An American Working Professional’s Reflection: Prejudice & Racism in Cyprus

Yesterday, I shared a Q&A post from a South African’s personal perspective of life on the island. Today, my friend, Ms. J – a wife, mother, and working professional in Cyprus – shares her views. She comes with a deeper knowledge and understanding about Cyprus’ culture because her spouse is Greek-Cypriot. She shares her stories about working in Cyprus and what she has witnessed from other Cypriots on the island.

Q: How long have you lived on the island?
A: 6.5 years

Q: As a female working professional, how has it been working with your colleagues and students?
A: Ironically, it’s gotten harder over time, I would say. Initially, everything was new and different to me, so the cultural differences were interesting. Now, I think I’ve adjusted as much as I can, so I often feel frustrated when I can’t understand why my colleagues act and react the way that they do.

I’m currently working in a setting where I teach adults. Many of my students are older than I am. This has been a great experience because they are there to learn, and because there’s a mutual respect between us that I did not feel back when I was teaching undergraduates.

Q: Have you experienced any prejudice working in Cyprus? What were some of the struggles in dealing with those situation(s)?
A: I would say that Cyprus is not an easy place for a woman to have a career in a position that’s not a “woman’s profession.” Of course, that may be true in many places. Here in Cyprus, I find that there is often a paternalistic attitude toward women in the workplace, which is not easy to get around. I actually think though, that I probably have experienced less gender-based prejudice as compared to Cypriot women.

I have certainly experienced my fair share of misunderstandings due to cultural differences, and have often heard negative comments about my nationality, background, etc.

Q: Have you witnessed prejudice or racism in Cyprus? How did you feel during some of those moments?
A: I haven’t witnessed any racism in the workplace here, since I have always worked in environments that are very homogenous.

I do feel there is a problem here with the migrant workers, and in particular, with the housemaids. You often hear crazy stories of how the locals interact with their employees. For instance, it’s common practice for employers here to hold these women’s passports, and to feel that they have the right to dictate what they will do in their free time (e.g., where to go or not go, not to interact with men, etc.) I’m not sure why anyone feels that they would have the right to hold such control over another person, simply because that person is a foreign worker.

Q: Do you think that racial prejudice experienced in Cyprus has a lot to do with a cultural misunderstanding? Or are there pieces missing in this puzzle?
A: Sure, cultural misunderstanding is a part of the story. Personally, I think that another piece of the puzzle has to do with the identity and sociopolitical situation of the Cypriots themselves. They have a very complex history, and complex relations with their “mother” countries, Greece and Turkey, as well as being a former British colony.

Q: In what ways do you think expats/foreigners living in Cyprus can do to bridge the cultural gap in Cyprus?
A: I think that the best thing foreigners can do is to learn a bit of the local languages, and a bit about the culture and history of the island. Yes, almost everyone under the age of 80 speaks English here, but I think that locals are always appreciative when a foreigner makes the effort to speak their language.

Q: What are some ways Greek-Cypriots can do to bridge that gap?
A: Greek-Cypriot society can feel very closed to foreigners. I think that’s because locals are very much family-oriented and most social activities revolve around one’s extended family. I don’t know, but one thing that I miss about the US is the feeling that I can say “Good morning,” when I pass someone on the street (e.g., when I’m out walking my dog in the neighborhood) and that rarely happens to me here. So perhaps, just make an effort to smile or say hello once in a while, even if you don’t know someone!

Q: What has been your overall experience of living in Cyprus?
A: My overall experience has been a positive one. Of course, I also have my husband who helps me navigate the situation here, which helps a lot. I do love the people here in Cyprus. Yes, it’s not the easiest society to fit into, but once you have your core circle of friends and your family, the environment is very warm, supportive and social. Cyprus is a great place for small children, for that reason. I worry about the lack of opportunities as they get older, but for younger ones it is great. And, of course, I love the fresh vegetables and fruit, and the sun!

Thank you, Ms. J, for sharing your thoughts about bridging the cultural gap in the workplace. Tomorrow, I end our series on race and prejudice in Cyprus from an academic professional who has spent time studying the issue at the doctorate. level.

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