This is a bit of a prelude to a series of posts, about which I am very excited to write and share. And this post is a more of an introduction to a series of posts, because there are too many stories, and telling them all would require that this one post be far too long. No one has the patience for that. Mainly, the topic of this series is how I entered into my own version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding: the adorable romantic comedy about a shy and unconfident women, Toula, who falls in love and gets engaged to a man named Ian, who is then thrown into the chaos that is her huge Greek family. Needless to say, hilarity and awkwardness ensues. You may think that the events of this movie are overly-exaggerated or fabricated by screenplay-writers. Let me assure you — they’re not. This movie is completely accurate (except for the Windex thing), and Ian Miller has, in a way, become my spirit animal, my alternate persona. How? I am a vegetarian (more of a pescatarian) who is not of religious background, met and started dating a Greek boy, and was introduced to his large and boisterous Greek family. Sound familiar? Yeah, well. Buckle your seatbelts.
I met this Greek boy from New York (I call him the Brooklyn Boy) in college when I was a junior and he was a senior. We had been in several bands together, but didn’t start talking until then, when we repeatedly ran into each other at the gym and across campus. It was one of those “Oh yeah, I’ve known of you for several years, but never actually acknowledged or noticed you until now” kind of things. We started dating in spring, and I started meeting some of his family pretty soon after that. It just got more interesting from then on out. Let me just give you a little preview…
The Brooklyn Boy and I are into exercise and healthy food (we share a love of peanut butter too!), so I loved hearing stories about his childhood and extended family – the groups of people who got together on holidays to eat at Grandma’s (or Yia’s). And by eat, I mean EAT. I am constantly pestering the BB to explain names of dishes, and what he had for Thanksgiving growing up. I’m a French-speaker and Greek isn’t my language, but I’m catching on slowly. I learned that basically anything shoved in a filo crust is called a pita, anything with meat has the stem crea-… It goes on an on. And as someone who is enamored with how food brings together people to one table, I am completely in love with the Greek way of food and eating. Remember how Toula’s mom and aunt are constantly feeding everyone? That’s because Greeks equate love with food. They want to share their love with everyone, especially their family. And the more they force food on you, the more they love you. It’s an overwhelming concept, but you have to admit, it’s a beautiful one. The only problem? Greeks also equate meat with the strength and the ability to provide for their families by putting meat on the table. So it’s an important staple in Greek food – especially lamb. And me? I don’t eat meat.
The first story I want to share is how I discovered the “Greek Meat Thing” is no joke. It was the summer after junior year, and I took a trip to visit the Brooklyn Boy in New York City. We spent a day driving out to Long Island to stay with his maternal grandparents – Yia and Pappous. We got to their home close-ish to lunch time, so we were already treading in dangerous territory. Immediately, as we pull up to the house, Yia is leaning half-way out the window and shouts at us: “How was the drive? Are you hungry?” Stereotype already crystal clear. The BB had already warned her of my anti-meat (only anti-red meat at the time), as well as my intolerance to dairy. So when we got inside, she had prepared lunch accordingly – various fruits and veggies, chicken cutlets, and rice. Very doable for me. Until she decides there isn’t enough food on the table, and mentions the ribs she has in the freezer. And when I say ribs, I mean an entire rack of ribs that have been pre-sauced and frozen, ready for any grandchild (and his new girlfriend) who comes to visit. She is, in a semi-insistent manner, asking if we want some. And while everyone – the BB, his mom, and Pappous (who has been sitting quietly in his chair) – seems on board, I am not. And when she asks me flat-out why I don’t want any, I am forced to say: “Well, I don’t really eat red meat.”
Remember that part in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Toula tells her Aunt Voula that Ian is a vegetarian and does eat meat? “What you mean he don’t eat no meat?!” Yeah. That happened. Everyone goes silent. Even Pappous, who, up until this moment had been silently minding his own business, looks over at me. Whole room. Completely silent. Needless to say, I think I made an impression. And the shenanigans didn’t stop there. They extended to “I know you’re going out to dinner in 5 minutes, but let me take this whole apple pie out of the freezer. Do you want ice cream with that?” Then there was the hour-long conversation I had with Yia about what she cooks for Thanksgiving (an event I am apparently now expected to attend).
I can see why attempting to lose weight or just eat clean in a household where everyone is trying to feed everyone else is virtually impossible. But like I said, the whole experience is glorious. I love being in the middle of it, even though 99% of the time, the Brooklyn Boy just seems terrified of what’s going to happen next. Which is, coincidentally, exactly how Toula feels in the movie. It’s true that Greek families are big, loud, and a little bit crazy. Okay, very crazy. But there’s so much love there, I can’t resist going in headfirst. And I can’t resist telling y’all all about it either! Because honestly, this stuff just doesn’t happen to most people. I have so much more family to meet, and more stories to accumulate, I’m sure, so get ready. It’s going to be a party.