So, I’ve been here for over 8 years now, can’t say it’s all been a bed of roses, well, can’t say any of it has to be honest but I have lived and learn’t a lot from my time here.
So why come to Greece, well, why not…
This ‘wealth’ of knowledge I would like to share with you all now as this has been more a ‘work in progress‘ kind of thing, and will be until the day I leave. As two days are rarely the same by any stretch of the imagination, the things we pick up and learn from Greece are ones we will never forget, no matter what. Some you just can’t…
There’s subtle things that you are often acutely aware of when you set out to move abroad, obvious factors which spring to mind are often the language, the culture and or religious aspect to their way of life as well as the history and the typical national stereotyping which some people have picked up prior to moving.
Let’s face it, no one will ever forget the French as ‘Cheese eating surrender monkeys‘… It just can’t be done – As they say in France, ‘We surrender‘… Just joking.
C’est la vie.
What people don’t always realise is that this barely scratches the surface on what you face when you do move abroad, some is easily negotiable, for some anyway, but for others it can be a heavy cross to bear as you lose touch with your once familiar surroundings of home and step foot into the unknown.
There was a time when I first came here that talking to rocks seemed normal. Happens to many of us new arrivals I suppose as we adapt and change into our new surroundings.
The random and sporadic madness is as much it’s failing as it is it’s charm. You can’t change it, you shouldn’t try either, just let it wash over you and hope to hell you don’t drown in it. It’s easily done, I’ve seen Greece break many a person, myself included at times and unless you have the mental flexibility of an ambidextrous three foot tall limbo dancer, be warned now, it’s not of this world…
For starters they use a language which by all accounts has been made ‘easier‘ than it was previously… Yes. Really, I’ve seen grown adults with tears in their eyes recount how at school they were having to learn Greek (prior to the changes), Ancient Greek and then the new fangled Greeklish which blossomed with the rise of technology and suchlike…
Like life here isn’t hard enough anyway, I know, let’s have 3 versions of a national language.
So when people flippantly use the term ‘Greek tragedy‘, you have to live here to understand the true implication that expression carries with it when you use it before you should ever be allowed to whisper it in public.
So, until scientists prove that the language was infact derived from a presently unknown Alien civilisation which once came to Earth, don’t assume that listening to a few sleep easy learning CD’s will do a great deal to help master it, they won’t. On the upside though, you do now have new shiny coasters for your coffee to sit on.
What I’d reccomend is something like the book covered below, and don’t let the humourous title put you off, 25 years is being optimistic I assure you. Plus there’s every chance they’ll have introduced another version just to shake things up a little in the meantime, maybe allow each Island to have it’s own version too…
Sure the language isn’t everything but it does help, I mastered the art of soundling like someone gargling wasps when I first came here within weeks, still can only just struggle by at a push but then my life here wasn’t so fortunate to allow me to take the normal route into integrating here in Greece, so in some ways I make no apology for that.
Not understanding Greek much better than I do often helped, really, it kept me sane and distanced me from the ongoing conversations about the Crisis, the lastest strike or the reason’s why London still has the Marbles…
Often I wondered if it’s why everyone here seemed to have lost their marbles, but no, they meant the ones the dastardly ‘British Elgin Marbles‘ the Empire had gone and nabbed way back when…
For the record, couldn’t agree more about them being returned, I cover this in a little more depth elsewhere in the blog but it does open up a major can of World whoop ass when it comes to National Heritage pieces which are displayed in musuems around the world, and thankfully nothing to do with me. You want my vote, you got it, simple.
I now have the added insight to know that when these such questions bubble up as they do, I can now pull my best Greek face and mutter ‘Re malaka, etsi’ and people assume I’m a native. Often then resulting in a four hour converstion about where to go to have the best coffee in town, a three hour discussion about where the best seats are once there and then a two hour chat deciding who’s going to sit in which spot.By the time the waiter arrives he’s just normally coming to remind you that they actually shut six hours ago and have been debating how, who and when to come and tell you to leave…
You just have to love it, we don’t rush here. We just happen here, it’s the way it is.
