You’re some type of dual-nationality, Greek-American, Greek-Australian or another Euro-combo and you’re probably not thinking of moving abroad to Greece or your ancestral country permanently. You’re settled comfortably in your life in New York, Boston or Chicago with a good job, maybe married with a family and you think why the hell would I go through the bureaucratic headache to get a Greek passport, ha! Well, my response to that is, I got you, I agree – but don’t get it for yourself, get it for your children and when they turn eighteen, instead of buying them their first car, surprise them with a ‘carte blanche’ to go work, live, study (reduced tuition) and travel visa-free to London, Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin and oh, Athens too!
It made me realize how undervalued this privilege is and people don’t formalize it, when I was speaking to a new Brazilian-Portuguese friend the other day over a coffee. She said to me, “You know I’m here by accident, in London!” What do you mean, I poked her for more information, “Well, I’m Brazilian right? We have the same parents with my older brother, but he only has one passport, a Brazilian one. What happened was, my grandfather on my father’s side, who was came from Portugal back in the 1940’s- when I was born, he said “You know what?” to my parents, “I’m gonna go downtown to the Portuguese Consulate and register Eva’s birth there.” And my parents looked at him and rolled their eyes like typical confident cariocas (nickname for Rio residents), back then in the early 1980’s, “Come on this is Brasil: Sao Paolo, Rio, Brasilia, the country of the future, what the hell is Eva gonna do in tiny Portugal, don’t waste your time, she doesn’t need a Portuguese passport!”
“So, twenty years later, God Bless, grandpa Francesco, I came to Europe, I studied in Paris, worked in the UN in Geneva and now I am in London doing grad school – all this at reduced EU-tuition fees, indefinite stay in Europe and no visa problems. You have to see what some of the Brazilian people I meet do here, stuck in illegal jobs, others leave, disrupting their romantic relationships, missing good job opportunities which they could have gotten – and honestly it’s just good fun here, I prefer Europe and the European lifestyle. You know, Brazil has lots of Italian ancestry too, that’s how some of these Brazilian-Italians have made it to Europe, looking up their grandfathers in Italian villages.”
Maybe our parents and grandparents, with decades of experience, can attest even more do the notion that we live in changing geo-political times and you never know what the future holds. It’s always good to keep your options open. One of my more hardened uncles in Miami, who grew up rough-style in Greek WW-II Nazi occupation and the Greek Civil War, liked to tell me, gently puffing on his cigarrillo with his chiseled face and animated hands, “Never underestimate what a piece of paper can do for you: you have two doors open! You never know what happens in life: wars, bankruptcies, inflation- even if you lose your job, your assets, your property, you can always start all over somewhere else. Not everyone can do that.”
It’s not as time-consuming and expensive as it may seem to actually get a passport if you are eligible, proving one of your parents was born in your ancestral country or in some cases your grandparents. My brother and I went to the Greek Consulate in New York after we graduated from university about ten years ago. Quite a comical process at times, but endurable- we looked up some old birth certificates, parent’s forgotten documents from their village hometowns, wedding certificates, and found some entertaining black & white pictures of eccentric relatives along the way. We then gave our cousin a power-of-attorney in Athens, just for this task, not to sell our inherited olive groves too 😉 and he registered our papers from the Consulate in a couple offices in Athens. A few hundred dollars and a few months later we had our nice, red Greek-EU passports- diavatiria they area called! It was a very cool feeling, like holding a great university degree or a prized award. I slept with mine, under my pillow, for the first week until it started getting wrinkles on the corners!
After working quite intensely in my twenties in New York and in the family business, a couple years ago I had the chance to take a prolonged sabbatical, so I booked a one-way ticket and left for Athens. I spent a little more than a year there, which is one of the most interesting culturally and intellectually things I have ever done. I enlisted in the army also, which is semi-mandatory for permanent residents of Greece who decide to stay for more than six months. But potentially you can avoid this too, unless you want to have a few good army stories under your belt with the three-month diaspora service. I am now living in London and I may try another European city next. No visas, no stamps, no one to ask me how long do you plan to be in Europe – as long as I want, mister!…. Next!
If you want to give your children a chance in an ever-evolving-world, twenty years from now, to work, study (American higher education is getting expensive isn’t it?) and travel to Milan, Barcelona or Stockholm, they may thank you tremendously. And if you give them a gentle ultimatum of an EU-passport or a shiny, new car when they turn eighteen, it may be easier on your wallet and more fun for them to start their youthful adventures with a summer-job, learn some new language skills, and maybe more, with their new tight-jean, funky-zapatos, spunky-hair Austrian girlfriend in Berlin!