Tuesday, April 19

Greek Woman

Greek Woman

Specifically, my Greek woman. I'll call her D from now on. A woman from the ubiquitous Greek village. I’m a sophisticated (of course), modest (of course), widely travelled, modern (of course), polite and courteous (of course), man – as all we Brits are (of course.)

The cultural differences can be both fascinating and frustrating, admirable and amusing.
And I’ve
learnt so much.

We started off as a hesitant friendship. It would last several months before the real courting began. I wouldn’t meet her family, especially her Mother, for many months to come, and even now can’t attend her village
yorti (name day).
We don’t communicate well (when we first met we could hardly communicate at all as she speaks no English and my Greek was still poor). We've evolved our communications into our own greeklish that confounds friends but works for us (and is great for private comments in public between us about our friends; and for when we argue - I can then pretend not to understand a word).

I’ve learned there are many things I mustn’t, and can’t, do. Like clearing up after a meal.
Or washing and ironing my own clothes anymore.
Or going without food for more than 5 hours and a coffee for more than 3.
That DVD’s have to be interrupted with a meal break.
That it’s OK to talk over the film (ok for her as she can multitask reading the subtitles whilst talking, but awful for me as I’m a man, I can’t multitask by definition, so I can’t hear the film’s words anymore).
That I suffer from
‘mati’ – the evil eye - and that her friend, at the drop of a phone call, can rid me off it, too.
That I must accept the Greek’s invented
everything; that Blair can’t do anything; that beaches are made to be layed on and not walked past; churches are for going in not just gazing at; candles are mainly used in prayer and not as spare emergency lights; pills can only be taken after a meal; work is something to be done until finished; friends can come around whenever they like and without notice; an argument is only an argument if we’re shouting at each other; an argument is finished when it’s finished - without regret and most of all without rancour; that tampons are toxic; that she can cut my food up and feed it to me if she wants; that a woman’s role is to mother her man; that she will sleep in a chair at my bedside when I’m ill, for 4 days, and without complaint; and my Mother comes first. (Actually, my Mother had already taught me that).

She’s learnt
not to assume the worn tube in my wash bag is toothpaste when it has ‘haemerroid cream’ written in English on it.
It doesn’t quite taste the same.

I detest the word ‘provincial’. It’s sneered out by those from London, and some from Athens. Does it mean unsophisticated? Uneducated? Unknowledgable? All three? I don’t know. But I do know the democratic, quiet, unchauvanistic, modern, enlightened, englishman in me has been blown away. And, if that’s provincial, I admit I am so enjoying it.

Culture Clash

Dinner between my English and Greek friends can be an enlightening experience.

"Why do you English like to go into trains and throw up on the floor before passing out after a night out? "is an often asked question. Personally, I don’t know. I rarely travelled on trains in England.

"It’s called binge drinking" I explain.

"But why don’t you like to enjoy a drink? Just to drink it, slowly?"

"Well, we like to work hard. We don’t get out that often, we have few public holidays, we never (well, hardly ever) strike, so when we do we get out for fun we ….well, just go a little crazy" is a good stock answer.

Followed by ‘And why do you Greek’s take years to get things done, never queue, and bribe everyone for anything’?

‘Because we love life. It’s too important to wait for it to happen, so we put off the unimportant, break rules - for they're meant to be broken, won't wait, and cut corners. And accept the inevitable.

Monday, April 11

SAVE ME...from Greek Parking Tickets

I've made the mistake of parking in a disabled zone.

Returning to the car one night I found I had a ticket. Because my car has UK plates, I made my second mistake by tossing the ticket away, reasoning they wouldn't get me at my UK registered address, and drove home.

Next morning a colleague asked where my number plates were. Dumb question? Wrong, because it was then I noticed they weren't any longer on my car.
For some parking offences get you a ticket and the removal of plates. And you can't drive without plates. And you can only get the plates back by paying the fine. And you cant' do that for 20 days, and so you can't drive for 20 days.

