My “Summer guide to Greece” article was supposed to be up on Cosmos Philly about a month ago but because I was trying to dribble a soccer ball on a Sunday morning by 3 opposing defenders I was taken down by one of them and ended up with a meniscus tear on my right knee which needed orthoscopic surgery.
Okay, the priest told me I shouldn’t lie anymore at my last confession: I was walking (yes walking) onto the pitch to participate in the has beens vs. wannabees game that resembles soccer when I felt some pain on my knee which ended up being a meniscus tear.
Greek mother’s voice when I was playing soccer growing up: “tha spaseis ta podia sou min paizeis mpalla”. Greek wife’s voice as I’m approaching 50 and still growing up: “tha spaseis ta podia sou min paizeis mpalla”.
Any way, many “patriotes” are packing their bags for Greece this summer for some Mediterranean sun, sightseeing and beach volleyball with the Swedish chicks that flock to the Greek islands during the summer months.
A few years back when my daughters were around 5 and 7 years old they started screaming with joy on a flight to Greece once the plane was landing in Athens. “Why are you so happy?” I asked and they said “we love it here, THERE ARE NO RULES”. To this day I haven’t heard a better description of Greece, no rules.
Here’s a typical Greek trip: You spend most of the time at the wife’s village with the ten houses near the Bulgarian border where everyone is related and speaks a Greek dialect you weren’t taught in Greek school in the States. You had plans to take the kids to a Greek island but the mother-in law convinced her daughter (who in turn convinced your kids) to spend 5 weeks in HER village and the rest of the vacation visiting HER uncles and aunts who have a house they call “eksohiko” (shack by American standards) on some secluded beach. The one time you attempted to speak up and said “there’s nothing here but goats and mountains” you were quickly shut down by the Greek COSA NOSTRA (wifes soi) who said “ehoume katharo aera” – the old “clean air” argument, got to love it.
Well I can’t help you with the in laws but what I can do is make life just a tiny bit more enjoyable for you during this trip.
Start by making a list of only the essentials. The less stuff you carry the better off you will be trust me. Instead of piling clothes into a suitcase without any thought, similar to a hiking expedition, think long and hard “do I need this” before packing. Every time I would come back from a trip I would open up my suitcase and look at all the stuff I didn’t wear but had to haul all over the place. Then I would write down what I wore and you know what? I narrowed it down to a few t shirts shorts with a pair of jeans and that’s it. All my stuff fits now in a backpack. No more Greek Samsonites.
Try this: give a suitcase to the wife (and teenage daughter(s)) and say to them: This is the ONLY thing you’re allowed to take on this trip. Fill it with whatever you want. (We know it won’t work but what the heck you at least tried).
Ladies: do you really have to take more shoes than Melinda Marcos to Greece? All you need is one pair of sandals, one pair of walking shoes and one pair of heels when you go see Makropoulo at the bouzoukia. Leave all your other shoes behind (and that goes for your bazooka type hair dryer too).
Men: Please leave the white sneakers, tube socks that come up to your knees for the thrift shop and replace them with a pair of sandals.
Need something in Greece? No problem, chances are you can find whatever you want at one of those mega Wall-Mart type stores and while your there go in the back and buy whatever booze you want. The day before you head back home what you do is stop the rent a car and do what the locals do, throw all your trash on the side of the road with the 20 plastic water bottles that accumulated in the car. Who cares? Besides you don’t live there anyway.
Take a cab or a bus
When going downtown (any town) leave the rental car home and take a cab, bus and if in Athens the metro. Once I was in downtown Thessaloniki looking for parking for what seemed like hours. Caution: as you’re waiting at the bus stop stay clear because once the doors open the running of the Greek bulls takes place. Yiayia and pappou will step on your feet and give you a Shot to the rib cage so they can hop on first.
What you do is you let everybody fight for seating and get on dead last. When you arrive at your destination and the door opens you will be the first one out.
Those of you that find a cab or a bus to be beneath you and must show off your brand new Range Rover with the American license plates good luck finding parking in town. If you are lucky enough however.
And do find a spot at a lot you have to deal with Greek parking meters. First you have to go to the “periptero” and get your hands on a parking card which you have to fill out with your arrival time. Then you have to be a magician and write down when you will be leaving, you must then go to another kiosk on the other side of the lot where you have to wait in line for the next available Greek customer service agent… Sorry he just left and will be back soon! When he comes back (you must wait for him to take one last sip of his frappe and take one last drag on his cigarette) and only then do you pay him as he signs and puts 35 stamps on the parking card.
