Photo Credit: OIM/Romeo Balancourt
“I left Greece in the early fifties because I wanted to go to university — at that time in Greece, young students needed to provide certificates showing that their parents were law-abiding citizens in order to be admitted in the university. However, my father had participated in the antiroyalist resistance which halted my plans. I chose France to see whether I could have a shot because it was the only country where I could go to school for free.
In my mind back then, Paris was the City of Light as described in books, the city of artwork and paintings. I had pictured Paris as an extraordinary city. But when I arrived at Gare de Lyon that day, it was raining. The buildings were all grey and nobody was waiting for me.
My first obsession was to learn the French language — and as quickly as possible. I managed to find accommodation in the university residence, and did what every Parisian student would do: talking about politics, all the time, everywhere. I was registered at the Faculty of Arts, then at the film school. For me, Paris was the symbol of absolute freedom: freedom to read in the libraries or freedom to read while walking around. I learned very quickly what it meant to be a Parisian, and how to live like one. I got to know some Parisian women too!
As a Greek man, I felt that I was embraced by friendship and kindness. From time to time, people were a bit curious about me due to my accent. Being open to welcoming the ‘other’ in the society brings us all one step closer to social and inner peace. France gave me everything; it gave me more than I ever could have imagined. In return, I tried to behave in the most appropriate manner. I started a family, my children and grandchildren are all good people. This is what I gave to France.
Today, foreigners are viewed in a more negative way. One’s skin color can provoke some uncomfortable questions and beget feelings that vary from hostility to extreme sympathy, depending on the person. Despite all the difficulties that my country is experiencing currently, Greece has shown a real sense of hospitality. That is what solidarity is all about: respecting the ‘other’ regardless of who he or she is.
People that travel around the world in search of a better life are heroes. We, as Europeans, did colonize many countries but we didn’t do what we could have done so that the people in those places would want to stay where they were. It is true that we often quote former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who once said that “France could not take in all the world’s poor”, yet we forget what he said afterwards: “… but it should faithfully share the burden.”
This campaign is run in partnership with the City Hall of Paris (Mairie de Paris.)