Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Φιλότιμο: the (lost?) greek sense of honor

For the greek people, there is one particular word that can't be actually translated into english, or as far as I know, any other language. That word is "filotimo" (φιλότιμο). It consist of the words φίλος(=friend) and τιμή(=honor). Google translates it as "pride". Me, if I had to translate it using only one word I would choose "earnestness". But still that wouldn't be close enough. It's a word that combines earnestness, honor, pride and dignity, but instead of an excessive or noble meaning, it has exactly the opposite. It's used to describe the pride and honor of the common people and it includes a set of unwritten rules that can keep the wheels of society running smoothly and still allow the people to walk with their head up high. It enables people who never met each other to interact with each other in a way that they can be kind and none of them tries to deceive the other. Everyone perceives it in his own way, but the result is pretty much the same.

An interesting finding while searching the internet was this blog post: It shows a non-greek's view on "filotimo".

This word has been quite famous in the past and is used in many common phases, for example "Από τότε που βγήκε το συγνώμη, χάθηκε το φιλότιμο" = "Since people found out they can say they're sorry, filotimo was lost", or "Υπάρχει και φιλότιμο" = "Filotimo (thankfully) still exists". There was also this popular black and white greek movie called "Laterna, poverty and filotimo" about some really poor musicians with a laterna (barrel organ) who found a rich girl running away from home to get to her loved one and help her even though her father is paying a awful lot of money for anyone who can tell him where his daughter is.
Laterna, poverty and filotimo

But nowadays, in our industrialized, globalized Information Age, I'm afraid that notion is slowly disappearing. Watching my generation, and the ones that are coming after it, I'm starting to doubt if a part of the young people actually understand what that word means. And also some of the older people, who took advantage of the "prospering" economy the last couple of decades in ways many people wouldn't approve, seem to have forgotten all about it.
Especially with the latest news about the greek economy, I think its hard for the foreign people to believe that the Greeks have any sense of honor in their country. There are only a few who understand what is actually going on. The rest have just been in Greece for a short time, or just watch what the media serve them, so they think that the Greeks actually leave in a lawless country where anyone can do whatever they want, and the state doesn't give a damn. Sadly, the last part is true to a certain extend, but the rest is way wrong.

To clarify any possible misunderstandings, I'm not saying in any way that the Greeks are perfect or anything like that. Far from that. There are many mistakes throughout greek history, and the greeks' way of thinking or perceiving many things is wrong. But thankfully the greek people still have "filotimo" and that can be really helpful, especially in difficult times like this. Or at least I want to believe that they still do..

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