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Beware of Greeks...?

'Greece? Watch out for dodgy men!' I was warned before I moved here. And on the remote summit of a mountain near Chalkida, my peaceful hometown, I found one.

The man was tallish, medium build, about 50, Greek. We chatted amicably about the weather, the view, England...before he started telling me how fat and unattractive his wife had become, and how he had worked hard to keep his body looking youthful and athletic. He wondered why I did not appear scared by my solitude and isolation, and enquired jokingly whether I did karate. 'Kung Fu', I replied.

He asked for a demonstration. I refused. Undeterred, he grabbed me, locking me in a firm bear hug from behind. Should I give him a sharp jab in the ribs and run for it, or gently push him away, giving a non-aggressive but firm indication that he'd overstepped the mark? I chose the second option. He laughed, freed me, and we talked some more. About half an hour later, we went our separate ways. Hardly a shocking story. Getting chatted up is a fairly common occurrence. I was more shocked by my flatmate's reaction. 'It's only a matter of time before something serious happens to you.' Why? 'Because you're vulnerable.' To what? Getting sunburned or hopelessly lost? No, getting raped.

Greece has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. It does have an alarmingly high rate of deaths by road accidents, so statistically I would be far more likely to be harmed while crossing the road to get to the shops. For my flatmate, this was a naive oversimplification, ignoring the stereotype that English women come to Greece for the express purpose of having sex with Greek men. I am not denying that this stereotype exists: my friends and I have become accustomed to being approached on the basis that we might be an easy lay. But so what? A mildly irritating fact of life. There's a world of difference between somebody thinking you want sex and somebody forcing you to have sex.

My flatmate argued that the average Greek man would take my climbing a mountain as an unmistakable signal that I was indeed looking for sex. But even if a man did make this bizarre mental connection, would his next thought automatically be, 'Aha, great rape opportunity'? Did my flatmate think all men are so much at the mercy of their genitals, or just the Greeks? 'As a foreigner you're unable to assess the risks of your behaviour in the way that you could do in Britain', he persisted. Why? Because 'cultural difference' provides a fertile breeding ground for misunderstandings of words and deeds.

Isn't this just old-fashioned racism in a new disguise - an elaborate way of saying 'You can't trust foreigners' - mixed in with old-fashioned sexism? Being female, I am presumed not to have the common sense and ability to make quick character assessments. But a crude come-on is a crude come-on regardless of what country you are in. My flatmate gallantly offered to accompany me up the next mountain I climbed - leaving me with a choice between the risk (chance?) of an encounter with a hot-blooded Greek and the company of an English 'gentleman' who has a pretty low opinion of his fellow men. Thanks, but no thanks - I'm sticking to climbing alone.

Rachel Holdsworth

Reproduced from LM issue 122, July/August 1999



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