Tuesday, 16 October 2018

No Junk, or 'There and Back Again'

Chatting to couple of friends the other day, fellow ex-pats from the UK as it happens, we got around to the subject of the ups and downs of the mail system here in Rhodes. They have been here almost as long as we have and are in the habit of regularly ordering stuff from Amazon to be delivered here to Rhodes.

If you know anything about living out here, you'll know that no one really has a proper address on a Greek island. You can make one up if you like, but in general, you put your postcode and the nearest village down as your mailing address and then you go and collect your mail either from the nearest post office or, as in our case, from a taverna in a nearby village. This is made possible by the fact that one of the ELTA (Greek Post Office, or equivalent of the US Mail) employees visits the taverna in question on alternate days to do a kind of mobile post sending and receiving service. 

Mr. Kyriakos turns up at the Agapitos Taverna in Asklipio village, heavy leather satchel at his side, sits at a table where he is of course served his Elliniko, and extracts all his accessories, which he arranges carefully on the table in front of him. He'll have a rubber stamp and ink-pad (of course), various forms, a wad of postage stamps, some elastic bands and a clutch of packages and letters for the locals who use the taverna as their unofficial post office. The system works well, most of the time.

There is usually a motley group of locals awaiting his arrival and the 'opening' of his tabletop 'shop' as it were. Some simply want to see what he's brought. I posted a photo of him back in January 2014, see this post. Others are able to use his service to pay their electricity bill, for example. Older Greeks still wouldn't even think of having a direct debit with the bank, or even of paying manually on-line, since they're still deeply suspicious of anything that doesn't involve hard cash changing hands. Plus, there is still a whole generation who haven't the faintest idea what the internet is. Even some who do are deeply suspicious of the whole thing. It can't be healthy, when you haven't got a wad of cash in your back pocket.

Returning to our conversation with our neighbours. They told us of a problem they had recently with a package from Amazon. Now, like I said above, they've bought from Amazon for delivery to their home here in Southern Rhodes for probably ten years or so. On occasion they've bought some pretty big stuff. I know because I've been up to the Agapitos to collect some mail and seen some packages almost as big as a washing machine awaiting collection by them. Yet this most recent package never arrived. After a respectable period of waiting, just in case it was going to turn up late (as does happen now and then), they contacted Amazon to find out what happened. They were told that the package had been returned to Athens and were given a contact number to call there.

Celia (name changed to protect the guilty) rang the number and enquired about the missing package and was told: "It couldn't be delivered because it didn't carry a proper address."

"But," replied Celia, "It's the same address we've been using for ten years and nothing's ever failed to be delivered up until now."

"I don't know about that." Replied the jobsworth in Athens, "All I know is that 'Celia Pritchard, 85109 Gennadi' isn't a proper address. The package will have to go back to Amazon."

"But, but, that IS our address!" Replied Celia, exasperation already assuming control in her brain. "There isn't anything else! Plus, every other package we've ever ordered from Amazon has arrived!"

Well, I could go on reporting this rather absurd conversation, but suffice it to say that Celia did finally get it resolved, but not without a fair degree of consternation on her part. But it well illustrates what I said at the top of this post, the fact that just about everyone in areas like ours collects their mail from somewhere, and thus as long as the letter or package carries the correct postal code, it ought to be sufficient for the thing to arrive at the correct point of collection. There are no home deliveries here. I have ordered a couple of things in the past, including a CD of an app for my MacBook from California. The usual form is, if they're using a courier (like UPS for example) rather than the regular mail, they take your mobile phone number when you place the order and the courier arrives in your vicinity, calls you and you arrange to go and meet him on the road. 

In fact, even when I renewed our passports a year or two back, the UK government passport office sent them by private courier and that's exactly how they were delivered. No problem. Mind you, I was rather bemused by the vehicle that the courier was driving. I got the call on my mobile phone and told the driver to wait at the entrance to a hotel that's just down the road from us. Of course, I was expecting to see a smart van with a logo on the side, which was why I sailed straight past the hotel, imagining that the driver had got the location wrong, because outside the correct hotel there was only an ageing pickup truck with a drivers's door sporting a completely different colour from the rest of the slightly dented vehicle. When I failed to find the van, I was able to call the driver back using the list of received calls on my mobile. 

