I’ve recently been contemplating the fact that many of our Cypriot relatives now live abroad, as has turned out to be the case historically. This is common for us, so why have I decided to speak about it?
Very recently, my favourite uncle John (Yannis) Panteli passed away. He was the brother of my father, who, unfortunately, hasn’t been with us for several years.
When those whom you have known for a long time pass away, you start to comprehend some things in a new light — I’d like to share these thoughts with you.
My uncle and his family spent more than 50 years living in Great Britain. As was his established routine, every day, from the very first years of him living there, right through to his final years, uncle John would get up early in the morning, take the bus and go to buy the morning paper, as well as run the necessary errands.
In general, he loved walking: despite issues with his leg, he could cover large distances with his cane… and rather quickly! I smile when I remember: he would sometimes invite us on walks (for some reason I’d stopped by his with my friends) and we — young lads at the time — literally couldn’t keep up with him. He was always an active person, full of life, but also a clever, jolly man; all his visits — whether they were alone or with his family — were a great pleasure for me!
I remember from my childhood how he would sometimes visit us with his children, my cousins, and we would spend our summer days together on the sea coast or go to visit our remaining relatives. So, there was always a warm relationship between us all: we weren’t just relatives, but good friends. During my visits to them in later years, my cousins would organise trips and show me a bunch of beautiful places in Britain: we had such a great time, I must say!
But time passed: we grew up, and our parents grew older.
During his last visit, uncle John was sitting in my parents home: he and his brother (my father) spoke about many things, they sang a duet of a song from their childhood while sitting at a table of food and reminiscing about their father, Pantelis Panteli.
Neither of them is with us now, but I remember that sense of unity and the integrity of family when those rare get-togethers happened. Nowadays, other generations are growing up in a “different” reality, they aren’t as close, and the workload of the modern man is “over the top” — at least try to find some time for yourself….
Some time long ago, at the end of the 19th century and especially in the 1900s, natives to our island began to leave for different countries for the first time, in most cases to Great Britain (Cypriots also emigrated en masse to Australia and the USA). They went in search of work, new opportunities and a better life…
The Cyprus of those years — as unfortunately is the case today — could not offer jobs to all Cypriots: the island's industry wasn’t developed, while the population was tied up, by and large, in agriculture and farming, or was pursuing a career in handcrafts and the arts. In 1878, Cyprus became a British colony and since that time Cypriots have always participated in world wars and events, volunteering to fight on the front line in the British ranks — both in the First and Second World War.
Young men initially headed abroad in an attempt to establish themselves, find a job and a place to live; their remaining family then later joined them.
Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) — a British singer and songwriter, who sold 60 million album copies in the 1970s, two of which were certified triple platinum in the USA. He was born in London into a Greek-Cypriot family.
It’s good that while being in a foreign country, Cypriots have always helped and still do help each other, particularly those who have arrived to start anew… be it with finding a house or searching for the same job. They even sometimes help with finding them food, to help create a new start in their lives.
Naturally, no new beginning is easy. The tear in family connections and regular communication caused by those who had decided to change their lives for far away countries was painful to the relatives who had stayed behind.
People usually (around once every two years) visited their relatives.
In addition, even the families of those who had decided to leave remained divided for a year or longer — until the opportunity arose to reunite, for relatives to have a place to visit their husband or father abroad, and for further integration into the new community.
It is worth remembering that the lifestyle and even manner of daily interactions in England were completely different and unusual for our people, in comparison to Cyprus: England wasn’t as traditional, with its modern society and industrialism — everything was new and unfamiliar for yesterday’s islanders.
The first Cypriot expats required a lot of time in order to settle down in the new environment and get used to it, as well as learn to fit in there… this included learning the language to a passable level, for there were those who didn’t speak English at all (despite Cyprus having been under British rule for many years).
George Michael — a British singer, poet and composer, who won two “Grammy” awards. He was born in London into a Greek-Cypriot family, who had immigrated there in the 1950s.