As long as you like cold coffee, good food and this thing called the ‘SUN’ being ever present, you’d mostly do fine.
Before I kick things off though, I feel it’s my duty to also suggest an option which the Government should seriously consider intoducing at the airport and ports to help people assimilate into their new surroundings once they get off the plane, and definitely before proceeding to make their way inland and mingle with the natives if not for their own safety.
On a positive note it’ll hopefully also help eliminate the wheat from the chaff so to speak, so please allow me to explain :
On leaving the terminal, all arrivals should be herded to a dual doorway for a free coffee, one doorway has a ‘Starbucks‘ above it and the other has a traditional Greek Yia Yia’s coffee house above it, those who choose to visit Yia Yia’s get a delicious free Frappe or Greek coffee of their choosing, those who step through the Starbucks doorway find themselves back on the plane they came on, all ready to depart so we can f*ck them the hell back to wherever it is they came from.
I mean, you’re in the one part of the world which makes coffee it’s way of life and you decide to have a fricking Starbucks, if it weren’t for people frowning on a bullet to the head, I’d make that option number two, but such is life, and yours for now is only just safe.
So choose wisely, coffee isn’t just coffee, it’s the lifeblood of the nation and you demean your own credibility coming here and drinking that over priced sludge.
It’s not big or clever so behave.
When here, avoid discussions about the crisis, Brexit, Politics in general, Religion, sport unless you know what team the other person supports, (and even then, just don’t), definately don’t mention Germany at the minute either, Refugees, both the IMF/Europe and definitely never mention Goldman and Sachs, and you’re in with half a chance.
So, what do you need to know?
There are four main groups which I shall touch on as detailed below, hopefully these will make your stay here, your understanding and your ability to adapt and seamlessly fit in smoother for the better part of your time here.
1 – Food.
3 – Social dynamic.
4 – The ‘system’…
An all together different beast.
Having brought my trusty wooden Bread bin over from the UK, I naturally assumed that it would harbor the same purpose here in Greece as it did in the UK, and whereby in my homeland it largely absorbed the damp and kept it free from unwanted interference, here in Greece it serves as a mini time machine.
Anything over 25 degrees on a calm day and you might see 2 days useage out a fresh loaf, anywhere over 30 dgrees and maybe a day, anytime over 35/40 degrees and that thing you innocently put in the bread bin suddenly needs carbon dating.
It doesn’t just dry up, it’s evaporates on a molecular level that scientists still can’t work out quite how.
After the first day of my first summer experience when I moved here I thought someone had broken into my house and replaced the bread with a loofah… I didn’t complain but it was the worst bath I’d had for a long time and by the time I’d gotten into the water the damned thing had soaked it all. I sat there naked, bone dry with an oversized bread shaped spongy thing.
After two days, you can’t even impregnate it with water and it’s so dry I use it as chalk. Light s a feather mind you and harder than Diamond with an erection.
I recommend splashing out on a few tools for when you get caught short anyway and still insist on trying to have a slice.
I myself bought a Black and Decker workbench, a sandblaster and a welding mask and now I can have bread all summer long, it’s a bit noisy admittedly and the amount you waste does fall into question but at least you might get one, maybe two slices of flour based Granite substance to accompany your meal, just be gentle when putting on your plate, I’ve already broken 3.
Introducing, the Frappe…
It’s a national dish, it’s a cultural icon, it’s part of the genetic fabric of the people, and Alexander the Great probably rode his horse with one in his hand as he conquered Egypt. But to me it’s still cold coffee…
I do drink cold coffee when begrudgingly reasling that my nice hot coffee has gone cold, but even then occasionally would top it up with boiling water as opposed to drinking cold if I can.
It’s just wrong, against everything my English Tea drinking soul was raised to do. I make a damned good one though, and if I have Baileys will happily indulge the creative side to a Frappe to ensure it’s in full dangerously ‘not going to do anything else but party after this coffee‘ mode, but otherwise, I can’t succumb to this concept. I just can’t.