"I'm there!" He declared. "You said the Rodos Princess and I'm right outside. Where are you?"

"Weird," I replied. "But I'll be coming past again in 30 seconds, give me a wave."

Thus it was that, as I drove back to the Rodos Princess, an arm extended out from this old pickup and summoned me. When I parked up, ran over to his driver's window, out shot another arm with an electronic machine awaiting my signature and, having complied, I was handed the package containing my passport. I couldn't resist, I had to ask him, "What's with the beaten up old pickup then?"

It turned out that the courier company's office here on Rhodes employed a whole team of freelance 'deliverers' to keep up with demand. Their only criteria for someone working for them in this capacity was that they have a vehicle. Well, he did have a vehicle, I couldn't argue with that. And, we got our passports safe and sound, so I had no complaints.

Thus we were lulled into a false sense of security. I recently applied for my UK pension. Now, I could go on about that for a while, owing to the fact that there must be some mixup. I mean, the paperwork says I turn 65 next month, but my mind doesn't see it that way at all. It is odd though, isn't it? I mean for decades you spend your life thinking that growing old, or being a pensioner, is for others, but not for oneself, right? Occasionally, though, the stark reality is driven home by someone in a t-shirt. I'll tell you what I mean.

I've been a lifelong Pink Floyd fan (with the exception of the truly awful "Final Cut" album of course). Due to the way the mind deceives one, I kind of feel that Pink Floyd fans are young new-age types, like me, eh? But last week I was sitting in the Top Three when an emaciated, wizened old bloke walked in, wheezing from decades of smoking too much (Yes, I know, strange saying that. To smoke at all is to smoke too much after all), propped himself on the bar, rolled a Rizla and ordered a beer. He looked like he wasn't long for this world, I have to say. The thing was though, he was wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt. Aaaargh! Was I looking at the truth of the matter, right there before my eyes? Probably. Doesn't mean I have to accept it though. Go down fighting, that's my motto.

Anyway, to return to my pension application. I went on-line, found the appropriate multi-page form, downloaded it and set about reading the reams of instructions for filling it out. It looked like it would take me about, ooh, say, three weeks, to fill it in. I finally got through it all and bought an A4 envelope in which to stuff the thing in preparation for sending it off. Along with the form, they required the originals of both my birth and marriage certificates. That kind of thing always makes me nervous. Nervous that is, until I remembered how they'd sent our new passports to us. Surely something similar would happen when the Pensions Office was ready to return my certificates.

Oh dear. 

Of course I sent the thing off from here by registered post. I then waited a few weeks and then rang the Pensions Office in the UK to check that they'd received the form, along with those certificates. I have to say that the response I get when I call them is pretty good. Apart from the number of times you have to listen to a recorded message and make a multiple-choice decision and tap yet another number on the keyboard. Once you do get through, however, each time I've spoken to someone, they've been helpfulness itself. A tick in the credit column. The conversation I had with them on this occasion was pretty satisfying. Yes the form had been received and yes it had been processed and yes my pension was approved and I was going to receive it directly into my UK bank account for the rest of my... well, let's move on.

A couple of weeks later (I know, you're losing the will to live, but I am getting there...) I decided to call them again to ask about the return of my Birth and Marriage Certificates. Now it gets fraught.

"Ah, yes," said the person at the other end of the phone, "we did send them back, but owing to the fact that they couldn't be delivered, they came back here."

This was the point at which I had to fight to remain civil and respectful. After all, this person wasn't to blame individually. I sooo wanted to...

My Certificates had travelled 4,000 miles. 2,000 from the UK to Rhodes, then 2,000 miles back again because someone over here claimed that they couldn't be delivered. Actually, counting the first journey they made when I sent them with the form, they'd now travelled 6,000 miles.

