Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Here and There

Further musings over our ten years here on Rhodes. I've been thinking a lot lately about the major differences - and indeed some of the unexpected similarities - between life here on Rhodes and life there in the UK. So I may (covering myself in case I don't bother after this one) post a series of observations over such things. Here's one anyway, it's all about...

You know you're living in Greece when you've asked an artisan to come and do some work at your house. It may be a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, a tree surgeon (where did that come from?), whatever. It's invariably the same. The conversation will go something like this:

"I need a new flippety drangle dobbit fitted and I don't think it's something I can do without the proper tools. Would you come and have a look at it for me?"

"Yes, of course. No problem. Where is your house?"

"It's down there, up the road then right at the old taverna sign."

"Ah, yes, that's near where Manolis used to keep his pigs and Takis has most of his olive trees. Stefanos - you know Stefanos, he's the one who married Vaggeli's ugly sister and has been hardly seen inside his own front door for several years now - well he keeps his tractor in that shed up the back of Taki's olive groves. That is right isn't it?"

"Close enough. tell you what, you tell me when you can come and I'll keep an eye out for your truck. Maybe call me if you're in the area and not sure where I am." You rather hopefully give him your mobile phone number, which he scrawls on the back of his current cigarette packet (which rather ominously has only two of the original 20 offending health-damaging products remaining inside), after shouting to Giorgos the bar owner for a pen or pencil to write it down with. Giorgos has come over, whipped a two-inch long HB from behind his ear and hovered to make sure he gets it back right away.

"Why not put it straight into your phone?" you tentatively reply. 

"S'in the car. No problem, I'll do it when I go."

You now have to wait while the two men have a five or ten minute animated discussion about politics or some snippet of gossip from the nearest village. Tapping your fingers on the table and sipping at your drink, you sense your opportunity and jump in with...

"So, anyway, when can you come?"

"What day is it?" 

You tell him it's Tuesday, adding "all day" with a slight smile to inject a degree of levity. He looks at you as if you've just taken leave of your sanity.

"OK, Tuesday, eh? I'll come Friday."

"You can't make it tomorrow, then."

"Tomorrow I go to Rhodes Town all day. I have to go to the dikastyrio [court]."

"What's that for then? Have you been accused of something?"

"No, not me. It's complicated."

You don't press it. You want to get home before dark and it is 11.00am. So you reply with gratitude, "OK, so I'll expect you Friday morning then, what time?"

"I didn't say Friday morning, I said Friday. I'll do my best. I have to take the pethera [mother-in-law] to the yiatro [doctor] first."

"And you can't do that Thursday?"

"Of course not, it's Thursday."

Aah, you think, fair enough. 

Friday morning rolls around and you keep glancing down the lane for any sign of a cloud of dust that may indicate the approach of the man's pickup. By 3.30pm you want to call him but you realise that he'll probably now be sleeping, so you wait until 5 and then do it.

"I thought you were coming today. What happened?"

"Don't worry. I'll be there. See you soon." He helpfully hangs up.

The following Monday you stroll into the kafeneion and there he is, sitting at the same table, pulling a fresh cigarette from a brand new packet. He's about to imbibe his first frappé of the day. You go straight over and start:

"Hey Lefteri. Where were you on Friday? I waited in all day."

His answer neatly sidesteps the issue of Friday. "You going to be in this afternoon?" You nod, "Good, I'll be there this afternoon. I may need to borrow a twin-sprocket-whipshaft extractor from Anastasias."

You walk off vainly hoping that this time he'll arrive as promised.

Two weeks later when he's called you to say he can be there in ten minutes, but now you're forty kilometres away in Rhodes town on a few errands, you almost bust a bloodvessel.

See, the thing is, a Greek will promise you anything and it's infuriating when they don't deliver. But what you have to remember is this: when he makes the promise he thoroughly means it. He does really mean it. It's just that no Greek that I've ever met seems to be able to plan anything more than a few minutes in advance. There have been so many times over the years when I've been phoned by a Greek friend to invite the two of us over or to meet them somewhere with some more friends for Parea [company, fellowship] and it's - say 6pm - and they're talking about that very evening. We've had something else planned and so miss out on the good time that may have been had.

If I say in response, "If you'd told me a couple of days ago we'd have loved to have come." It doesn't compute. They'll think "That's daft. Who'd have known a couple of days ago what they'd be doing today?" So, when the plumber turns up a week and half after the day he'd first promised that he'd come he'll be genuinely mystifed if you're annoyed.

"I've come haven't I?" He'll say. Then probably add, "You know me, Gianni, I always keep my promises."


  1. But think how much less stressful your plumber's (or whichever tradesman you want to hire) life is than his counterpart in UK...................blissfully funny for us to read as well!

  2. Laughed out loud John. The only time I've seen a plumber move quickly is when our toilet cistern actually FELL OFF the wall--you will note I said MOVE, not RUN!

  3. John, as we live in Greece we really laughed at it - so, too true!!