Conversations about Dowries

Dowries are just not the done thing in the modern world. The Greeks still do it. My father gifted a dowry for his sister, as he was head of the household after his father died and assumed the traditional duty. I remember part of the wedding gift; really, that is what it was. If it was expected then I suppose it became part of the dowry. My father and his brother gave the newly married couple a Jaguar X-Type. In 1972 that was a real car. It was brown with tan leather seats and a walnut dashboard with more chromed dials than an aeroplane. It had twin fuel tanks and a rocker switch on the dashboard to change the fuel supply. The fuel flaps were chrome and lay streamlined behind the rear window pillars on each side. My cousin George has lovingly restored the car to its former beauty.

But as I said, dowries are not done anymore. But if the groom expects a gift from his future wife’s family, then that is the dowry.  How do you work it out, if you were to pay it. Does it depend on the status of the man, or his race? Assuming the bride is Greek, would the dowry paid for a Greek doctor be the same as for a Jewish Doctor. Surely not, because a mixed marriage in those days was frowned upon. Even if the Jewish doctor was a specialist?If the groom was a successful business man, would the dowry depend on whether he could franchise the business to include his future brother –in-laws? Or perhaps would it be lowered, or increased in value, if the business was based on stolen goods? And how would the value of the dowry paid vary if the groom was in his father’s business which could be amalgamated with the bride’s father’s business to increase sales?

I am not sure about the calculations. I assume the wedding gift from the bride’s parents would be just that: a gift. Not a calculated valuation of their daughter’s worth in a  new life with essentially an unknown man. For how can anyone know how the young man turns out. For how can anyone know everything about the young man’s history, and if they did, how many of them turn a blind eye to his exploits.

The sad thing is that the  dowry did not represent the worth of the daughter. It may have been higher if she was worth less, to convince a suitor to marry her, but otherwise the woman’s worth in a chauvinistic Greek society was calculated in a bizarre fashion, if you ask me.

Now on a more serious note about dowries. When my grandfather sponsored his cousins from Greece to come and work in Union Cafe in Alberton, South Africa, they had a poor command of English behind the counter. A woman came in asking for a Primus Pricker. Uncle Jimmy went to my grandfather and asked him panic-struck.

Theo, what does this woman want? A prika? Does she want to marry me?” Paled faced he stood, wringing his hands in fear of some sin he may have to commit to live in this new world.

My grandfather laughed. He explained what a Primus Pricker was.

Because a dowry in Greek is a Prika. We are all involved in it, somehow.

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