Good eh? There was no point in arguing with this poor UK civil servant. The fault obviously lay with some berk over here. But after 13 years of living somewhere with an address that amounts to a five figure number and not much else, this was the first time that something didn't reach us, and it had to be two rather essential legal documents. I called the UK Department of Work and Pensions again and arranged, finally, for them to send them to our landlords John and Wendy and they'll bring them out next time they come.

Tell you what though. When your mail arrives at a taverna, despite the fact that you have to go and collect it, the plus side is - no JUNK mail!

And, finally, to cheer you up a bit after all that, here are some photos I took yesterday whilst wandering around town, yet again!

It always pays to look up above street level. You often wouldn't otherwise see some of the more unusual and attractive buildings that pepper the town centre.

An example of the moorish influence in much of the architecture about the place. This building is right behind the Court House in the Mandraki area.

You'd never guess that this old and stylish, yet sadly derelict house is smack dab in the urban area of Rhodes Town, would you?

The clock tower is clearly visible in this one. See this post.

There are so many sites like this around Rhodes Town. You can walk straight past them if you're not careful. I love examining the inscriptions that one sees and to think about the fact that someone's hands carved them a couple of millennia ago.

Streets like this are immensely enjoyable and interesting. All winter long one can come into town and enjoy a spot of people-watching. To me, streets like this are what make towns worthwhile. It's the life-affirming vibrancy of these places I suppose.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Just killing Time

With a few hours to spare a couple of days ago, I snapped these while walking out on the harbour 'mole' at Mandraki...

And this last one's from the other side, at the top end of the harbour...

It's such a beautiful time of the year now. The temperatures are in the mid 20's, so it's much easier to wander around in the middle of the day without dissolving into a mass of sweat. The sun's lower and so there is more shade around too. I know I keep going on about this, but we could actually do with a little more rain really.

Nevertheless, from now until the end of December is probably my favourite time of the year.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

More Misunderstandings

Here are a couple more examples of the way you can get yourself into a spot of bother if you happen to mispronounce a word when trying out your Greek.

The Greek word for 'offer' is 'prosforah,' whereas the word for 'accent,' as in how someone speaks their own language, is 'proforah.' The only difference is the 's.' In both cases the syllable you stress is the last one. Now, think about this a moment. I was talking to a Greek friend the other day and I wanted to say that I know when I speak Greek I have an accent. So I said, "Eho mia prosforah." Effectively I said I have an offer [for her]. Fortunately, she didn't take that the wrong way!

It would be equally as embarrassing the other way around too. If you're talking to someone and you want to say, in a nice way of course, that they have an accent when they speak your language, you don't really want to be saying, "You have an offer?" Especially if you give the impression that it's a question or an invitation. Be prepared to make a run for it.

Slightly less serious a misunderstanding comes if you want to refer to a hammock. Now, you may be thinking, "it's not that often one wants to say 'hammock' when speaking Greek." But here you might just be wrong, because you'd be amazed how many hammocks can be seen hanging from trees in gardens and beach-side bars over here.

A hammock is 'mia ai-ora' whereas an [or one] hour is 'mia ora.' So, if you want to say "you arrived on time," you actually say in Greek 'you arrived on your hour', since you'd say "irthes stin ora sou." I told someone the other day that they'd arrived in their hammock. I had no idea why they looked at me in that strange way.

Ah, well, onward and upward, eh?

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Beggars in BMWs

Another hot potato I've been meaning to talk about is the subject of street 'musicians' and beggars, which do appear to be proliferating in Greece these days.

If you walk around either Rhodes new town or go into the medieval town, you can't fail to notice them, they're everywhere. There are tiny kids, sitting cross-legged on the kerb pumping junior accordions, often repeating the same musical phrase over and over again, usually a short, badly played 'clip' from the song "Never on a Sunday". They may be emitting a screech that vaguely resembles an attempt to sing a few words from the song as accompaniment... 

There are teenage (and barely teenage) girls with their faces whited up and a long white silk curtain draped all over their bodies, pretending very poorly to be statues. 

A local "Human Statue" gets her attire sorted before commencing a session...