I was planning to travel across Europe in my car, so this presented a serious problem.
But I have been learning the Greek ways of things. It's called The Shortcut. Visiting the local Police Station I explained the problem, reasoning a Brit, in trouble, polite, and showing some ignorance and a lot of foolishness, would win the day.
The senior Officer was understanding. There are ways to resolve this, he told me. Then he asked if I wanted to be his friend.
Now, where I come from you are friends, or you're not. One doesn't ask. It sounded more like a proposition than an invitation to coffee and beer. But I agreed, carefully, and without trying to show undue enthusiasm.
He opened his drawer to show a pile of Euro notes, and asked me how much exactly I wanted to be his friend. Cheap at the price, and after some haggling as to how much exactly our new friendship was worth (€40 in the end) we shook hands, finished our coffees, and the appropriate papers to get my plates back and pay the fine early were given to me a few minutes later.

To pay the fine I had to visit another office in the nearby town. But the Officer would allow me to drive my car there, without plates, to get them.

After carefully parking beside this office, I entered a small room with 3 cashier's windows in front of me, and 3 clerks sitting behind each of them.
Each had a pc, all were reading newspapers, all were smoking, and all had still warm coffee's in front of them. All ignored me.
Choosing the middle window I presented my papers and asked to pay my fine. I was told to do this at the first window, which I did. After repeating my request, this man sighed, turned on his pc, sipped his coffee and while waiting for the computer to boot up studiously studied the papers.
Entering some details onto his pc, he then tore a corner off his newspaper, wrote a reference number down on it, and handed the slip to me. He returned to reading his newspaper, but not before motioning me to move on to the middle window.
The 2nd clerk sighed, booted his pc, closed his newspaper, took my slip of paper, and entered the number from it into his pc. Typing in some more information in from my passport, he then tore a strip from a notepad, wrote a new reference number on it, gave it to me, and returned to his coffee and reading.
By now I had the hang of this. I moved eastwards towards the 3rd window, thrusting my slip of paper in front of the face of the man behind it. He looked at it, looked at me, looked at it, frowned, booted his pc, took out his mobile 'phone and called a friend. 8 minutes passed before he completed the call and my drumming fingers were wearing dents in the wood of the counter.

Closing the call, he looked at the pc screen, banged some keys, tabbed a few spaces and asked for the money for the fine. We swapped my money for another piece of paper, but this time given to me from a printer, so we were getting formal. He returned to his newspaper. I looked at him. I looked around the room but there were no other windows or clerks.
Panic was enveloping me. 'Where do I go now' I asked?
To the Police Station, was the reply. The Police 'where idiots like you can collect your plates' Station was the deserved reply.

So a n ew Police Station and a new car park. But this was proverbial the port in a storm, the oasis in the desert, the winning lottery number, the safe landing in the jumbo after the engines had fallen off. Calm and efficiency, politeness and smiles.
Had I been transported into another country without realising it, I wondered? Here I was, in a public office and not only not being treated like a moron but also being treated with civility and a decency. My papers were taken from me, and within minutes not only were my plates returned to me, they were also nicely wrapped up and sealed in a plastic bag.

I returned to my car to fix the plates on. Unwrapping the bag, and retrieving my screwdriver, I then found the plates hadn't been removed from my car by unscrewing them. They had been removed from my car by sawing them off. There were no holes left on the car which I could screw my plates back onto.

Then I made my 3rd mistake. I called my local and friendly garage and asked them to come out to fix the plates on for me, there and they did, arriving quickly, driving into the car park up to my car, and beginning the work.
An officer on a cigarette break strolled over to politely explain we couldn't do this in the compound of the station, and that we should go outside onto the street to finish it.

I drove my car onto the street, the mechanic following in his van, we parked outside, and offering to go get us both coffee's whilst the mechanic worked, I wondered off in search of a cafe'. Within a few minutes I was back. I could see the plates were back on. I could see the mechanic was very agitated. I could see the smoking policeman standing my our vehicles, a book in hand. And I could see 2 new parking tickets affixed to each of our windscreens.

Sunday, April 10

Friends and Family

I'm not talking the latest tariff from your 'phone company, I'm talking real friends and family, the sort that you're born and have no choice with or the sort you make, and choose, perhaps for a lifetime.

This year my life is turning upside down. A member of my family seriously lets me down, another member of my family becomes seriously ill, and a best friend lets me down.

Funnily enough, it's the friends actions that hurt more than family let downs, as the latter are half-expected and true to form whilst the former are people you choose as opposed to are born with. This friend is someone we do/did everything for for each other and sharing everything. But he crossed a line. Perhaps I was cruel in my anger to him, but he should know me too, and deep down know where it started ...and where he wants it to end up.