Not all Cypriots were lucky enough to continue doing their favourite job or a profession which they had earlier mastered in Cyprus. Those lucky ones, as a rule, were tailors and cobblers. Many opened their own business, workshops and stores... and not only this — sometimes whole factories!
Some Cypriots found success abroad in the food industry (let’s face it, if you’re familiar with our cuisine, this won’t come as a surprise to you!) — in the restaurant business.
Many preferred hiring fellow compatriots as chefs and waiters, not only in traditional taverns but in fish and chip shops, which were more typical for Brits.
Over time, production of food products became another culinary niche, alongside the trade of imported foods. These were usually ingredients for Greek and Mediterranean dishes, such as halloumi cheese (read about its manufacture here), trahana for a rather filling and popular winter soup in Cyprus; fruit-based desserts, treacle syrup and carob, as well as olive oil etc.
Cypriots who have spent many years living abroad have always been characterised by their feelings of nostalgia for their native island — customs which not only have they never forgotten, but have strived to preserve.
Some islanders, having retired in Britain, later return to Cyprus to enjoy the rest of their life in the bright sun.
Amongst our acquaintances, we also have one friend, who after having lived in England for a long time and made a strong and successful business there (a factory which manufactured clothing brands), retired and then very recently returned to Cyprus together with his wife.
Let’s discuss how and whom Cypriots deem themselves to be when living in other countries.
You can confidently say that Cypriot expats of all generations remember and are sure that: they are Cypriots. In addition, the second and third generation in immigrant families have managed to, so to speak, “create their own special brand”: British Cypriots. Who are they? More often, they are people who respect the traditions instilled into them by their elders, albeit adhering to them more selectively in the reality they are accustomed to abroad. Some of them, in fact, are completely unable to speak and even understand, it would seem, the Greek language!
British-Cypriots are very modern — don’t forget, they were born “there”. (By the way, we Cypriots who live in Cyprus today are also modern people — don’t think any differently! We have a mind of our own and differ greatly our “ancestors” who lived on the island in past eras.
They are more adapted to Western reality and often marry English girls, while their more conservative compatriots, at the same time, are still actively “instructed” by their old-fashioned parents to lean in favour of Cypriot girls.
Many elderly citizens try to introduce their sons to female Cypriots from well-acquainted families residing either in Britain or Cyprus.
They are still afraid of losing traditions and the typical family way of life, which was determined “by the law of their ancestors”. As for meetings between family members, who have been split apart as a result of someone moving to another country — though they might be far away, their family ties are still preserved!
Nowadays, people actively communicate via a mass of means and possibilities: we have technology here to help us!
We, like everyone else, speak on the phone, over Skype, we find each other on social media, send emails to one another….
If and when it turns out your close relatives are planning a personal visit to each other, as they do from time to time — then this is only a question of several hours! After all, in the grand scheme of things, this is regarding Britain and Cyprus. By the way, our “British” family members — both young and elderly — are loyal to our Cypriot cuisine and love being brought food souvenirs from Cyprus. Although, as I’ve noticed, my relatives are the exception to a common cliche: whereas Greek families get together in taverns everywhere — if mine go, then it’s on rare occasions.
I myself, for instance, love my relatives who live in England. I like the fact they have, how would you put it — a slightly different version to the so-called “classic Cypriot” mentality.
In those “Western” conditions, all their children were able to receive higher education, they found excellent, well-paid jobs and were awarded promotions. Whatever you say, there is still a large labour market “there” with a multitude of opportunities!
Of course, it goes without saying, the economic crisis has affected many of us — “both here and there” — I hope that it will soon subside, for the system in Cyprus is now well-adjusted (organised) and the economy’s restoration has already begun.
I miss my uncles and my cousins, their families. Sometimes I imagine how everything would have been had I lived there with them.
One thing for sure is that I would have tried to preserve my ties and contacts with my historical homeland and would’ve visited Cyprus at least once a year.
England is very close to my soul — I understood during my rare visits there that it could’ve been my second home.
Let me describe my impressions of England — many will understand me when I say it’s a good country. Our relatives live in a place called Stockport — a small town situated 8 miles from Manchester (Greater Manchester county).
