyprus is also one of the few divided countries in the world, like North and South Korea, there is also the occupied territory in the north, which is predominately inhabited by Turkish-Cypriots, who closely align themselves with Turkey. And if you know a little bit about Turkey, it has a Eurasia connection as well. Thus, Cyprus has multiple regional connections to varying kinds of culture on the other side of the world. We took advantage of the opportunity and traveled to nine different countries in ten months. If you consider my husband's work trips, then the number goes up to 12.
1. Finally, the best part about living in Cyprus, no matter where you’re from, is that you get to meet people from all over the world!
If you don’t believe me, here is a short list of countries that represent the people we met or made lifelong connections with in Cyprus: Armenia, Australia, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Lithuania, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the UK, and of course, Cyprus and the U.S.
One Final Note:
All generalities aside, I am forever grateful to the people and friends we connected with, the experience of living abroad that stretched us and helped us to see the world through another lens. That’s why living abroad in Cyprus was the best life-altering experience for this Korean-American family. Thank you, Cyprus, for teaching me to appreciate a world outside of my comfort zone.
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Contest Comments » There are 6 comments
As a fellow expat living in Cyprus I can totally relate to so many things on this list. Although I never saw my butcher doing shots of Zivania at 11am, im sure he does! And oh my the car thing really annoys me. I dont have kids but I have a hyper active jack russell and navigating the road and cars parked by idiots gets my blood boiling everyday.
We had so much fun following The Seoul of Cyprus last year! I loved that you shared so many different facets of Cypriot culture - the places, the history, the people, and the food...oh the delicious food! Your posts were always so insightful, thoughtful, and heart felt. Thanks for sharing your experience with the world!
I'm an expat in Cyprus, and have to say "amen" to your top 10 list. As a black American, I even get the, "[w]here are you really from" question. I've thought about answering, "Gee, I don't know because my ancestors were brought over to America in the hull of a ship from some part of Africa." Is the stereotypical American still blond hair and blue eyes??
Love Seoul of Cyprus. I like the way she write the story of her adventure in Cyprus. It is very informative but also fun. I could learn few thing on how a good blog should be written. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. Keep blogging.
Thank you Seoul of Cyprus for letting a stay at home mom live vicariously through your amazing and new adventures! From the very first moment I was hooked! Thank you for giving us such a wonderful glimpse of the Cypriot culture and people through the eyes of an Asian American.
How interesting! The #6 is quite funny. I can totally see that! Depending on the place I go, I am asked if I was from different countries. When I lived in Indonesia, many people thought I was from Korea. Here in Mumbai, India, many people ask if I was from Singapore. I never heard about the airport luggage time. That's crazy! About the Birthplace of Aphrodite, I'd rather put night Olay cream as well!