Cyprus is a very small country: not only in distances but also on a social scale. Almost everybody knows almost everybody. Social control helps Cyprus remain a very safe country, but some people would care for a little more privacy at times. Immigrants from mainland Europe usually need very little time to get fed up with the village-like social structures in Cyprus, which send news across the island quicker than a person can travel.
A main chunk of the tight social network is explained by the size of families. Even people who are today in their twenties are part of families of seven or eight. With only a handful of cities in the island, it is quite common for people to have a brother or sister living in Nicosia, one in the place they are originally from and one in another city along the coast.
..is not using internet very frequently
Beside big families and people`s individual efforts to make friends, the 2-year compulsory army service also helps a great deal in getting to know people. Young recruits from all over the country serve in the army together and afterwards, they will know how to find each other for the rest of their lives.
The networking system brings about a mechanism of social control that many people, especially immigrants, are not always very happy about. Vasilis (25) explains that part of the social cohesion to `fear of the unknown`. Cypriots tend to trust only people they know. They are quick at evaluating whether somebody `new to the community` is trustworthy. Newcomers may not necessarily be talked to, but they will be talked about as long as they do not find an access into existing social network structures. Immigrants also complain about Cypriots being unpredictable, saying that they can never figure out what standards to comply with. Social behaviour in Cyprus is far from organised, and Cypriots may want to be treated differently every day. People who greet each other with a kiss one day may prefer to shake hands the next day, even if the social setting is exactly the same.
Pros and cons
For both outsiders and insiders, any behaviour that does not match with the expectations, no matter how variable those may be, is quickly frowned upon. In a tight social network, such deviant behaviour may easily be misinterpreted and lead to gossip. Fortunately, superstition provides a solution to the problem. Non-religious people often wear a round-shaped stone, coloured in clear blue, white and black to protect themselves from bad talk behind their back. For religious people, wearing a necklace with a Christian cross will have the same effect.
A big social network comes in handy for people who are looking for jobs. Beside via-via The most common alternative for job searches is the newspaper, in which vacancies are posted regularly. Unlike in many other European countries, the advertisement does not include address information: neither physical address nor e-mail or website. Employers usually request applicants to call them by phone for initial contact.
The strength of social networks in Cyprus means that alternatives to real-life contact are less developed than most other European Union countries. Most Cypriot companies don`t have websites. If they do, the typical appearance of such website would resemble a Western European personal homepage from 10 years ago.
Irene (25, photo) tells me that many people still use dial-up internet to avoid high monthly subscriptions. She herself regularly accesses her mail account via Hotmail.com or she may search for information using Google. Like many other people, Irene does hardly ever use the internet to purchase goods or services. Few overseas companies ship products to Cyprus without adding an impressive surcharge. Local Cypriot companies may be present on the web, but very few of them support on-line sales.
Internet is used mostly by students and business but even among these groups, the range of applications they actually use tends to be limited. Downloading music or to playing games are favourite online activities. Constantinos (24) remembered a time when he spent a lot of time in internet cafes, chatting to friends and playing on-line games. `But then I found out that it`s nicer to just meet them in the street and go for a drink, so I don`t use internet as much anymore. Nothing or nobody is really far away in Cyprus and face-to-face contact is much more satisfactory.`
Stelios (23) has only been online once in his life and he admits that he doesn`t really know how to operate it. Nor does he feel obliged to use the internet, as all services on the internet also exist in real life. For bank transfers, he will go to an ATM. For making telephone calls, Stelios will use his mobile phones. Booking flights or holidays is something he will leave to a friend or cousin who has a travel agency specialised in the matter. For staying updated on the news, people speak to their friends instead of consulting either paper or electronic newspapers.
The most probable profile of an internet user in Cyprus is a young student who is, or has been, studying abroad. It is up to them to further promote internet usage, to develop e-commerce and to educate their compatriots how to take advantage of the worldwide web. Or maybe deliberately opt out. Cypriot people seem to know where to find what they want to find, so why would they even need the internet at all?
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