While there, you have the opportunity to enjoy different things: its forests, parks and river canals, as well as modern and old places of worship.
Stockport’s surrounding landscape is rather picturesque: it features many beautiful green areas, where on the outskirts of town you will repeatedly encounter cows and sheep grazing on the fields between residential areas.
Once while I was on a trip to the neighbouring town of Bolton, I saw some horses galloping around in a meadow!
Local building developments have been constructed in a typical “English” style: brick townhouses and many traditional pubs — where the majority of local residents love to spend their free time.
The general impression I gained was that it is a large, friendly town, which has everything you need to live!
Let’s discuss the mass media, both “about and for” migrants.
For instance, you can find various themes on the discussion of Cypriot immigrants on the internet: from documentary films about social upheavals which occurred on our island in the past, serving as a stimulus for emigrating to Europe; to various forms of entertainment — Greek taverns in different countries of the world, Cypriot sportsmen, student flashmobs to Greek music, dancing abroad and so on.
Nowadays, Cyprus has its own state TV channel (CyBC, Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation) discussing the lives of its compatriots abroad, which I often used to watch.
The programme «H Παροικία μας» features a lot on how they live while abroad; what Cypriots living in England, America and France do for work. It shows their businesses and families, how they spend their free time, support the natural culture, as well as displaying various important events for diaspora in general.
For instance, one programme from the 3rd of December 2016, is very memorable to me (you can find it here, amongst others, on Youtube).
Our emigrant compatriots were traditionally invited to the studio as guests.
I’m going to retell the gist of the programme for those who don’t understand Greek.
One of the themes was devoted to migrants — expats from Morphou who were living in Athens; the other was about English-Cypriots.
We were also shown a report from The Cypriot Organisation of Tourism), which had taken part in an international tourism exhibition.
One of the guests in the studio, Panagiotis Sentonas, became the president of the Youth Board of Cyprus. He introduced viewers to events which had taken place on the University of Cyprus campus, aimed at preserving and strengthening ties with their historical homeland. For those Cypriot youths who were born and had grown up abroad, fact-finding tours were now to be organised across the country, for people from 22 to 30 years of age.
Another guest — a middle-aged Greek-Cypriot, close to 50 years old, who lived in one of London’s districts — spoke about the difficulties Cypriots faced and the success they had experienced while living there. Interestingly, the main, “community forming” moment abroad, as was the case in Cyprus, remained as the construction of a place of worship: a church or chapel, at least.
His story shocked me: 400 people from the local community had managed to collect a sum of 400,000 British pounds and buy one of the Anglican churches. It had been offered to Greek-Cypriots by the local authorities, with the aim of restoring and consecrating the orthodox church of Agios Panteleimonas located there, as well as developing its infrastructure.
As a token of gratitude, a plaque hangs on the wall of the church listing the names of the benefactors. The entire project itself cost 3.5 million pounds; in the process of its development, several members of the local diaspora sold parts of their own property.
Until recently, our Greek compatriots had to “share between two” their small chapel: protestant masses would take place there at specific times (until 10:30), after which Orthodox services were held. In 2006, a communal school was built, and before they acquired the church space, parishioners installed a chapel there, which was later consecrated as a church.
Overall, in its 140 years of existence, this community has built two churches (in 1878 and 1983, however, further development of the residential region with the erection of religious buildings was prohibited by the London authorities. In 1993-97 the community began submitting requests for the necessary licensing to conduct restoration works… it wasn’t until 2005 that they were finally granted permission. Interestingly, the architect who filed for planning permission had been specially invited from Cyprus: his previous project had involved the construction of a church in Lakatamia (Nicosia region).
What would I like to wish my relatives, who have long since settled abroad? Live a happy, healthy and full life! I also wish the younger and adolescent generations well with their simple joys and troubles. Be happy and smile more often! I remember and often think about you. The main thing is — don’t forget us: together we must strive to maintain those fraternal, kindred ties, which connected our fathers!
Simply put, stay as a family, forever!