Recently I came across David Leibovitz top tips for coping with living in Paris as a newcomer and living in a foreign country, I must admit I pretty much concur with everything he mentioned... Paris je t'aime!
So what have been my coping mechanisms for making my big fat Greek move and adjusting to Greek life? Hmmm, this list is likely to expand into some mega list.
I don't have any top tips, but it sure takes a while to get accustomed to living in Athens. I arrived in Greece only knowing the basic Greek language, appalling really, but it is a darn hard language to grasp. -Unlike French or German, which you're taught at school (in Britain) from the age of 12.
I can at least communicate fluently to an extent now (I am fully aware that I will never be completely fluent though) and have taught myself to read the Greek language, but occasionally I pronounce things incorrectly and its hilarious to see the reaction I get from others. One incident I recall was at a restaurant, I asked the waiter if I could order a salad of boys (as opposed to a cucumber salad), you should have seen the look on both the waiter and my boyfriends face - quality!
So, here we go:
- The lingo. Try to learn a a little more of Greek language other than, 'hello, how are you?, thank you, no, yes, please'. Greek is an incredibly rich language and just like the father of the bride in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', I can honestly say that there are so many elements of vocabulary we use that derives from the Greek language. Anyhow, the effort of trying is very much appreciated over here. The Greeks are very friendly & accommodating - yes a passer-by will even try to help you park into your space, if there's not much room.
- *UPDATE* Getting lost in translation is all about diving into the deep end and going for it. 3 years on, i'll admit that butchering the Greek language whilst gallivanting around Greece is still my speciality. I am a pro at fudging even the simplest words which result in weird looks and also not understanding words used in particular contexts. I did do a secret victory dance in my head when the ladies at my local delicatessen said I spoke very good conversational Greek for someone who has only been in Greece for such a short time.
- Don't rush, stress or fret! Everyone is so laid back here. There's even a saying 'Avrio' - tomorrow or 'tha thoume' - we will see, this was the response I got from a lot of people, so get used to it. Plus 'cigar cigar', at first I thought Cigars? Wtf? It means slowly, slowly.
- Driving in Athens. There are no clear road markings one some smaller roads in Athens, so be careful, the Greeks drive like nutters - I will now admit that I am one of them. Oh and watch out for the STOP signs which of course are hidden behind branches, trees, whatever. If you're not sure whether you need to stop before approaching a mini crossroad, go slowly.
Double parking and triple parking is very common here too, check out the abundance of flashing hazard lights outside or near a bank, atm, bakery, coffee shop.
- Sun & Style. Get a good bloody pair of sunglasses (and I mean designer of course, cheap just won't do over here, the more bling the better, but then I'm not Greek so go along the lines of whatever you're feeling style-wise), the vast majority of the year here is super sunny and lovely. Just remember to protect your skin too!
- The Locals. Get to know your local baker, butcher, cake shop, hair dresser/stylist, dry cleaners, mechanic, plumber, electrician, the posse that will see that you get sorted. I've clearly forgotten about restaurants and your local Souvlaki take out - this should be on your speed-dial! Don't know where to start - your landlady will know everyone, or usually someone.
- Opening Hours. Ok, this should be much higher on the list of should knows, but some shops here close early on Monday-Wednesday-Friday & Saturday - as in by 3pm. On Tuesday & Thursday they usually close by 2/2.30pm then re-open at 5pm ish for a few hours, this is applicable to pharmacies/chemist too. Note that Pharmacies are closed on Saturdays (although one in the area will be open - a list is usually plastered on the front door) & Sundays, and so is everything shop wise. Butchers/Bakery time schedules vary, my local guy stays open for much longer on Thurs, Fri and Sat. As for all things touristy-check the websites, local Athens info guides, however I will say that on Mondays everything closes - museums, art galleries, some hair dressers... yes, it take a while to get used to what's open when. The Mall, Marousi is open til late, and the Post Office rarely has queues is you need to pay bills and is also for a few hours on Saturdays too.
- The legal stuff If you're looking for answers to EU citizenship, visa's, passports, working in Greece info, your best bet is to head down to your Embassy who should assist you and at least point you in the right direction. I do have a brilliant website to share with you all, as it helped me understand a little more about life in Greece & the legal stuff you ought to know - Living in Greece written by Kat.
- Phone, internet connection The Greek equivalent of BT, is OTE who run the telecommunications in Greece. You have to get a line/connection with these guys first before sorting out whether you want internet/satellite connection with any of the following providers; ConnX, Forthnet, OnTelecoms, HOL - Hellas online, OTEnet. Some of these companies offer FREE calls to the USA, UK and most European countries, so do check what the benefits are! Locals calls are not charged - what a bonus! P.S you will probably end up waiting ages for connection to happen, we waited almost 2 months and almost a year for our TV box, crazy stuff.
- Renting an apartment Chances are you may get ripped off if you're not Greek, so just have your wits with you! You'll see places available for rent by red and yellow posters on all over town and on telephone poles - so get calling and find out what you want/don't want. Other places to check out what's up for rent is in the local paper - all in Greek. I didn't find much about online mainly because it's all in Greek. Also, in some cases you may find that you're living in the same building as the landlord/landlady, only because they own the building. People and places vary, you can end up with some interesting experiences, I don't know where to begin... but again just be aware of what and who. When renting somewhere it's likely you will be paying for 'kinokrista' the main building maintenance bill, which includes the elevator use, cleaning, lights etc, electricity and water bills too. Renting is definitely not as expensive as renting somewhere in say London but also nowhere near as simple a process as the UK. Kat of Living in Greece has written a brilliant account of renting here.
- Things that make you happy Have plenty of back up stuff that makes you feel good and things that make you feel at home, photo's, great classic books, lots of music...a selection of your favourite things. Oh and nothing feels better when you're homesick than a quick call to your best mate along with chocolate and a cuppa PG tips/Earl Grey! That or watch a DVD box set of 'Friends'.
- Get connected Get on Skype, Facebook, Twitter whatever... Stay in touch with friends & family nowadays has never been easier. Plus mobile phones often have the Skype app avavilable too, if not check if your phone is compatible. Free calls people!!! Do it.
- Summer Heat, Mosquitos & things Yup, it gets super hot in the summer months, so remember to protect your skin, keep hydrated and close the shutters in the day if you have large balcony windows facing the sun. Ok, I have sweet blood, so mosquitos seem to have a cocktail party and like to feast on me. If you are munched on, get some 'Fenistil' (a orange coloured tube of gel) from the pharmacy to help relieve the bites. They will get itchy, but all you can do is NOT scratch them... If only mosquitos sucked fat and not blood eh? Now there's a thought.
Sadly Petroula and buddy are no longer doing the weather report, in replacement is a funny dude who raps... it does get annoying so they ditched him too.
I would love to hear from anyone who wants to add to this list!