I fully understand why, only an eedyit would drink a boiling mug of coffee in the 40+ degree Sun, but that’s how I Roll… Tea, coffee on the hottest day of the year, and not even letting it cool down either.
Hard – Core… I even have cup-a-soup in summer, Rock ‘n’ Roll baby, Rock and Roll…
But when you come to Greece, you should, you need to at least understand the world of the ‘Frappe‘ least you be shunned like a leper.
It might be obvious to some but not to everyone but subject to which part of the world you come here from, the difference in temperature is quite unforgiving during the summer months and so to northerners like myself who previously could keep eggs outside the fridge for most of the year if not all of it, here you musn’t.
Not just because there’s every chance the damn things might hatch in 40 degree heat, but the impending nasal torture that spews forth when you crack one open having assumed that after a week, it’s still likely to be ok sat on the kitchen side.
Well, honestly, I thought I’d bought half a dozen egg shaped chemical weapons. Never before have I experienced such eye curdling vom inducing air flow, within seconds I had Donald Trumps hair and facial range, scary.
So be warned. You don’t want to accidentally end up cooking a few of those when you have a cold, not that the smell wouldn’t burn straight through any congestion, but I truly dread to think what they could do to your insides, though in fairness I’m guessing your insides would probably rapidly become your outsides pretty quickly anyway.
And yes, I don’t mean Popeye’s bit of squeeze, I’m talking Olive Oil, the olive nectar of the Mediterranean.
I’m not going to get into the who makes the ‘best’ Olive Oil argument, I’m here in Greece and it’s obvious that if I ever want to make it out alive, you don’t even mention that lower grade stuff Luigi & Mario try and pass off as Olive oil…
*Disclaimer… I remain neutral. If in Italy and you’re reading this Monica Bellucci, they made me say it…
Truth is, I come from the UK and we do have ‘Olive oil‘, which in essence can be roughly ‘olive‘ in colour and is probably ‘oil‘ from something or other, but nothing compared to what you have here in Greece. You no doubt can buy good quality in the UK but it’s probably from here and would require the selling of a lung to obtain a small vial of the stuff.
We in the UK are a lard and sunflower oil nation, not quite as willing to die as the Yanks, but in a similar vein when it comes to cooking things in fat and low grade diesel.
There were times in the UK when half the time I swear I was eating something that had been cooked in something drained from a car. Not that we complained, Ketchup, Vinegar, and cover it in gravy and the job’s a good’un.
Cuisine of the Gods for sure.
But here you have to embrace it, it’s not only healthy but divine with most foods and where in the uk we’d be reluctant to liberally cover a salad in oil, here it just accentuates the flavours and brings it all together. So don’t scrimp, double what you’d ever think to use normally, and then double that and you’re still shy of a modest Greek portion but at least you’re learning…
Do NOT underestimate the need for water when in Greece. EVER.
I know in the UK water requires three types of ID, a visa card and half a million in the bank to get a glass in some places, but here it’s free, they give it you while you wait for your meal and drink, it’s for a reason too.
If you like a drink, and I’m not talking coffee/tea, you need to hydrate, regularly, like a bitch if your from a nation that doesn’t consume much water to start with.
Seriously, unless you want to risk dying, dehydrating, headaches which will register on the richter scale as a local tremor and worse, DRINK. I can’t stress this enough, I’ve been here long enough to know better and though I rarely do have any alcohol these days, do consume vast amounts of coffee all day and night and the f*cking headaches I wrestle with still are all of my own stupidity as a result of not hydrating regularly. This I know.
So heed this, if anything more than the rest.
The Fresh Markets.
These pop up weekly and usually the main one is on Saturdays, some during the week too depending upon where you live. Tuesdays and Thursdays as a rule and if near you must check them out. Early if you get the chance and want to not get caught up in the stampede, or last hour as they are packing away if you want to search out the deals, although quite a few things will have sold out by then.
Greece is blessed with having so much agricultural influx, from the Islands to the mainlands and everything in betwen that the choice, the variety and the quality is second to none.
