Archive | January, 2010

Making φίλοι (or friends), Despite My Best Intentions

25 Jan

A little while back I had been wandering the narrow paths of Plaka – a section of Athens filled with small shops, tavernas, and cafes that is impossible to navigate – minding my own business and doing a bit of Christmas shopping, when I stopped to admire a few pieces of art displayed in the street.  I should have known better.  I should have known that taking more than two seconds to observe anything on the street in Plaka would obviously cause a one-sided interaction with the shopkeeper.  Despite my best attempts, I am terrible at warding off these Greek parasites, and I usually end up awkwardly trying to get away while explaining in the most broken of beginner’s Greek that I am just looking.  They see right through me and advance, and I am left the sucker.  To compensate, I avoid eye contact and keep a brisk pace when walking through the maze of shops.  I maintain a strict 360º view of my surroundings, and at the slightest onset of a store owner, I am history.  So naturally, for the 2 seconds I forget my better judgment and eye a small painting, I am pounced upon and made prey of the 4’11” 70-something artist and owner of this particular shop.  Luckily, for what I lack in bargaining and business skills, I make up for in friendliness.  And this is how I make my newest friend, Rita.

As stated above, Rita saw me first, not the other way around.  I was completely unsuspecting as she sat comfortably at her post in her 2 x 6 (feet not meters…I’m American) wedge of a store.  And then I heard the enthusiastic “Yassas!”  Being the polite person I am, I responded with a smile and a meek “Yassas” in return.  And that’s where things got a little hairy.

“Ti kaneis?”  — How are you?

“Kala.”  — Good.

(A flurry of Greek words I could by no means decipher with my extremely limited knowledge of the language.)

A blank stare.

(More Greek nonsense that flew directly over my head like the pigeon that nailed me on the hand with his shit on my run two weeks ago.)

“Theh meelaow hellenica.”  — I don’t speak Greek.

This is where she stands up and waddles my way.

“OH!!!  You are not Greek?  I thought you were Greek!  You look Greek!  You don’t speak Greek?  I thought you were Greek!  Where are you from?  Tell me.”

This is a favorite phrase among Greeks.  Tell me.  They say it all the time.  Waiters, cashiers, teachers.  I haven’t sat through one class at work where the teacher has not uttered these two words.  It is the equivalent to their multi-faceted phrase “Ela”, which roughly translates to “come”, “come on”, “yes?”, and, of course, “tell me.”  Pay attention to a Greek person as he/she answers the phone.  I bet you 5 dollars the first thing out of that Greek’s mouth is “Ela”.  I, as well as most of the other fellows, have begun using this phrase unintentionally.  I can’t count the amount of times I have asked my students to “tell me”, but after each occasion of this word vomit a little flag undoubtedly goes up in my head as if to say, “what the fuck just came out of your mouth?”

Anyway, at her request, I told her.  She inquired as to why I was in Greece, how long I was to stay here, the ages of my students, where I was from, where I went to school, what I studied, what I wanted to be and where I wanted to go after Greece.  I began answering her onslaught of questions, but quickly discovered the conversation wouldn’t be that easy.  As soon as she learned I was here for a year and taking a beginner’s Greek course, Rita demanded I speak to her in Greek.  To aid my education, she spoke to me only in Greek.  Every time I showed her a blank and confused look, she responded with more Greek at a slower pace, sometimes accompanied with hand gestures.  Much to my delight, I (kind of) understood everything she asked me.  I gave it my all at responding in Greek, and whenever I used an English word, she taught me the Greek alternative, which I then had her repeat 5 to 7 times until I actually understood what was being said.  We talked for a while, and she genuinely seemed to love me, encouraging my Greek with hugs and hard candies and a discount on the painting she managed to get me to buy.  I didn’t mind though.  The painting was pretty and makes for a great story, and every time I look at it as it hangs on the wall of my future apartment back in the States, I’ll think of Rita and that chilly December day in Plaka.  And if I ever forget, all I have to do is turn it over and read the personal message and signature (all in Greek) she inscribed on the back.

I’m looking forward to visiting her again, and I hope she remembers me.  I have to brush up on my Greek and, besides, I could use a discount on the nicely painted clock I noticed in my 360º view of the shop before I let my guard down.

