Our next installment in a series of Q&A with American-born Greeks living in Greece. This time, we caught up with Chicago area native Scott Stavrou.
Meet Scott Stavrou
Scott Stavrou moved to Greece in 2009. Now an entrepreneur and writer living and working on the island of Paros, he shares his story about what brought him to Greece, and why, despite the challenges, he stays. Let’s meet Scott Stavrou!
Maria A. Karamitsos: You’re originally from Chicago. Tell us where and about your time here.
Scott Stavrou: My American mother met my father while traveling in Greece and though they divorced when I was just a baby, I was born in Waukegan, IL, which had a small but lively Greek community. Though I wasn’t raised with any immediate Greek family, being half-Greek was always a strong part of my identity and I still have fond memories of being embraced by the many Greeks we knew in the area.
My mother and I moved away from the area when I was in elementary school, (to San Diego and then Las Vegas), for years, but I always went back and spent my summers there with family, which kept me connected to the area through my youth.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
SS: Like so many Greek immigrants in Chicago, my father’s family, whom I never had the pleasure of meeting, was from Arcadia, around Tripoli.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in chicago,prior to leaving.
SS: Though I didn’t know my Greek father, I was lucky that my mother had many Greek friends in both Waukegan and in Chicago and always made sure to encourage me to embrace the Greek part of my culture as much as possible. I didn’t grow up with Greek family or attend Greek school, I always proudly identified as being Greek.
MAK: Did you attend university in the US? Tell us about you and your career.
SS: Yes. After graduating high school in Las Vegas, I went to Georgetown University in Washington, DC where I studied International Relations (as well as taking as many Greek philosophy courses as possible!) and also studied abroad in Germany. Of course while studying in Europe the first country I wanted to visit was Greece, and I went straightaway to Greece for the first time and immediately fell in love with it. After graduating from Georgetown, I worked for some time in advertising in San Francisco (just after Art Agnos had been their second Greek Mayor) and then moved abroad to Prague, Czech Republic, where I met my wife who was there teaching English. The first trip we took together was down to the Aegean islands, where we worked in Karpathos for the season. I actually proposed to her in Athens on a balcony overlooking the Acropolis, so Greece even had a part in the beginning of our married life.
MAK: Do you still have family in Chicago? In the US? Do you visit often?
SS: Sadly, I no longer have any family connections in the Chicago area but still am close to many friends who live in the area.
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
SS: After my wife and I married, we moved to San Francisco, where in the late 90’s we started a European villa rental agency, focusing catering primarily to people who wished to rent villas in the Mediterranean. Initially, the biggest demand was for Italy and France but because we were both so fond of Greece we worked hard to encourage the market for villa rentals in Greece and the GNTO (Greek National Tourism Organization) was always very supportive of our work as well. We were always particularly pleased with how many satisfied groups we were able to send on wonderful holidays to Greece, many of which became regular return visitors to Greece.
Having the villa rental business gave us the need – and the excuse – to travel more widely throughout Greece to inspect the properties we worked with and represented. Eeach year we looked forward to our visits and our ability to help uncover new markets for the wonders of Greece. During our work trips we were fortunate enough to travel to over 25 different Greek islands and when we came to Paros for work, we both were immediately completely enchanted by the island.
We lived and worked for some years in California, always traveling to Greece as much as possible and talking of one day moving there and once I finally obtained my Greek passport and high-speed internet was readily available in the islands for our work, we finally excitedly made the move to Paros, in 2009.
MAK: Tell us about your family. Do you have kids?
SS: No, we don’t have children and never actually planned on it but another thing we like about here is the strength and closeness of the Greek family. And while friends and family of course come over here to Paros to visit, after spending so many years living on the island, there’s a particular closeness you develop from the closeness and connectedness of island life that makes many friends here seem as close as family.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
SS: We both love living in Greece, in fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that my American wife’s Greek language abilities have far surpassed mine. But of course for people who didn’t grow up in Greece or speaking Greek, one of the benefits of living on a tourism-based island such as Paros is that most everyone converses so much in English.
Paros is such a wonderful place that it made the adjustment very easy. It’s a very international island and a large share of the population of the island are actually foreign expatriates from all over the world so that it’s a great mix. On the one hand, Paros remains one of the most popular destinations for Greeks and while it retains so much of the classic qualities of Greece, it combines that wonderful spirit well with such an international flavor.
Since we had both lived abroad before, we knew that there are always adjustments but one of the great things about moving to Greece is that so many of the adjustments are beneficial and involve learning to adapt to – and embrace the Greek way of living and appreciation of the quality of life. You learn to slow down to the pace of island living, to take time to savor the beauty that surrounds you, to enjoy spending quality time with friends. Of course the island is busy with tourists in the summer season but Greeks and the people that are attracted to living in Greece, have a marvelous ability to appreciate each day. The magic in that attitude is a thing of beauty and a particular thing that we love about living here.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
SS: It’s sort of a funny dichotomy. Despite not growing up with my Greek family, in America I was always ‘the Greek guy,’ but without having grown up in Greece or speaking Greek, despite having the passport, the Greek looks and last name and living here in Greece, here I’m more ‘the American guy.’ Our Greek friends here do appreciate that I’m Greek but it’s of course not the same as growing up Greek, which I didn’t. But embracing Greekness is something that Greeks always appreciate and it’s always flattering when Greeks here say things like ‘Of course you get it, you’re Greek,’ even if we happen to be speaking English at the time.