Here you can buy spring onions the size of leeks, I kid you not… It was only when I had gotten home though that I realised that they were in fact leeks, but still, you can buy some really big spring onions too.
They sell everything, mostly organic and fresh, some clothing stalls, diy, misc kitchen/cleaning things and the value for money for what you get is exceptional, so if you can it’s much better to support the farmers before the Unions and the super market chains come here and stick a Tesco’s Express in every Church…
The Weather :
Exactly as it says. Heatwave MOFO – It will cook your nuts, plain and simple…
Since I’ve been here I’ve covered the weather a few times, you have to as the shock is phenomenal, and writing is about the only physical activity you can manage when it’s 40+ degrees in the shade and you’re sat in the fridge with your nuts in an Ice cooler.
Being British I try have to fight the urge to moan about the weather these days because it’s apparently a National hobby for most of us pale faced Limeys, but what can you do, we never have a heatwave that usually last as long as a cup of Tea.
A few more things you might like to know are covered here.
This is a long suffering problem you have to just accept when living here and you either cope with it, adapt or it’s breaks you.
Either your too cold and air conditioning your ass to an icicle or your in the Sun, dripping like you’re made of water, there often is no inbetween.
The constant battle as you feel your sweat streaming down your back and nestling snugly between your buttocks as you shuffle from side to side as you sit, eager to work the drops away from your shirt or blouse, your crutch so hot and sticky you think you’re sat on a camping stove with genitals in desperate need of turning.
I myself suffer mostly as I apparently have quite fine hair so after getting out of the shower it never ever seems to dry, just a perpetual state of moistness which just streams down past my ears and down my neck to join the rest of my body fluids in their search for new unexplored crevices.
My personal favourite is Moontan. I’ve never had the circumstances to experience it getting hotter at 3am in the morning when in essence the SUN has long buggered off and the Planet by my way of thinking should be in fact cooling down… Like WTF is that all about, really.
I use to live up a hill, not a huge one, on a good normal day a brisk 2 minute sprint would have me home in no time, in August, surviving a 35 degree ‘cool’ day and walking home at 3-4am when it was 38 degrees, that hill was worse than climbing Mt. Everest in high heels.
It was brutal to a scale I’ll never forget, drunk, well, by the time I actually made it to the front door it could have taken me two days for all I know. I wouldn’t have cared either…
Just to open the door and step into a nice chilled 37 degree house was bliss…
That one degree felt like I’d moved to Iceland. I kept expecting Bjork to appear and serenade me to sleep, but that was probably the alcohol and the adrenalin my body had none of.
The big yellow thing.
I’ve since had it confirmed and it’s actually called the ‘Sun’, quite common in the rest of the world apparently, but still gets some getting use to no matter what it’s called.
The best thing about it is waking up, no matter how dark your appartment/house is, you know that it’s sunny outside, even when it’s raining (hahaha, rain…), even when there’s that sole lonely lost cloud in the sky, desperately trying to make it back to Manchester, you always know it’s going to be glorious outside, if the heat mid summer doesn’t already heighten your sense of how nice it is, the general thrumm of the people does.
I used the term ‘clouds‘ mainly to get your attention really, there’s only usually one cloud floating about and I suspect it’s the same one going round and round all year long.
Even when in spring/autumn and winter. – LOL – There is no winter here, northern Greece sure, some of the islands get cold too, but in Athens, we have what I call a ‘Naff Summer‘ period whereby the weather is akin to a British July, anything from 5 to 20degrees on a good day, and then ‘Summer‘ which last from about March to October for me.
During the former part of the year we do borrow some clouds from neighbouring Countries so it seems, probably loaned out to us by ‘ze Germans‘ judging by the regular attacks on Pappas post and a few other online ‘rantstands‘.
Otherwise like me, when you see one you take a photo of it like a keepsake, a lover never to be forgotten as you wave it goodbye, gone for another month at least…
You know when it is raining here because EVERYONE in Greece is on facebook posting youtube videos with the word ‘rain’ in the title within the first few droplets hitting the pavement. That’s a fact of life i chuckle at still.