Eat fresh local food
Tomatoes cucumbers, zucchini they’re all in season and taste great this time of year. I know “Giorgaki” only eats chicken nuggets and hot dogs but use this trip as a platform for your spoiled little Greek brat that should be on A.D.D medication to stop eating junk. He might go hungry for a few days but on the fourth day he will be eating “mpamies” and licking his fingers trust me.
“Ora (kinis) isihias”
“Why are you whispering” I asked my older daughter once when I called Greece from the States to see what the family was up to and she said that it was “ora isihias” and that pappou is not happy if we wake him up from his afternoon nap. You have to admit siesta between 3 and 6 is great. You eat like a pig and then go to sleep and digest the tyrokafteri Greek style. Mediterranean diet say the Americans. HA!
Summer siesta is perfect but can be easily ruined by those darn Greek-American kids screaming and yelling when all is quiet. Let me tell you something, the only think that woks like a Swiss watch in Greece is “ora kinis isihias”. If everything else worked that well we wouldn’t be in the mess were in today.
Do you really want to know why Greeks hate the Greeks living abroad? You think it’s politics? You think it’s NATO? No, it’s because little “Giorgaki” from the suburbs of Chicago ate 20 bags of skittles and is screaming and yelling when he should be sleeping during “siesta time”.
Do something fun with your kids. I remember going out to pick wild oregano with an old high school buddy. “We want to come along” my daughters said so I took them with me. To this day they remember and want to go back and do it again.
Leave Mykonos and Santorini for the Tourists
Yes I know, Psarrou Beach and Kamari but I have news for some of you Greeks living abroad. Greece doesn’t have just two islands, explore and you will have an unbelievable experience Elafonissos anyone? How’bout Aloniso?
No politics please
Don’t fall for political discussions and if provoked by friends or relatives just give them a pat on the back and tell them to have some more ouzo. Just remember that this is THEIR problem and THEY need to figure things out for themselves. We don’t live their reality and even though we have the best intentions the mindset is totally different and our opinions may not apply there and even if they do they will be seen as “foreign” so don’t bother. Besides, the only thing you will accomplish is to make enemies.
Greek Americans love to complain. The water is not cold enough, the air condtioning doesn’t work properly and the waiters are rude, so what? “Ti na kanoume?” Back when I used to smoke I had to go through customs at the Macedonia Airport in Thessaloniki because I had too many cartons of cigarettes. So when I got before the cigarette police they filled out a form and asked for 50 euros, and similar to a Japanese chef using a meat cleaver, the officer stamped my paper about a dozen times. So I asked if he was done and once he said yes I grabbed the stamp from his hand and started stamping my paper front and back another 30 times and everybody started laughing. “Now the paper is official” I remember saying. My thought process is simple: I’m not gonna change Greece. Besides I’m there to have fun so instead of fighting them just go with the flow.
Don’t compare everything to America. I know, the cars are bigger the highways are wider and the kitchens in our 10,000 sq/ft homes here in the States have more cabinets. When we ask for ice at a restaurant we don’t just get one ice cube and we stop at red lights and don’t treat them like stop signs. Just remember when in Rome…
Parents, remember there are no rules in Greece. Kids can go to clubs as soon as they start walking and alcohol is sold everywhere. I will never forget when I had a heated argument with my daughters outside of a club. She was trying to convince me that it was ok for a 9 year old girl to go in pointing to her lille Greek friends who were walking through the club entrance. I didn’t handle it very well according to my college educated wife who’s read more psychology books than Sigmund Freud when I was laughing in disbelief. New parenting books say that instead of laughing and making her feel bad I should of pulled her to the side and explained to her… why a 9 year old doesn’t belong in a night club.
No not the ones in the Mediterranean, the ones outside that roam the streets in Greece. The 20 something young men looking at your daughter the way a shark eyes it’s pray and if Daddy is driving a Range Rover from America? The young Greek man is thinking $$$. And while I’m talking money…
Lock up the cash and leave jewelry home
A few years back a friend had just gone to the bank at convert $5,000 to euros and when he arrived at his hotel realized that all his money was gone, he was pick pocketed and all he remembered was a woman bumping into him. So lock up most of the cash and take only what you think you will be spending that day you venture out.
That Rolex you bought yourself when you turned 50? Leave it behind, wife’s diamond ring? The same. Look, you’re in another country, island hoping and in and out of hotels. Chances are you will lose something so why not have it be a Timex watch? Besides, the Timex has a countdown timer, it tells you what the time is in New York, Rio and Tokyo and the best feature? An alarm that can be set to give you notice to stop playing volleyball with the Swedish chicks right before the wife shows up at the beach!
Kalo Kalokeri everyone.