10 Things It Gets Right About Greek-American Culture

My Big Fat Greek Wedding might technically be a romantic comedy, but the 2002 film is just as much an extremely loving and accurate sociological depiction of the daily life of Greek-Americans. The film goes to great lengths to incorporate many of the lived experiences of Greek-Americans, from the rituals of social gatherings to the conflicts that arise between extended family members.

Throughout, even when it satirizes some of these elements and risks turning some characters into stereotypes, My Big Fat Greek Wedding analyzes the Greek-American culture through a completely loving lens. There is no harsh critique to be found in this film, but rather a warm and inviting depiction of, as Toula calls it, “the history of our people, the great civilization: the Greeks.”


10 Greek School As A Rite Of Passage

Young Toula Portokalos in Greek school in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Learning languages is a major part of most American children’s school experience, whether it means learning the usual Spanish or French, or the less conventional Latin. But for Greek-American children, there is another crucial element of their language learning in their youngest years: Greek school, usually hosted at the Greek Orthodox church their family attends.

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding briefly incorporates this via a quick flashback sequence that embodies the experience. Toula narrates this glimpse of her childhood: “While the pretty girls got to go to Brownies, I had to go to Greek school. At Greek school, I learned valuable lessons like, ‘If Nick has one goat, and Maria has nine, how soon will they marry?'”

9 Big Family Dinners

Gus Portokalos and his family during the big family dinner in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

The family dinner is a major component of many family relationships, whether in real life or in film and television. Sitcoms and family dramas would barely exist without fraught and contentious conversations held around the dinner table. But My Big Fat Greek Wedding shows that, while Greeks do have their version of the family dinner, it happens on a much bigger scale than most.

When Toula invites Ian’s parents to “meet the family,” she naively expects that to mean having dinner with her parents, and maybe her brother Nick. Instead, Maria and Gus invite every single brother, sister, cousin, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt, and so on, resulting in a full-blown Greek festival right in their front yard, complete with a lamb roasting on a spit. Many Greek family celebrations take on this scale all too easily.

8 The Immigrant Experience Vs. The First Generation

Toula Portokalos tells her father Gus she wants to go to college in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Stories that cover the intergenerational tensions in the relationships between parents and children have become increasingly common in recent years. Likewise, the complex relationship between an immigrant parent and a first-generation child continues to be mined for television and film content with great success, regardless of the country of origin.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was ahead of the trend when it was released in 2002 and covered the complex father-daughter relationship between Gus and Toula. The struggle between an immigrant parent’s vision for their child’s future and the first generation child’s rebellion against the limitations their parent places on them is something that Greek-Americans, among many other cultures, contend with to this day.

7 Living With Your Parents Until You Get Married

Maria, Toula, and Gus Portokalos sit together in the living room in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Many coming-of-age movies prominently feature a main character’s desire to move out of their family home as soon as they turn 18. Some of them even have their parents eager to kick them out of the house once the clock strikes midnight on their 18th birthday. In Greek-American culture, this is all but unheard of.

In the Greek world, it is not just common, but almost even completely expected for an adult to live in their family home with their parents (and their extended family, such as Toula’s grandmother Yiayia) until they get married. Even further, once the now-adult children do get married, they don’t move very far away – such as when Toula and Ian move just next door.

6 Spitting, Pinching, And Kissing

The Portokalos family enthusiastically embrace Ian Miller in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Every culture has its unique social ritual. Many cultures have rituals that go a little bit too far in terms of respecting someone’s boundaries, particularly when they have only just met in the first place. My Big Fat Greek Wedding illustrates many of these boundary-pushing rituals in great detail.

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Adults frequently spit throughout the film to prevent bad thoughts and jealousies from being directed at those they love. When the extended family finally meets Ian, he is beset by a sea of Greeks who want to pinch his cheeks and kiss him, either on the face or on the lips, one by one. Any Greek-American reading this most likely just winced as years of pinched cheeks suddenly returned to their mind in vivid detail.

5 The Family Restaurant

The Dancing Zorba's restaurant at night in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Family restaurants are the main theme in stories from many cultures, such as Italian and Chinese. Many families in reality do have at least one relative who runs their restaurant, which becomes a gathering place for not just the family itself, but the community at large.

This is especially true for Greek-Americans, a fact that has been featured in popular culture from the Olympia Cafe on Saturday Night Live to Frasier. Of course, My Big Fat Greek Wedding prominently features the Portokalos family restaurant, named Dancing Zorba’s, which serves as a set piece for key moments of family conflict, romantic interest, and community-wide celebration.

4 The Louder, The Better

It’s almost a stereotype on its own at this point, to depict any particularly “ethnic” culture in film and television as being loud just for the sake of being loud, such as in many Italian-American movies. The contrast between Toula’s loud and proud Greek family and Ian’s very reserved WASP family speaks for itself in this regard, particularly when the two families finally meet for the first time.

But whether they are interacting with “outsiders” (or, as Gus calls them, xeno), arguing amongst themselves, or taking part in family celebrations in restaurants or on the front lawns, the Greeks who populate the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding have one volume and one volume only: loud.

3 Everyone Is Related To Alexander The Great, Right?

Toula Portokalos helps her father Gus use the computer in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

While this storyline doesn’t take place until the sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, it is still a uniquely Greek-American experience that cannot be overlooked. In his elder years, Gus becomes convinced of the fact that the Portokalos family line is a direct descendant of Alexander the Great, the ancient Greek hero of Macedonian origin.

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There is no way to prove that anyone is directly related, given the thousands of years that have passed and conflicting reports about the lineage Alexander left behind. But Toula nevertheless humors her father’s beliefs and fabricates an ancestry test “proving” their genetic link to Alexander. Many Greeks who humor their own relatives’ conviction in this belief can completely understand.

2 Food Is A Complex Love Language

Maria Portokalos cooks for her children in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

As should be clear by now, food plays a major role not only in My Big Fat Greek Wedding but also in Greek and Greek-American culture as a whole. Families always eat together, and elder generations show their love for younger generations by cooking lavish meals and passing on their recipes from generation to generation.

Toula explains this well early in the film: “My mom was always cooking foods filled with warmth and wisdom, and never forgetting that side dish of steaming hot guilt.” Family and food go hand in hand, so it’s only natural that the relationship between them is just as complex as the relationship between any family members.

1 Being Greek Is The Best Thing You Can Be

The Portokalos family home in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

It’s a running theme throughout My Big Fat Greek Wedding: there is nothing better a person can be than Greek. Gus says it himself: “Toula, there are two kinds of people: Greeks, and everybody else who wish they was Greek.”

Gus in particular takes pride in listing out things that Greeks were the first culture to do, finding the Greek origins of any word, and reminding anyone and everyone that they should be proud of their Greek heritage. Many real-life Greeks, and Greek-Americans, often do just the same, no matter the surroundings they find themselves in. There is no end to Greek pride, something the film captures all too well.

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About The Author

Katerina Daley
(510 Articles Published)

Katerina is a List Writer here at Screen Rant with a background in literary criticism and creative writing. She has been in love with all things film and television since she saw her first movie in theatres at 2.5 years old (Muppet Treasure Island, in case you were wondering). She has a passion for character-driven stories with dynamic but flawed leads, and a special weakness for all things 1980s. If she’s not ranting about characters who deserved better or typing away at one of her many fan fiction epics, she’s probably asleep.

She’s been living in a galaxy far, far away since she was 11 years old, though she makes the occasional stop in Themyscira, Hawkins, and Westeros – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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