Now, I've seen some pretty amazing 'human' statues, notably at Honfleur once, in Northern France, where the detail was so amazing as to be well worth a coin or two in the hat on the floor in front of them. This is the kind of thing...

This photo courtesy of https://2id-events.com - in the UAE.
...but it has to be said these kids here are taking the Michael, their getup is that simple. They don't even seem to understand that a statue is supposed to be rigid, so they keep waving at people walking by!

There are some pretty amazing musicians too, busking in the timeworn manner, and these generally are very good, entertaining and worth a listen while one passes. Like this combo I saw in the Street of the Knights a few weeks ago...

There are also the kids that patrol the restaurants in the Old Town, one perhaps playing a tune on a mini bouzouki or accordion, while his younger (often no more than six or seven year-old) assistant passes among the tables with a plastic cup or a baseball cap, trying to make eye contact with the diners for maximum effect.

There are the very pathetic (in the true sense of the word) women sitting on the pavement in the shopping area of the new town, usually with a baby clutched to their breast while they simply groan and extend a hand as people scurry past. These are often right under your feet as you attempt to enter or exit a clothes boutique, for example.

I'm also well familiar with a lady flautist, always dressed in purple and white, who busks in the Old Town...

...a couple of troupes of acrobats, several mature men who play either acoustic or electric guitars, some of whom also move among the restaurant tables with a small plastic cup dangling from the guitar's headstock on a piece of string, and a new age-type girl who sits on a step in the Street of the Knights and taps a beaten metal drum (a bit like an upside-down West Indian steel drum) with a couple of timpani mallets, making a kind of ambient sound that's not unpleasant, but doesn't seem to have much of a melody or tune.

So, to take stock, if you were to drop a coin to every beggar, musician, acrobat or statue that you pass, you'd need probably twice as much spending cash as you probably have with you in order to get through the day.

Before I move on to another aspect of all this, I need to mention the 'African" women who hang around St. Paul's Gate, near the fishing harbour, and 'mug' the people passing by stealth. Before I was told a couple of months back in no uncertain terms by the Proedros of the professional guides association, together with an officer of the tourist police, to stop telling my excursion guests anything at all, apart from the arrangements for our return from town (I alluded to this occasion fleetingly in this post), I used to be able to warn my guests about these women. They are a pest and hang around beneath an arch where passers-by need to walk in very close proximity to them. As you approach them they'll extend a hand and put on a broad smile. Once they make eye contact with you they've almost won the battle already. They'll give you the impression that they're simply being friendly, but in very short order will grab your hand and won't let go until they've put a rather pitiable piece of string around your wrist with a few beads on it, tell you it'll bring you health and prosperity for the rest of your life, and extract an exorbitant sum from you for the privilege. It's an upsetting experience and I'm often asked why the Police don't go and sort them out. I don't have the answer to that.

Of course, moving a little further out from the town centre there are the traffic light junction windscreen cleaners and people selling tissue packs at your car window while you wait for the 'green.' There are the trolley beggars in supermarket car parks too. These will approach you while you're loading the shopping into your car and ask if they can return your trolley/cart to the trolley-park for you, and thus pocket the Euro coin that's released once the thing is re-parked.

Reading back over this, I'm conscious of the possibility of giving a false impression that you're under siege should you visit Rhodes. I don't mean to do that, but it is a fact that these folk are about. I've travelled the Athens subway and they're all over the trains there too. This is born of the fact that the system runs on trust. There are no turnstiles, thus enabling the unfortunates to board the trains and 'work' the passengers between stations.

Now, the whole question of how genuine all these people are is a tough one. Of course, the quality musicians don't pretend to be down and outs, they merely ply a busking trade that has a long tradition and I always like to see and hear such people. They add vibrancy to a leisurely walk around a town centre. Well, they do for me anyway.

These guys were playing slide guitar blues in the centre of Bath when I was there in July. They were awesome.