All friends have plusses and minuses. Hey can be a real pain-in-the-ass, arrogant as hell, stubborn as a mule, and sometimes close-minded but then, hey..... so can I. He can also be very loyal, giving, funny, astute, broader than their upbringing, supportive and more. He can make me smile with his ambitions but he has dreams and even if some make me laugh and I wouldn't choose to share them, good luck to him, one day he'll probably achieve them. As we all do, he has his demons, and some have bedevilled him for most of his young adult life.
Can I forgive him? Yes. Will he forgive me? Probably not openly, 'cos he's stubborn.

But the family member who let me down I won't forgive. Friends can fuck-up, make-up and move on. Family who repeatedly screw you don't deserve 5th chances.

Meanwhile I must concentrate on my son, who is ill and needs me. It'll cost me. In time, money and friendships. But its something I must do and I want to do.

Life turns another circle. Maybe it'll turn again.

Saturday, April 2

The world's MY village

The Village has, maybe, 400 people. It's a small pond, where everyone knows everyone.

The only noises you hear are the morning Church bells calling everyone to work, and the evening sound of running feet as The Village priest runs from Church to the ouzeri to begin his night of cards and chipero drinking. (No women allowed in, of course).

The Villagers don't travel far. The World can begin and end 30 km away.
A village friend travelled to Athens with me by car, one day. He broke into a sweat as we approached the city outskirts and by the time we reached the city centre, he was having panic attacks. His ambition is to upgrade from his Hyundai Accent (a sort of tractor but with smarter bodywork) to a Ferrari and still swim around his pond in it, but much faster.

Then there's Yianni. Yianni the owner of the garden shop. And Yianni the painter of village letterboxes and road signs. And Yianni the refuse collector, and Yianni the postman. Yianni is one and the same person, multi tasking his village life.

It's so small my ex-wife, when packing her bags for the final time before departing back to the trendy cafe's and bars and shops of London, called it a one-horse town. As in most things she was wrong, as I've never seen a horse here. Perhaps a one-goat town, instead.

But I see the whole World in my village because I scrape a living by bringing foreign tourists to my house for holidays. It's the Big Fish coming to swim awhile in my Small Pond.

Many are from the US, a culture where intelligence seems to grow in inverse proportion to wealth. Some visitors are very knowledgeable, able to talk about the Cradle of Civilisation and the Birth of Democracy without reference to a book, and will happily and inquisitively explore Greek village life. The others will book the trip and pay the money in advance before asking me 'Where is Greece, exactly?' or 'Do they talk American?' or 'Do you have terrorists there?'. (Only me, who would happily shoot this sort of incredibly stupid person, I should reply).

The Swedish come, too. You'd think I''d be happy with a bunch of tall, slim, blond, and young females rushing bikini-clad around my house, but it's not like that because they come in the Winter and stay huddled around the log fires in their parkas, asking 'What exactly happens here?' I normally pull their light fuses and leave them in the dark, so they can feel more at home.

The French. Oh, the French in a Greek village! Have they never, ever, seen a dead sheep hanging upside down before? Have they never eaten meat without blood oozing out of it? They eat horses, don't they, so why do they always turn their collective noses up at Ostrich? But they leave several kilo's lighter, so I suppose that's one definition of having a good time.

The Irish are frequent visitors, and sometimes I need a vacation after they've gone. It can be one long, mad, laughter-filled, party. The record in one week was 74 empty wine and spirit bottles, and there were only 4 of them staying.

I had 3 monks from Ireland one week. They came with their sisters (not monastery-type Sisters for an illicit weekend, but sisters of the real blood - relative type). A quiet, thoughtful, somewhat spiritual few days would pass, I thought, until I entered the living room to find them seated around naked, and asking me where they could go to find nude beaches, nude sea bathing and nude cafe's.

That compares with my special Irish group, who were so intent on avoiding distractions from their 24/7 imbibbing that, when the woman miscarried her 2 and a 1/2 month foetus, she promptly flushed it down the toilet and carried on drinking. I know that because I had to clear the blockage afterwards.

The English are....well, uum, very English. English Breakfast Teabags, Guidebooks, Factor 34 tanning lotion, minutes out in the sun timed by a stopwatch, and Greek phrase books they practise atrociously on everyone.

So the World is my Village, and it comes to me.