Adventures in Greece as we pursue the dream of buying a boat and cruising the Mediterranean.
Another week comes to a close and this one felt special. For the first time in over a month, there’s no immediate countdown to change, we’re settled here in our new apartment for at least the next 6 months.
As well as moving, the other major milestone this week was that the lawyers managed to get our tax numbers for us (after waiting in a queue for 5 hours), which meant that we could move forward on signing a lease and getting a bank account.
I can safely say that the bank account process was our LEAST favorite thing this week, but we’re excited to have one finally. It’s amazing the amount of paperwork that was required, it seemed far more complex than either the US or Australia. Still, if anyone had any doubts about the thoroughness of the Greek banking system in the past, at least for new accounts they are very certain of where our money is coming from (including having to provide 12 months worth of statements from various accounts and our entire US tax return all officially translated into Greek!). The lady who was opening the account was also juggling a constant conversation with others in the branch, answering phones, had customers just walking up and butting in, while also dealing with us. Then at the end, that was it — goodbye, and we left, no pre-canned script of “We know you have many choices for banking partners thank you for choosing to bank with us”. Very different feel than the US.
It’s been interesting, that process of “deprogramming” ourselves from the US way of thinking. We found ourselves tripping up on so many things, for example:
- We’re back in a metric country, we can finally say Centigrade and Kilos without people looking at us strangely. We finally finished that what-i-thought-was 6lb’s of watermelon that I purchased last week without mentally twigging that it was in fact 6kgs of watermelon!
- We can say Ore-gano instead of Oreg-ano again! (If I’m feeling smart and I remember I can say ρίγανη — rigani to impress the locals).
- We still call Euro’s “Dollars” (oh, it’s only 2 bucks).
- Remember that the 1st floor is not the Ground Floor anymore. We’ve been caught out thinking “that’s only 2 flights of stairs” when in fact it’s 3 now.
- The whole service culture is so different — it’s almost like we’re in a foreign country! It’s actually pleasant to eat a meal without someone asking you every 5 minutes if you’re enjoying it, but we have still to learn the various signals that run things here. You can’t just ask for the check — every time we’ve done that, they clear the plates and then deliver a complimentary dessert, which is nice and all, but sometimes you actually ate too much and just want to go. We’re getting better at planning for it. If we wanted to slow down and enjoy life more, then we really couldn’t pick a better place than Greece to force that on us!
The way retail works here, especially in central Athens is fascinating. The supermarkets are a lot smaller of course and they seem to run a strong trade in deliveries that the staff in the supermarket are filling. It’s always a challenge when you’re standing at the deli counter, you can be the only person in the store, but the assistant is running around like mad packaging orders — you have to assert yourself, and they always seem to resent stopping to serve the actual customer in front of them. I think they just wish we’d order online like everyone else!
In general though in the old part of town, everything is a dedicated shop serving typically only one thing, or class of things. For example, this cane basket shop, that sells only baskets.
Interesting side note, it takes the owner around 2 hours to setup and another 2 to tear down every single day!
All these shops are clustered into districts — if you want cane baskets, it’s on these few streets, meat is over here, electrical is there, metal workers here, all clustered together. There’s a store that sells only dried beans and grains (but not pine nuts, that was the store two doors up). We found a bulk post-card shop, selling all those tacky tourist cards and booklets, but only by the 100’s and my personal favourite, a cluster of several shops that sell eggs. Not even a variety of eggs, just entire stores full of chook eggs, stacked high.
The other thing that’s different is that the PayWave machine and the cash register aren’t linked — they will ring you up on the register, then enter the amount into the POS system and consequently you get two receipts, one for the goods and one for the payment transaction. The government rules seem to be very strict (and followed) on handing out receipts — waving them off and not taking them was not viewed well by the shop owners, so we’ve learnt to take them both. Consequently by the end of the day, my pockets are full of paper. Still, at least they are nothing like a Walgreens receipt! (which can touch the floor for non US readers).
As you can see, the week has really been about shopping and exploring the local area. We’re finding a rhythm and getting to know the various characters that run the stores and inhabit the streets. It’s nice, as you spend a little more time, it changes slowly from “Come and eat” to a more casual conversation and “How are you today my friend”.
The streets here are generally a bit calmer than Exarcheia, although you have to watch out for the scooters everywhere. There seems to be a bit of an inverse rule, the bigger the bike, the higher the chance it’s a little old lady riding it! Inevitably when you see a large Kawasaki dirt bike tearing down the street, it’s Granny and not the local lads that are the issue. Of course, they tear down the street too, but generally on 50CC or less crappy old mopeds of various sorts.
Rosie is settling in well and happily ignoring the locals. Generally people want to say hello to her, but if there’s no food involved she really only has time for Karina and I. It is interesting how people “talk” to dogs here, generally they chirp like a bird at her, or make a kissing sound. She ignores either.
The biggest challenge has been the toilet. I constantly learn new and interesting information I never knew I needed to know (“Insatiably Curious” right?), well one random fact is that US sewer pipes are 4 inches, but in Athens they are typically only 2 inches. This means that when you’re in a building and you’ve used the toilet, the toilet paper goes into the bin NOT down the pipes. Did I mention we live in an older building? This has been a bit of a shock and involved a lot of googling to be sure that we were doing the “right” thing. The toilet paper bin gets emptied daily with the trash.
One other thing we’ve noticed is that you don’t really buy much in the way of herbs at the supermarket (or market in general). It seems that you’re expected to grow your own. We’ve seen basil growing everywhere in pots outside shops but we couldn’t recall basil being used in any meals we’ve had. It turns out that it’s generally viewed as being good luck and having some religious significance so it’s not commonly eaten. Which means, we had to go buy it at a plant nursery!
Well that’s pretty much the week, now that we have the tax numbers and bank accounts the next step is submitting for the residence permit. This is simply a case of getting an appointment, so we’re very close to being “official” now. Of course nothing is simple — the appointments are all several weeks in the future, but it should all come together ok.
Until next week!
Tim & Karina