The ones that trade on your pity are a more difficult case. I myself have witnessed something that certainly aroused doubts in my mind. I was waiting for my wife in the car once during a flying visit to a supermarket on the outskirts of town, when I saw a woman who'd been prowling the parked cars with a rather scruffy-looking, stain-faced urchin on her hip, extending a hand to everyone she could draw a reaction from. She also had a rather battered stroller with her, which had a bunch of well-used shopping bags hanging from it.

As I watched her, a BMW pulled up just across the road from the car park. OK, it wasn't the latest model, but it was certainly a decent car in what looked like fairly good condition. As I watched, a man got out and opened the boot (trunk, guys). The woman I'd been watching stopped her patrol and plonked the child into the stroller, whereupon she marched pretty briskly out of the car park and across the road to the BMW. The driver folded the stroller and placed it in the boot, while the woman and child climbed into the front seat and closed the door. Once the driver had got back inside they were off with a squeal of tyres.

What was I to conclude from this? It's a hard one. I'll tell you why. I've been told that some of these beggars are 'kept' by their 'owners' in much the same manner as prostitutes are 'kept' by pimps. I saw a carbon copy of this scene once when we were on holiday in Naxos. The story is that such people don't have papers and are thus powerless to escape the clutches of their 'benefactors' without falling foul of the authorities.

 The only thing I will say is that the body language of the ones I've seen gave the distinct impression that the women were not in any way distressed or fearful of the car or its driver. If I hadn't actually seen them begging, I'd have simply concluded that they were a nice little family getting into their car and driving away.

I'll be interested to get some feedback from this one. Meanwhile, I'd better see what loose change I've got...

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Thrift versus Consumerism

Maybe I ought to have called this post "Thrift versus Needless Consumerism." It seems that 'consumerism' per se isn't quite as negative an expression as I thought. But you'll get the point. Having just finished typing it and having re-read it through, I have to say it's a bit of a treatise rather than simply a blog post this time.

My beloved and I were talking about furniture yesterday and the whole 'cultural differences' thing entered the conversation again. It's broadly true to say that, certainly in the UK these days, people generally change their dining suite at whim, don't they? A lot more people than ever before seem to have as their hobby the continual re-decorating of their home, room-by-room, which often involves, not simply a can of interior emulsion or couple of rolls of wallpaper, but the complete replacing of all the hard furniture in the room that's under transformation. Witness the spate of interior design programmes on UK TV in recent years.

Thus the increase in huge 'sheds', as one tends to call those gigantic furniture stores that pepper all the edge-of-town shopping malls these days. If people in the UK had the same habits as most of the Greeks we know, then lots of those huge chain stores would be out of business. Greeks, in general, own a dining suite for life. Not just for life, but they often use the same suite today that their grandparents handed down to them through their parents along the way.

And it's usually heavy mahogany stuff like this (although often even darker wood)...

That's pretty much par for the course in a lot of Greek households. Plus, quite a few families we know also have custom-made see-thru PVC covers on the chairs. Just what you need on an August day in Rhodes, eh?

Our friend Voula, who I was talking about in the post "Staying Awhile," is a fairly modern woman, yet she too has a lounge/dining room crammed with heavy, darkwood furniture, including a huge glass dresser/sideboard. One wonders whether the standard chipboard floor in a modern UK home would stand the weight for long. No wonder Greek houses have solid floors. My wife's relatives in Athens also have a house crammed with the stuff. Frankly, when one considers the size of the rooms in a lot of 'starter-homes' in the UK nowadays, they'd never even get it in there in the first place.

One of my favourite comedians, "Basile," who I've mentioned before, in the post "Nice Piece of Furniture" for example, did a wickedly funny piece about his ya ya's sideboard and old cabinet-style TV set. I mention it in more detail in that post, which also majors on the whole lace 'doily' thing.

In some ways the Greek way is much better for the environment, if not for the economy. Let's face it, it's a sorry world where 'planned obsolescence' is required to keep a country's, nay the world's, economy going. Nowhere is 'planned obsolescence' more evident than in the computer industry. My iPad, for example, is five years old and already there are loads of apps that I can't download or update because it won't let me update the OS to the latest version because they've made subtle changes to the processor so that it won't cope with the newer system. When you actually stop and think about how this whole planet's financial system depends on industry (and thus mass-employment) rather than small-holding agriculture (as was the case for millennia before our era), you realise that the 'system' is designed to destroy the environment really.

