Becoming a Greek: names, dates and places revisited

I’m afraid Greek bureaucracy has been a less than pleasant experience in my life. My first encounter with the Greek public services had me walking home in tears. Subsequently I have been ignored, spoken rudely to, and even shouted at in Greece, when trying to get any bureaucratic task done.

Not so at the Greek consul in Edinburgh. Here, there is polite conversation, pleasantries, sharing of snippets of life stories, and even smiling and laughter.

The consul is a volunteer and she works from home. I suspect that she is probably in her sixties, and I guess she has lived in Edinburgh for a long time, judging from the photos that are up in her dining room, which depict family moments. Her house feels like a Greek home. Icons are on the wall. Certificates and photos of graduations and diplomas accompany them. Persian rugs are on the floor. It feels nicely familiar.

She performs all sorts of minor legal procedures that you would need to go to the Greek bureaucratic civil service for, and she does so for free. I must say I was filled with gratitude as I left her home yesterday.

I went there in order to register my marriage and the birth of my daughter Aliyah. Thanks to the colossal mountain of inconvenience that is Brexit, soon Aliyah would no longer have the rights and privileges of a European, unless she becomes Greek as well as British. It’s a no brainer for me to register her as a Greek National.

So off I went to the Greek consul’s home, with all my paperwork, mine and Iain’s passports, and all my Greekness. It was actually an interesting experience. As my forms were getting filled in, my life was getting registered in the book of the Hellenic democracy. And as I gave the answers to the consul’s questions, I got to revisit names, dates, and places that are very dear to my heart.

“You are Aikaterini Chatziioannou”. Correct. That’s my full and official name. I do like to hear my name being said. Sure I’m Katerina Faulds, yes I am. Proud to be. But there’s something special about hearing my original name, and the name of my paternal grandmother. It’s about reminding me of who I am, and where I come from.

“What religion should I put?” There’s a big question. It’s worthy of a blog post in itself… or fifteen. “I’m baptised Greek Orthodox”, I say, “so write that.” Greek Orthodox it is. Master reset. Back to factory settings.

“And the gentleman’s name?” Iain Wilson Faulds. “Civil wedding performed in Leith town hall, in Edinburgh.” According to the marriage certificate, yes. Our actual wedding took place in a garden by the beach south of Athens. But it was performed by a Swedish pastor and therefore not valid according to the state. We tried for weeks to get the right paperwork to have a civil wedding in Greece but didn’t manage. The time came for us to move to Scotland , so we decided to get the civil wedding done here. I remember the day: arriving at the Leith town hall, with two witnesses we hardly knew, in their painting overalls, and a selfie as a wedding photo.

I smile. “And what day of the week was it?” No idea about that one. I have to check the calendar on my phone.

“The gentleman’s date of birth?” I give Iain’s date of birth – five years later than the year of my own birth. Marrying a younger man was something I really had to get through and get over in my own head. It’s not really the done thing in my culture. But boy, am I glad I did. I really do love the gentleman.

“Place of birth: Simpson’s Reproductive Centre, Edinburgh Royal infirmary. And the date…” She writes it down in her book – quite a simple task. Nothing was simple about that day. My memory goes back to that day. I remember it well, a labour that lasted over 30 hours, and ended with a cesarian section. I remember the pain too. But I also remember being in the hospital bed with my baby girl lying in the cot next to me, all new and beautiful. I feel proud. I remember, too, the lovely Greek midwife who gave me the tip to get two birth certificates when I registered Aliyah, so I could use one to get her Greek nationality. I finally made it. Ten years later.

“I need you to tell me the day of the week it was again.” That one I remember. I will never forget it. Sunday. She was born on a Sunday.

“Her name is Aliyah Sophia Faulds. Do you call her Aliyah?” We do. Again, I feel proud. “How should I spell that in Greek?” Α-Λ-Ι-Α.

And bang. A stamp of the Hellenic democracy seals the deal. The Greek democracy is now officially informed of the fact that I married my Scottish gentleman, and that we have a daughter. My daughter is now a Greek National, and will continue being a European. How good that all makes me feel, and happy…. and very very Greek. That’s something I don’t feel too often, so I really appreciated the time spent at the consul’s house.