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Let’s Start a Resolution!

19 Jan

I’ve never really been one to make New Year’s resolutions.  As someone who constructs To-Do lists simply as a means of procrastinating, I consider New Year’s resolutions as guidelines for imminent failure.  But since it is now the 19th of January and I have yet to write a blog post, do my laundry, clean my room, or cook a well-balanced meal since I returned to Greece, I figure now is the time to think up a few.  So here goes:

1. Actually learn this gibberish commonly referred to as “Greek”.  Will make everyday interactions much easier.

2. a) Go to bed at a reasonable hour.  b) Wake up on time  ***This has been my ongoing resolution for the past 18 years.  Doubtful that this year will be life changing, but here’s hoping.

3. Lesson plan in advance.

4. Do laundry once a week, as opposed to the “crap I have no underwear and have been wearing dirty socks for 6 days now must shove every article of clothing in the tiny laundry machine so I have something to wear to work” routine.  However, bringing back an extra drawers-worth of socks from home only aids this wretched cycle.

5.  Take advantage of my time in Greece.  Explore Europe.  Soak in the culture.  Make friends.  Have no regrets.

I have been trying to get out of the house more, and watch online television less.  As tempting as “Jersey Shore” is, I have been making more of an effort to eat at funky tavernas, experience the Greek nightlife, talk to the locals, and explore my surroundings.  A few of us have talked about planning our weekends more in advance, so as to avoid wasting our precious free time.  Our success rate?  I spent the last two weekends sleeping until 1:30pm, ordering Domino’s, and watching movies.  Which is exactly why these New Year’s resolutions must kick in ASAP.  But I must say, when you get home at 6am, it’ pretty hard not to sleep until midday.

As much as I want to get the most our of my Grecian days, I honestly don’t mind wasting them away (every once in a while) if they are preceded by great Grecian nights.  This past weekend, those days that I gladly slept through were sacrifices worth making.  On Saturday was Claire’s 21st (part 3) birthday.  Now while that girl isn’t the easiest to fool, we did our best to surprise her throughout the weekend, and were moderately successful.  We arranged a surprise dinner on Friday evening at a wonderful Greek restaurant (where else?) in Halandri, where Claire lives.  The place, Psomi kai Alati (or Bread and Salt for you uncultured English-speaking masses) takes a liberal approach to standard Greek fare, offering a refreshing twist to beloved menu staples and providing your taste buds with new spices, flavors, and mixtures.  Claire wasn’t expecting the dinner, but the restaurant’s glass walls did not make the best atmosphere for a truly startled birthday girl.

The next night, we took Claire out on the town.  Starting in Kolonaki, the posh area of Athens, we marched her to a small club Sarah and I had previously frequented on more than one occasion.  This is an important detail, because it means that we knew the bouncer.  We told him to wish our friend a Happy Birthday when he saw her.  And so up the hill we come, when Claire suddenly hears her name called.  Thinking she’s going to be barred from entering, she’s confused.  Unbeknownst  to her (and us), our friend not only wished her a Happy Birthday, but pulled out a small cake with two candles – 2 3 – on the top and then led everyone in song.  While the dinner may not have done the trick, this little move definitely surprised Claire enough to make up for it.  We eventually moved on to Gazi and danced and drank the night away, making it back to the comfort of our beds at a healthy hour of 6:30am.

And with that, life begins again in Greece.  Yesterday I officially began working in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, replacing my old duties at the college counseling office.  I’m excited to be working with the students, teachers, and literature that this program has to offer, and Fahrenheit 451 and Madame Bovary are already nestled on my bedside table.

One more thing:  For those of you outside of the US, if you have plans to go see Avatar (which you should), be sure to bring along a friend who either knows the native language or has seen the movie in America.  It makes it a lot easier to understand the film when they start talking in the special Avatar language and the subtitles are in a foreign tongue.  Just a heads up.

One more thing:  If you go to Hooter’s in another country expecting to get the same top-notch buffalo wings, you are fooling yourself.  Now I understand why Chipotle hasn’t graced Europe with its presence.

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