Cultural mores that we abandoned decades ago in more 'developed' countries are still only just making inroads into some aspects of life in rural Greece. Even the house one lives in, when I was a kid, was just about still the family 'base' for generations. Nowadays in the UK even the expression 'starter home' betrays the culture of perpetually moving on to something bigger and better. A house is no longer a home, it's a material asset to be disposed of at a profit as one continually 'moves up the ladder' as it were. Experts in human behaviour and emotional wellbeing, though, ring alarm bells, saying that perpetually moving house tends to sever a human's sense of roots, of belonging, resulting in less balanced people, more emotionally prone to mental distress and other problems as they get older.

Here in Greece, especially in rural Greece, families never sell a house. They'd almost prefer to leave it empty, should a 'set' of forbears die without having anyone to leave it to who'd want to live in it, than sell it on. At most they'll perhaps let it, but it's a home. It was the place to which all the kids and grandkids, even great grandkids could come back to, thus grounding them, giving them a sense of belonging, of having roots.

And I like that. Thus it is with furniture too. Most Greeks I know in the south of Rhodes (OK, so it is changing among apartment-dwelling townies these days) have well-made furniture in every room of the house which is designed to outlive not one, not two, but several generations.

Of course, I'm a hypocrite in some ways because, had I been born into a Greek family and inherited a great big heavy dark wood dining suite that I absolutely hated, I'd probably have to get shot of it and buy something I could live with aesthetically.

But I'm not saying that would necessarily make me any happier for it.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Against The Grain?

Stergos and I were talking while the coach's wheels covered ground on the way back from Rhodes Town the other day. The subject came up of a mutual friend who's only around 30 years of age, yet has some rather alarmingly old-fashioned ideas about women.

The person in question looks modern, with that hairstyle that so many young men seem to think is cool these days, where both sides of the head are shaved to a No.1 (G.I. Joe) shortness on both sides and around the back, but the top still has flowing locks that need keeping in place with copious quantities of gel or the like. At least he doesn't sport one of those ridiculous mega-short pony tails, held in place with an elastic band, on top of his head that always have me longing for a pair of sharp scissors whenever I see them. He wears cool shades and goes to the gym a lot. Yet when you have a conversation with him, he'll often betray a woefully archaic attitude, not to say 'understanding' (misunderstanding?) of women.

For instance, if he sees any driver making an error of judgment on the road, his first words will always be "Woman. It's a woman." 

If he's wrong he'll move swiftly on. If, however, he's right, he'll continue with expressions like: "See, women aren't genetically suited to driving, Yianni. It's not conducive to their emotional makeup. They're better suited to keeping home. They're dangerous, what with all their emotions and stuff. Plus they think mirrors are only fitted so they can touch-up their lipstick."

I could go on, but I sense some real anger issues with some readers already coming to the surface, right?

Stergos, who was with me and sitting behind the wheel during this particular conversation, is probably around sixty, still in fairly good shape, with a good head of mainly white hair swept back from his forehead. He has one of those archetypal Greek male voices. You know, the type that sounds like he's smoked for decades and gargles with loose gravel. I should point out that, while he may well have been a smoker in the past, Stergos doesn't smoke today. Taking into consideration his age, though, you may have expected that he would hold slightly outdated views on women's place in society, but none of it. His first wife died after a long illness and he is proud to point out that he is a 'new man' in the sense that he wasn't embarrassed to have done everything around the house while his wife was ill. 

It is a basic truth that most Greek men are rather stereotypical in their views of what constitutes a woman's work and what is a man's. I know very few Greek men who'll get anywhere near the kitchen sink, or indeed the washing machine. An ironing board I suspect they'd not even recognise. My friend Stergos, however, tells me that, first and foremost, even though he says that once a man gets in through his front door, he ought to recognise that he's now in his wife's domain, what she says goes, as it were, he says this out of respect and awe for a woman's capabilities and not because he feels that a woman's place is in the home.