Thunder & Lightning.
Very very frightening. Often without rain though which I find strange.
Probably not strictly true either, last time I joked about that just over the hills suffered extreme flooding and a few people were injured so, wherever I am, no rain… It just taunts me with a few drops, gets me ready to step out to door and bask in it’s mighty moistness, and… Stopped.
The only sign of it ever raining was my rapidly shared out Ian Brown video for ‘Reign’…
So there’s that.
Otherwise it’s pretty much the same as everywhere else really. It can excel in its ferosity and I suppose the humidity here helps it get to the levels it does, but in the confines of a non flamable place of safety, I do love to watch it.
Social dynamic :
What can I say about the ‘family’ over here that is safe to say… Hmmm, not a lot. So, if you want to find out more about that, search online, I’m saying nothing…🙂
Well, it’s nice to see families as a close to be honest, mine use to be a lot closer than it is now but life happens and things show you a different side to them as you grow, some stay loyal to what you thought and knew whilst others morph into their own form, the same is happening here with the advent of the crisis in some ways, difficulties, financial and emotional, the adapting world we live in and the changes which Greece now faces all shaping the family landscape into something few may struggle to retain as life goes on.
For foreigners here integrating with the ‘family’ of those you know isn’t always so easy, so just be prepared, where as in the UK people bolt at Christmas and Easter and all flock to their friends and suchlike, here the family unit becomes one mass of Chicken, Goat and anything else too slow to make it from the spit as relatives feast on anything in or on, or near a plate, sing and dance and then drink copious amounts of Aviation fuel whilst the rest of the night tends to be made up of a lot of ‘Opa‘ and hell of a lot of ‘Malaka‘.
If you are to get close you’ll never starve, that’s a fact…
I still don’t know so much about namedays really, how can you, it’s tied to the madness surrounding the Orthodox Religion and as Religions are not my favourite choice of brainwashed Theologies, they’ve since become something I’ve deliberately long avoided.
I prefer to step out the shadow of that debate too really, not because I don’t want to, but because I’d be writing all week covering a subject which would no doubt engulf the whole point of the post.
So, I’ll probably dive headfirst into that nightmare soon enough, after all, it’s what I do and people expect a certain continuity.
Meanwhile, religion, lack of it or too much of it stands to be a large factor in what is a core Orthodox part of the world, all I can say is enjoy what can of it when you’re here, don’t try and force you own and remember where you are.
It’s about respect and whilst I don’t choose to follow it, I admire the effort the Church and those involved in it goto to preserve their beliefs, no matter at times how absurd.
But that’s as covered, in a long and overdue subject I look forward to tackling shortly.
The System :
Apparently it does exist… That’s all I know. Probably hidden away with that odd sock you lost years ago.
Well, consumerism isn’t doing so well here so too boost the Economy people took to burning benches and anything else lying around to help kickstart it.
After all nothing defines Government Policy like a mob of angry citizens burning furniture outside Parliament…
And that folks is sarcasm… Not voting in the same Economically challenged halfwits would be a good start, but hey, what do I know.
Well, I’ve been in a few banks around the world and I still can’t even get my head around what use to happen in the National Bank of Greece near where I use to live in Galatsi…
Like seriously, WTF!? It’s a family outing for at least a third of the people who use to go there, a chance to go and ask Kostas behind the counter how his family were and as for the other third, I don’t even know.
I’m assuming that maybe when the bank shuts at 2pm, a secret doorway to the underworld opened up and the whole sordid ‘Banking’ thing happened somehow…
I once went with a friend, keen to show me that her words weren’t in fact the stuff of nightmares, but real, happening everyday in this mysterious thing they called a ‘Bank’.
I knew the name, just not the concept.
So we went, an hour and half queuing with half the people of Athens who somehow appeared outside the door, we eventually made it through the security door, together despite the rules, because rules are meant for breaking, especially here it seems, and so it began.