While the country you’re raised in might well be the first strongest part of your persona, I like to think that the country you choose to live in may be the truest and best part.
MAK: You are an entrepreneur. Tell us a bit about starting and running a business in Greece. How’s it going?
SS: Indeed, after working in advertising and then some years as a freelance writer, my wife and I started our first business in our twenties shortly after we were married and have always worked for ourselves since then. It’s perhaps a strong Greek part of me, the idea of wanting to own and operate your own business.
There are always hurdles in starting a business, particularly in a country where you’re not fully fluent in the culture or the language but a particularly great thing about the Greek mentality is their encouragement and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. The Greek individuality and strong spirit of self just naturally lends itself to entrepreneurship and because of that they’re always particularly supportive.
While we were busy with the villa rental business, we saw a cafe-bar here on Paros that just had an irresistible and largely unexplored potential in the heart of old-town Parikia. Since we had both worked so much in the hospitality industry, we bought the bar as more of a labor of love and a hobby and redecorated it, renamed it Entropy and reinvigorated it and people could not have been more supportive, both Greeks and foreigners.
Like any country, there are the natural bureaucratic issues to deal with and with the crisis these have obviously only increased but one thing we so admire about the people we live and work with here is that they possess such a strong ability and instinct to make things work, no matter what the challenges.
The challenge with us is that the bar took off to a much greater extent than we ever anticipated and it’s hard to do full justice to both businesses, particularly when they both have their very busiest times in the summer season. Since Entropy Bar has been so well-supported by both locals and tourists and has such a devoted and loyal clientele, we really hope that the next people to take it over also love Paros and life here in Greece as much as we do. And that will give us even more time to focus on doing what we do best and bring new tourists to Paros and help stimulate the economy of the whole island. Every happy customer we have at the cafe-bar is greatly appreciated by us but every customer we bring to rent a vacation property in Paros spreads the wealth much more and is a great addition to the entire tourism-driven economy of the whole island.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
SS: Indeed, the past crisis years have been challenging and certainly there probably could have been easier places to live and like many, we talked a bit about it. But in the end, easier didn’t supersede better and in the final result we just love the Greek way of life and the Greek people so much that we know there’s no place that we’d be happier. When Greece and life here gets a hold of your soul, it grabs it and holds on strong.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through it?
SS: Of course Greeks all over the world are familiar with so many of the staggering challenges Greece has faced and continues to face. The challenges have brought some changes and we’ve been sad to see that many of the younger Greeks we know have been forced by the situation to immigrate in search of more opportunity. But it’s also proved true that for so many of them, the Greek connection to the homeland is just so strong that we’ve every confidence that even when many may have been forced to search for opportunity elsewhere for a time, that they’re always looking or ways that they can get back and live in Greece and help make it even better.
Economic crises such as Greece has had to face are draining in many ways but the light at the end of the tunnel is the strength and resilience of the Greeks and their ability, when faced with challenges, to change, grow, and adapt. It’s inspiring to see that even when things were at their worst, the Greeks find a way to be at their best.
We’ve been emboldened to see that many Greeks we know here have looked to the challenges and met them and changed and in some ways with the people who are staying and working through it, we can see that we’re seeing a reinvention of Greece and the people. Just on Paros for instance, economic challenges have also invited reinvention and in the past years we’ve seen a bit of a renaissance and the opening of many new businesses of unique and innovative types in all walks of life. In the long run, we hope that Greece benefits and only comes out stronger and better from overcoming challenges. In crisis there’s always opportunity and Greeks are always adept at finding a way to grasp hold of opportunity.
In the final result, it’s the magic of the land and the indomitable spirit of the Greek people that make Greece so great and those things aren’t ever going away.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
SS: The most important thing to remember is that life in Greece is still going on and still redolent with all the things that make it so great. There are challenges but the things that make Greece so unique and amazing are still here. There’s still the majestic history, the stunning landscapes, the special Greek light of the land and the people, the wonderful weather and beautiful beaches, the great Greek food; all the things that have made Greece so great haven’t changed. No matter what else goes on here or elsewhere, there are few things more magical than sitting in a seaside taverna, eating classic Greek food and watching the sun set over the sea. And that magic is still here and still amazing.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
SS: First of all, like so many diaspora Greeks do, continue to visit, contribute to the economy and the culture. When that’s not possible, just continue to embrace being Greek and loving Greek products, many of which, like Greek wines and olive oils, are finally becoming more readily available and recognized all around the world. Being Greece is a gift and sharing the greatness of Greece with as many friends and outlets as possible is always helpful. The more people that get to know Greece, it’s people, it’s culture and its products, the more people fall in love with Greece.
What we see here over and over again is that once a visitor from anywhere in the world comes to Greece, they become completely captivated with it and are usually a convert for a lifetime. Greece and the lifestyle here has a way of getting into the very soul of people and we know so many visitors, both Greek and foreign, that come back here year after year because there’s no place else like it in the world.
Thinking of visiting Paros? Connect with Scott Stavrou!