No, Stergos proudly confesses to believing that what's done in the home should always be a matter of sharing the load by both partners in the relationship. He knows how to load up and programme the washing machine, he knows how to iron a shirt or press some trousers, he knows what a duster is. And thus he, although of an older generation, introduced me to a thought from his old Papou (grandfather).

"Yianni," he said, "My old papou always used to say that all men are like wood. I'll explain. Some woods are very hard, they take skill to work and yet can be transformed into beautiful pieces, perhaps of furniture, for example. A well-carved, inlaid and polished oak table is a piece that you keep for life. It elicits expressions of awe from those who examine it. It has great value. Other woods, like pine, for example, are not so high in quality. These are more suited to rough cabinets or shelving you might put up in your outhouse. Then there are woods of such poor quality that the best you can do with them is to burn them, for heat perhaps. Firewood.

"My papou said that men are like that. Some are intelligent, caring people. These men become loved, highly valued, by those who know them. You want to be around them. They are like high quality oak. Sadly, though, some are so 'rough' in ways and thought that you don't hold them in such high esteem. The firewood, as it were. The type of wood someone becomes has much to do with how educated they are."

I began to see where he was coming from. Returning to the subject of our mutual friend, who is due to get married to his very beautiful fiancée later this year, Stergos said: "Yianni, our friend may look young and modern, but at heart he is a 'horiatis.' Still holds the values he learned from his country village upbringing. He's going to have trouble with his new wife if he doesn't change his tune. He doesn't seem to want to educate himself in this field."

I've met our friend's fiancée. I replied that I thought that perhaps she was aware of her future husband's views and yet nurtured the idea that she'd whip him into shape once they were married. Not that I think that this would necessarily work, mind you. It's often the recipe for a failed marriage in my experience (not my personal experience, of course). Maybe, though, she is strong of character and knows that she won't stand any messing. I do know that she drives, since I asked our friend if she did one time when he was sounding off about how women shouldn't be driving owing to their inherent emotional nature. When he replied that she did, I asked him, "So what are you going to do about that when you're married? Do you think she'll knuckle under and stay at home?"

The awkward smile he gave me by way of a reply indicated that he was finding that one a bit of a quandary. 

The two of us, Stergos and myself, like our young friend as a person, it's not that. But we're both realistic about him too and we shall be watching he and his new wife with interest and concern for quite a while after they tie the knot.

I'd be interested to hear from other ex-pats like myself who've lived here in Greece for any length of time about their experience in this area. What abiding impressions do they have of the stereotypes? Do they feel as I do that your average Greek man, at least in rural areas, is still stuck some time in the past when it comes to male-female equality? 

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Staying Awhile?

The Greek culture has a lot to recommend it. Families are still very close, communities are predominantly safe for children to go out and play in with confidence, at least in rural and island areas. Yeah, well, knowing everyone and being known by everyone in a village environment has both its upside and its downside, but it's miles better than not knowing one's next-door neighbour at all and living in a 'community' where one could be dead on one's kitchen floor for a week or two, or even worse, lying injured and helpless there, before anyone even knows.

Where I come from in the South West of England and, more latterly, South Wales, in the UK, things have changed immeasurably since I was a child growing up in the 1950's. Back then we had simple latches on our kitchen doors and I could walk to school across several fields and down a country lane or two alone at the age of 6 or maybe 7. Now it seems, people in villages all work in the city and hardly see their neighbours, leave alone have any meaningful interaction with them. I know, it doesn't do to generalise, but you know where I'm coming from, I'm sure. These days in the UK everyone takes their kids by car to the school gate and waits outside for them to emerge at the end of the day. Yes, OK, I'm generalising again.

I would walk home from the tiny village school in Priston, a distance of some three miles, all on my lonesome, and I'd love it. I well remember the time when I was skirting an electric fence, keeping some cattle to a particular section of a meadow, and I wondered what would happen if I touched the fence. I must have been seven. I picked a bunch of wild flowers (many of which you'd be hard pressed to find in a British meadow nowadays) and gingerly laid them upon the electrified wire. 