I was instantly transported into that mangling machine you see in Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. There were people who’d been in there so long they no longer knew why they were there, where they were or who they were, and my guess was that if we weren’t careful we were soon to become the same.
The ticket machine was on number 625 and the one lit up on the counter wall was for about 128… This did not bode well.
By the time the number had gotten to 1 34 my balls had dropped again and I randomly went through a midlife crisis/puberty change over, it was like the passing of the Olympic torch I swear.
Thankfully most of the people who came into the bank previously just came in to get a ticket and then leave!? Common practice apparently…
Meanwhile we watched the number crawl painfully up to the mid 140’s before someone jumped up, awoken from their coma by the misplaced hope that the Bank had any money, the cashier knew what the hell he was supposed to be doing and that the end result would be satisfactory to at least someone in the Bank.
That folks, is Optimism…And foolhardy. I know now.
20 minutes past and we waited, three more cashiers were ploughing through people like slugs on a copper lined salt path and the numbers without explanation rocketed up to the mid 150’s in less than an hour.
I naturally assumed that there was some sort of trapdoor in front of the counter.
The moral of the story is if you want to get to the Bank, go the day before, nail the doors shut, sleep overnight on the doorstep and only let the staff in if you go with them.
After about three hours we left, two generations of cashier lived and died before our very eyes and from what I could see people were only in to see how the credit debarcle affected them.
I’d have told them myself : “it doesn’t, we’re all f*cked anyway, so, know anywhere we can go for the best Frappe in town…?”
So, that was nice.
Since and fortunately, I’m with the Pireaus Bank on Leof. Alexandros, and the guy who helped me transfer my details should be running the Country as far as I’m concerned, the single most helpful, friendly and dedicated person I’ve met since being here… If only he’d have filled my account with ilicit 100 euro notes, I’d have adopted him right then and there.
Previously when I was with Marfin bank in Galatsi before they were consumed by the crisis, I also had a great rapport and respect for them too, friendly, helpful and the assistant I always tried to ensure served me was just f*cking edible as you like…
Which was nice…
Again, this shall be covered very soon in a dedicated post having been caught in this nightmare here for my 8 years in Greece. I can’t do it justice by even starting so I won’t but f*ck do I want to…
If you want to learn more, browse a few posts on the blog, you’ll soon see why I’m so p*ssed with it, and as afore mentioned, I’ll be unleashing the hounds on this subject REAL soon.
Well, tread lightly , that’s what can be said. I’ve been stopped and harrassed probably nearly a dozen times now when just walking about, to think it’s not still a Police state is a wonder but one I shall only go into more detail with when I’m comfortably sat on a Plane looking down on this fair Country, safe in International waters.
However, there were two particularly memorable and one not so memorable day which stood out and which were worthy of note.
Contrary to what I hear, I personally really rate the Greek transport system here. I’ve been around a bit and apart from when the damned things on strike because the driver’s not getting his ‘turning up to work‘ bonus or their ‘sitting in a seat‘ bonus, it’s pretty damned good.
Can’t see why more people here don’t use it, sure as hell beats trying to find a parking space in the center of Athens, or does it…?
Well, some days, like everywhere, a 40+ degree bus or train with someones boner in your pocket, and armpit for company and sweat dripping from person to person might make that parking spot seem a little more worth while, but on the whole and considering there is a crisis here and things have suffered, you can still get everywhere around Athens exceptionally well, and often in good spirits, unlike my experiences on British transport previously…
Can you survive in Greece?
Who knows, truth is life everywhere at the minute is difficult and no matter where you go you have to adapt, get use to change and deal whith losing what you’re familiar with and coping with what might not be something you understand or grasp easily.
Greece isn’t an easy Country at the minute for reasons I don’t need to spell out on here, we all read and watch the news and so surviving as with those here anyway is a challenge.
You’ll only ever now if you try, but it’s fair to say that no matter what happens when you come to Greece, you’ll leave apart of yourself behind. probably you’re sanity, but you don’t need that after living here anyway…