Merete Hellum
Foreign Wives in the Wake of Tourism. Creating identity on an island in the Greek archipelago

Arbeitsbereich I; 31
ISSN: 0948-0072

The study relies on fieldwork carried out during autumn 1997 and spring 1988 on an island in the Greek archipelago. The study focuses on women from northern Europe and overseas who are married to or cohabiting with Greek men and on family formation in terms of creation of identities in a new environment. What happens in the process as these women evolve a meaning and understanding of their situations? How do they make identities in the new environment, and what kinds of symbols are significant for their creation of collective and individual identity? I also ask some questions related to the theoretical approach: is it fruitful to use the terms imaginary place, time/space, similarity and differences in different relations and discourses for an understanding of creation of identity? And are emotions part of this creation of identity and if they are, what can the emotions tell us about how the 'foreign wives' create similarities and differences? When using the terms described above it is possible to analyse the material and find out how people in a new environment create imagined places, which become important for a creation of both collective identity and individual identity (self-identify). Emotions are a part of the imagined place of the past, emotions used in the meeting with 'the other'. Apart from the theoretical experiment, which turned out to be fruitful, the central empirical findings are as follows:
It is problematic to talk about one process of understanding as there are complex strategies for these women's creation of identity. It is more precise to talk about different processes depending on the degree of network membership, age, education, values, norms, lifestyle and the individual's personality; however, it is possible to identify some similarities. Distinguishing themselves from 'the other' and 'otherness', represented by Greekness, is an important part of these women's strategies. In this process perceptions and emotions are important factors in their creation of their own identities, both as a group and as individuals. Localism in a broader sense becomes a feeling within people, and in the interaction with 'the other' or 'the otherness' the localism becomes clearer and therefore important in their way of creating identity. In this process of understanding, symbols of Greekness connected to the body and the body's behaviour, traditions and the Greek Orthodox religion are significant for the way the women distinguish themselves from the Greeks. Festivals such as Christmas, shared experiences as women together with a native language or at least a language they command become symbols of closeness and collective memories. The transformation from tourists to foreign wives can be problematic, maybe because of the 'tourist theatre', but also because of being outsiders, with different ways of defining family, family obligations, femininity and masculinity.