Zap! I still remember the electrical 'fizz' that ran up my arm. Needless to say, I treated electric fences with respect from then on. When I finally got to our back door half an hour or so later, I was none the worse for the experience and my mum was there preparing the evening meal. Sounds idyllic. Frankly, it was.

Here in southern Rhodes there are villages where daily life remains just about something akin to that era in the UK. Things are, of course, changing here too. But, the way I look at it, this area is a few decades behind the UK - in a good way. The family culture here is still strong, which regularly produces situations that we both appreciate and - in order to be balanced - occasionally express gratitude for not having to endure.

What am I on about? I'm on about the propensity that the Greeks have to visit their relatives willy nilly, with no invitation, no reference to whether their hosts may have already received other visitors for a week or three, and often not much advance warning. Most of the Greeks we know don't have any concept of the package holiday. Instead, they simply choose which relatives they're going to visit and go and stay there.

I'll cite as an example our friend Voula. She has a husband and four children, ranging in ages from 6 to 20, and they all still live at home in a village not far from us. Voula's hubby had been married before (one evidence of how things are changing here) and has grown-up children from his previous marriage. They live in Thessalonika with their mother. Voula herself has aunts and uncles on the Greek mainland (on her mother's side) and a brother who lives with his wife on the island of Crete.

A few weeks ago, Voula's mum's sister and her hubby, together with two grown-up daughters, came to stay for two weeks. That's in a house with six permanent residents and three bedrooms. As is quite normal for Greeks, they ended up with bodies all over the lounge when it was time to bed down for the night. Privacy is a notion that doesn't compute in such circumstances. Even though Voula is quite a modern woman of around 40 years old, she cooks almost every single day and always from fresh ingredients. I don't know many Greek households where they stock up their freezers with ready meals or pre-packed and processed foods. Here in the south of Rhodes women start with fresh fruit and vegetables and prepare their meals from there, much as my mother used to do when I was a lad. The whole thing is, I believe, a throw-back to patriarchal days of bygone eras.

So, Voula was run ragged cooking for 10 for two weeks. OK, so the visitors helped out here and there, but they also bunged their dirty washing in her machine and she washed and ironed it, not to mention the sheets and bedding. Not two days after the visitors left, we were talking with Voula at her kitchen table when she told us she had to cut short our chat in order to set out for the airport. She had to go and meet her half-sister and hubby who were flying in from Thessalonika that very afternoon.

"How long are they staying for?" My wife asked Voula.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe a week. maybe two." replied Voula, resignation written all over her face.

So the half sibling and partner turned up and stayed about ten days, after which, apart from running them back to the airport, Voula had to again wash a load of extra bedding. 

'Where is her husband in all of this?' You may ask. Well, as you may have guessed anyway, he has a business that's tourist-related and is thus out at work every waking hour, seven days a week for another few weeks yet. Her oldest daughter works in a nearby hotel and her younger three are still at school and thus were on summer break. They've just returned to school this past week.

Back at Voula's the other night, we were enjoying some 'parea' with a small group of friends when she once again got up and declared, "Anyway, everyone, must ask you to clear off now. I'm going out." I must add that Voula, who is usually immaculately turned out, had her hair tied up behind her head and was wearing not one scrap of makeup. She looked somewhat fraught. In fact we remarked that perhaps she needed a holiday.

Of course, we were curious as to where she had to go, since it was around 9.30pm. Guess what, she was off to the airport again to meet and greet yet more relatives, the other half-sibling, plus wife and two kids were arriving to stay a while. 

Now, Voula isn't the type to complain, yet when my better half suggested that she must be just a tad weary of visitors after something like six weeks without much break, her response was a simple half smile, as if to say, "it's par for the course. Not much I can do, so what's the point in griping?"

Thus, my friends, whilst we can envy the Greeks their family and community closeness, there is perhaps a smidgin of relief that in other parts of the world we're not quite so close any more.