Young Greeks Rediscover Worry Beads

Filed on May 22, 1997 at 5:26 a.m. EDT

By The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Is there something to worry about?

The click-clack beat of traditional beads is growing ever more noticeable from the hands of the hip. Young Greeks are finding some comfort in an old custom -- flicking and fingering the ``komboloi,'' often known outside Greece as worry beads.

Click. A bank executive says the soft tapping of his wooden beads melts his stress.

Clack. A guy nursing a frothy iced coffee at an outdoor cafe believes women are drawn to the crisp snap of his big plastic beads. He proudly displays an address book full of names.

Whatever the reason, it's suddenly cool to be with beads.

``Sales are way up -- and I'm not talking about to tourists,'' said Costa Mavromatis, owner of a jewelry store near Athens' vast flea market district. ``These young Greeks come in looking for something that goes with their style. You know, a macho guy wants a leather and gold one. Artists go for colorful stone ones. It's the current fashion.''

And it can carry a thoroughly modern cost -- far removed from the simple komboloi (pronounced kom-bo-LOY) toted by their grandfathers.

In Athens' tony Kolonaki Square -- just around the corner from an Armani boutique -- two men in their mid-30s admired each others' beads. Eventually, they got down to the real issue: how much?

``Fifty-thousand,'' said one, flicking his string of mother-of-pearl beads on a gold link chain that cost about $190.

``Nice,'' said his friend, twirling a loop of ivory and polished black stone beads. ``These were about 65,000 ($250). But I got a deal. My brother bought the same ones.''

The costs run from cheap plastic beads sold at newsstands to more than $1,000 at top jewelers.

For the growing legions of Greek yuppies, the komboloi is more than just a noisy trinket. It's a scrap of tradition amid their endless feast of foreign culture -- from Tex-Mex restaurants to huge American-style cinema complexes -- that is rapidly shoving aside the sounds and flavors of old Greece.

``The sound of the komboloi is a sound of Greece,'' said Thanasis Haroumboulis, a 28-year-old graphic artist wearing a Planet Hollywood T-shirt.

The practice of carrying strings of beads originated in India as a way of counting prayers. In Greece, the komboloi never had a widespread religious association as in Roman Catholic regions of Europe. It evolved into a pastime and a symbol of maturity since it was generally favored by older men.

The newfound popularity among the young has some of the elders pleased -- and bemused.

Andreas Stamatis, a 74-year-old retired chef, was shocked to discover that a few women have even taken up the beads -- inspired in part by the late actress-turned-politician Melina Mercouri, who often carried a silver komboloi.

``Women?'' he gasped. ``How would they even know how to handle them?''