As part of “your stories”, a journey into the universe of international couples, we interviewed Lana Penrose, bestselling author of “To Hellas and Back”.
Australian and Greek: a complicated recipe?
I don’t believe an Australian and Greek combination is any trickier than other amalgamations. When individuals within a couple who hail from different backgrounds discover one another’s culture, it’s inevitably full of surprises!
Why did you expatriate? Did it occur for family reasons? Employment? To ring in change?
The reason I relocated to Greece from Australia was because my partner was offered a job in radio. I was working as an MTV producer at the time, and his job offer was a rung or two higher on the corporate ladder for him. He was offered the job owing to his Greek ancestry and it was a fabulous opportunity. So in a nutshell, we went to advance his career while I gladly put mine on hold, thinking I was up for a one year sabbatical where I’d achieve inner peace. Boy, was I wrong!
There was plenty of culture shock on my part. I’d done a lot of travelling and had lived outside Australia before, but never had I experienced anything like this. For my partner, it was a case of, ‘Ha! How strange!’ (being that the cultural seeds within him began to sprout) while for me it was, ‘Oh-my-God-I-don’t-understand-anything-anymore-my-world’s-been-turned-upside-down!’
Overcoming this shock was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It meant completely reinventing myself, a great deal of self-examination and soul searching, a ton of writing (hence ‘To Hellas and Back’) and much gritting of teeth, laughing and crying.
Did your differences in views and culture ever endanger your relationship?
Absolutely. At first, we were a team, but as time marched forward we were experiencing completely different realities. It definitely took a toll on our relationship.
When exactly did the interfaith issue start to surface? How did you approach it?
The interfaith issue didn’t surface until just after my man proposed to me. We’d been together for four years and had been living in Greece for over 12 months. When we decided to get married the question arose as to which church we’d marry in. For him it was simple: Greek Orthodox. At first, I was fine with it, but then it started to become a little political. What about the faith in which I was brought up (Catholic)? What about adhering to my family’s tradition? What about this? (Him) What about that? (Me) Never mind that neither of us necessarily subscribed to religious belief, nor were practising by way of church attendance. It became about each of us holding onto our identities and pleasing our families, which in hindsight is a little sad, but I think a lot of people find themselves in the same situation when it comes to organizing weddings.
We approached things as diplomatically as possible by holding separate Greek and Catholic ceremonies and forcing our guests to haul themselves to different locations and endure two rituals on the same day. Simple!
How did you organize your wedding? How was the process from an emotional point of view?
I organized most of our wedding from the other side of the world. We decided to get married in Sydney rather than lure people to Greece at untold expense. So I was in Athens emailing until my fingers bled to get things sorted, while my soon-to-be mother-in-law added her two cents worth whenever she saw fit. It was actually an exciting time, and – at the risk of sounding clichéd – the day itself was the happiest of my life. I was bound to the man of my dreams at the same time as being surrounded by friends and family, in my home city, with the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge on show behind us. It was pure magic.
What would you suggest to a couple in a similar situation to the two of you?
Talk things through as candidly as possible. What are your beliefs? How important are they to both of you? How could they impact your future? More than anything, though, be there for one another, and really listen when your partner is speaking. At the end of the day, love conquers all provided you’re willing to take hold of one another and never let go. Cultural nuances can never stand in the way of genuine solidarity.
Have you submitted to all thing Greek since?
Um … no!
Lana Penrose is a bestselling author twice published by Penguin/Viking. She is a former record company promotions manager, music journalist and television producer, and worked briefly with Simon Cowell amongst others of the pop elite.
Memoir ‘To Hellas & Back’ details Lana following the love of her life to the other side of the globe (Greece), only to lose her mind! It has been optioned for film adaptation.
Her next release, ‘Addicted to Love’, is due for release in March 2013.
Visit www.lanapenrose.com.au for more details.