I mean, Greece is a great country. The food is generous and tasty. The islands are, erm, blue, white and surrounded by the sea. The sun shines abundantly during the summer and beyond. Greek pace of life is relaxed and seemingly void of stress so omnipresent in the Western world. One would think paradise on earth!
That’s what I used to think, too. Until I moved there.
Here is just a short list of less glamorous aspects of living in Greece; the ones that tourists fail to notice during their short and sterile stay in the country:
> Greek people. There are lots of them hanging around everywhere. No offence – it’s their country. Most of you would transpose the image of “Greek people” solely onto friendly islanders serving you spoon-sweets and inviting you for a cup of Greek coffee on their whitewashed terrace, Aegean Sea splashing about in front. Think again. How about unshaved Athenian urchins with unfinished secondary school education, brushing you aside on the underground, verbal accompaniment censored out? Sunglassed, high-heeled, all-knowing women smiling sympathetically when hearing your Eastern European accent (poor baby must have come here to find a Greek husband)? Their fellow sunglassed young men beeping insistently as you walk/attempt jogging along the road (for ladies only)? Drop by drop, little by little – all these add up.
> Queues. Everywhere and in supermarkets in particular. Greek supermarkets just do not seem to have yet embraced the concept of efficiency prevalent in the US or even the UK. The majority of check-out personnel display spectacular artistic tendencies, carefully taking each purchased item in their hands, lifting it gently, examining it with tips of fingers, looking at it longingly, what not – the rest of the queue following every such movement with bated breath. The process is crowned by check-out assistants being – indeed – of great assistance and packing all goods in plastic bags, which in Greece are still handed out free in numbers which would deprive an average Scandi-Saxon person of a goodnight’s sleep. This in addition to Greeks buying a disproportionate amount of groceries per average supermarket visit. Greeks enjoy eating; Greek housewives supposedly love feeding every member of their extended family to bursting point. As a result, Greek queues are just painfully long.
> Cars. Loud, fast, some more environmentally unfriendly than others, some posh and convertible, some old and awaiting conversion to scrap. Greeks swear by their cars, public transport having secondary importance and limited coverage. Unless you drive in Athens – or live literally on top of one of those occasional underground stations – trust me, you are seriously stuck. Having a car, however, does little to solve the immobility problem; especially if you are coming back to Athens after a weekend away – via one of those two or three bottlenecks Greeks humorously dub highways.
> Bureaucracy. Have you ever tried getting a gym or, worse, swimming pool membership in Greece? Forget it. I needed five different doctors’ certificates in order to qualify. Dermatologist, pathologist, gynaecologist, microbiologist and – what was the last one? – cardiologist. Note that no gynaecologist can be visited until the microbiologist’s results have been obtained. Pathologist comes last in the hierarchy. Dermatologists are by far the pickiest but also the cheapest. Cardiologists have the longest queues. Gynaecologists will seriously lighten your pockets, but try to see if you can skip the receipt and pay less. Good luck.
> Parea. Παρέα is a Greek word for a close circle of friends spending basically every spare moment of their lives together. It’s like, you call Giorgos, he calls Eleni, she calls Maria, she calls Giannis, he calls you, and that’s us sorted. We get together in our favourite coffee place in Kolonaki or Kifissia (full of cigarette smoke and Greek music, of course) and sit around for a good couple of hours not really discussing anything (you eventually run out of meaningful conversation material after meeting the same people 5 times a week for the last twenty years). How about fresh blood to the parea? Possible, of course. Some people in your parea may have their own, slightly differently defined, parea and occasionally let the two overlap. When you get into a relationship, you may join your partner’s parea. Thinking about joining a parea without your partner? Careful here – don’t forget you’re in Greece.
> Full window shutters. It is common knowledge that Greece gets plenty of yearly sun. A blessing, really. Sun should typically be enjoyed on an open terrace (in a private house) or a balcony (in blocks of flats). Sun should strictly NOT be enjoyed inside the rooms; bedrooms are a particular no-no. Every Greek window is therefore tiny and additionally equipped with a full garage-like shutter mechanism to prevent any sign of light from entering the room. As a result, nights in Greece are dark as hell. I particularly hated waking up in utter darkness and wondering what hour of day or night it could be. Shutting the sun away… isn’t the idea just insane?
> Football. Possibly my favourite point. I mean, I love good football. Ask my male friends how many fun hours were spent in pubs watching high-profile matches over junk food and cider. Sadly though, Greece and good football just do not go together; the only exception to the fact is by now pure history. Greek football clubs are even less superior (more inferior?) against the national squad. Still, they enjoy enormous fan support, with Greek football fans’ loyalties biased to the extreme. It’s like you’re born into supporting a particular team and are, by default, entirely colour-blind to any team in the world (!) not sharing your team’s colours. Let me give you an example. If you’re a Panathinaikos fan, you like Celtic because they, too, are… green. And you do not like Rangers, because, unlike Celtic, they are NOT green. Personally, I never quite understood this colour thing. I have a feeling I will die before I do.
> Absence of public pavements. Please don’t get me started on that one. I have written a full note on the subject a while ago, so see here: http://anjci.com/guide-to-walking-on-athenian-pavements/.