No buses on Sundays and all shops are closed. Limassol is the second biggest city of Cyprus, but most streets in city centre remain completely empty until noon. Only the beach boulevard is crowded and I think I will easily find people to tell me what is going on in Cyprus on Sundays. Wrong bet: hardly anybody on the coast walk is Cypriot. Three questions for today: where are all these people from, where are the Cypriots and, the original question, how do they spend their weekends?
Limassol boulevard is a two-kilometre pedestrian area that follows the coast line. It has no beaches, but it does have a park stretched out along the full length of the boulevard. On the last few days, the boulevard was mostly empty but today it is packed. The sun has drawn many people out of their houses to walk around for a bit, but I get suspicious about their origins when I hear a lot of Russian being spoken around me, and when I notice that many people have much darker skins than Cypriots do.
`Cypriots prefer to spend their Sundays sitting down and drinking coffee`
By asking around, I quickly find out that representatives of the different nationalities all have their own reasons to be in Limassol. Many Russians have got private businesses in Limassol, thanks to the good relations between Russia and Cyprus. Several small Russian enterprises have been suspected of serving as channels for money laundry. Their activities seem to be tolerated by local authorities. The Russian presence in Limassol brings a lot of money into Cyprus, because the economic activity in turn stimulates tourism from Russia.
Many English escape their army bases during the weekend to have a walk around, and Sunday is usually also the only day off for Indian and Philippine workers. The Indians tend to work in construction or trade. Philippinos, mainly girls, sign working contracts before being allowed into Cyprus. They are allowed to stay for the duration of their contract. Cyprus further hosts a great deal of Eastern European people from, among others, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Romania. These mostly young people come to Cyprus to enjoy a relatively good salary and nice climate. Many of them return home after a few years, complaining that Cyprus is like one big village: too small and with too few opportunities to really develop a career.
Finding the Cypriots
Marina (24) and Andreas (25, photo) are the first Cypriots I walk into. They quickly make me understand that I won`t find many Cypriots on the boulevard: `This area was constructed with the purpose of accommodating tourists and immigrants, rather than for the pleasure of the Cypriots themselves. Cypriots gather elsewhere, and most of all: they don`t walk anywhere, including beach boulevards. We happened to go for a walk today, but that`s more of a coincidence than a regular pattern. Cypriots take their car to go to a caf?, sit down all afternoon and socialise with friends. Most immigrants don`t earn enough money to afford spending entire afternoons in caf?s, so they spend their time in the open air and have picnics in the park. They mix with tourists, who simply like to enjoy the sun and walk along the sea side.`
Before I leave on my mission to find Cypriots hanging around in caf?s, Andreas tells me many young people go see football matches on Sundays. Andreas` favourite team is Famagusta, a Greek Cypriot team named after the now Turkish Cypriot city of Famagusta. Andreas explains that there are no teams from the North participating in the Cypriot football leage: `This team is originally from Famagusta, but when the Greek Cypriots were expelled from the North during the 1974 occupation, but they kept the name of their team.`
No matter how popular sports are for watching, very few people engage in sports over the weekend themselves. The most popular sport in Cyprus is going to the gym, which is generally a weekday evening activity. Cypriots are quick to admit that the main purpose of their exercise is to look better rather than to lead a healthy life. As an alternative to sport, some people use Wednesdays and Sundays to go hunting, with birds and rabbits as their most sought-after preys.
Family and church
After talking to Marina and Andreas, I continue walking in the direction they indicated. I soon find a whole lign-up of caf?s, all of which are indeed populated by Cypriots. Another Andreas (26) confirms what I had heard before: young people in Cyprus spend their Saturday nights out partying and when they get up on Sundays, they take the car to a nice caf?. They demystify my preconception that people return to their families for the weekends to have big lunches. `Most people live with their parents until they get married or at least engaged, and when they move out, very few will return to their families every weekend. That`s something they keep for Christmas and Easter.`
Going to church has also been banned from most young people`s Sunday agenda. They may briefly wake up from the church clocks at 7 in the morning, but they do not feel too enticed to attend church if there is no special occasion. Mass traditionally starts very early, around 7:30 or 8 o`clock. Even most churchgoers do not make it in time. With the exception of a few old ladies, the rest of the audience doesn`t start sipping in until Mass has already started.
Nicos (31) tells me that it`s not only old people going to church: `Many young parents like to raise their children with the idea that religion provides a good basis for education, so they introduce them to the tradition. Apart from that, people wait for special occasions or they go when they have something specific to pray for.`
Cars and dogs
While enjoying their Greek coffees or derivatives on the terrace, Cypriots use Sundays to show themselves in the most advantageous way. Many people have put on their nicest or newest clothes, girls wear a little more make-up than usual, and well-groomed youngsters arrive in the flashiest cars. Owners of Corvettes, Porsches, Jaguars and even Ferraris park their cars in front of the caf?s, exposing themselves and their cars to admiring looks. If their cars don`t do the job, they try to grab the audience`s attention by quick accelerations or simply by making a lot of noise. Racing is popular in Cyprus, but in lack of racing circuits, the city streets are used for the same purpose.
Cars seem to serve as important status symbols for young Cypriots. Virtually everybody over 18 is in possession of their private car. Kyriakos (27) says: `Cypriots have big families and if a family does not have one car per person, they at least have one for shopping, one for professional purposes and one to go the beach. There is no public transportation, so they have to.` From earlier conversations, I already concluded that, even if there was such a network, people would be very reluctant to use it. The only suggestion considered worthwhile is a rail link between Paphos, Limassol and Nicosia. For the rest, people prefer to use their car even if the distance to be covered is less than 500 metres.
While guys incessantly talk about the cars maneuvering up and down the street, some of the girls also have their own little accessories: dogs the size of small cats. The minidogs are transported in a way that would best be described as the average between carrying a baby and carrying a handbag: close to the body and without any change of it hitting the ground. Louisa (29) says that the girls like to spend their Sundays talking about clothes - especially shoes - and problems at work, `but watching cars with the guys also seems to provide sufficient entertainment.`
Boy or girl, for those who get bored chitchatting the day away, there`s a popular Cypriot board game which is similar to Backgammon. It`s called Tavli and most caf?s will also have a board and pieces available. If not, a set of playing cards is easily found.
Seasons do not greatly change people`s activities. During summer, the whole people circus moves to the beach, but the same principle applies: people use Sundays to observe each other and to converse about their findings.
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