"Europe 2004-05" story # 48

Larissa, Greece           April 22, 2005

Greek's for geeks. And Greeks. And Greek geeks.
     It's a tough language, but I'm trying to learn it. After ten days in Larissa, Greece, I was unable to communicate in the local language. I told ballet-student Lambrini that I was afraid to speak with people.
     "Why are you afraid?" she said. "You're not a little baby."
     I'm always trying to improve on the amount of time it takes me to learn a new language.
     Before arriving in Greece, I'd only had time to study the wacky Greek alphabet, its pronunciation, and grammar. I'd done this with an inadequate phrasebook, because I couldn't find a good, concise and totally boring grammar book.
     Now that I'm here, I try to think in Greek. I walk everywhere with my English-Greek dictionary. I've begun writing every day in my journal in Greek. (The first day took me two hours to write.) I read kids' books ... very slowly. And, I turn on the Greek channels on my tv while I eat, sleep, or want to be a couch potato.
     It's my "Speak Weak Greek in Two Weeks for Geeks" program. But, I still wasn't speaking. I set off on a brief hitchhiking trip that I figured would force me to start speaking.
     Two guys of Romanian origin stopped for me. Confusion infected us when they asked in Greek where I was going. While in their car, I understood them telling me, "Oto-stop ... Ellada ... oxi" - that hitchhiking in Greece doesn't work. I understood little more, and I spoke like a stuttering turtle who'd had a rock fall on his head. Dejected and disheartened, I sunk into their backseat. They drove me twenty miles; I then grabbed a bus home to Larissa, and the hotel room where my cradle is.
     I hate not being able to speak what the locals speak. I began to think, "Einai diskolo" - that maybe I was taking on too tough of a challenge. I wondered if my around-the-world, three-months-in-each-place plan wasn't psychological suicide. My hotel room was nice, but it lacked something: voices that weren't introducing pop-musicians or trying to sell me new cars.
     Tuesday was my two-week anniversary here in Greece. Woohoo! "Xronia polla, Justin!" (Many years!) And things began to look up.
     It's not too common to talk to strangers here, but it never hurts to try. I approached a girl sitting by herself in a park. I was going to ask her if she wanted to read from my kids' book with me. She said, "Get away from me, you creep!" and kicked me between my legs.
     -- Just kidding; we talked for nearly two hours. I was happy she was one of the 70% of Larissa who disproves the common saying, "Everyone speaks English in Greece." What impressed me even more was her incredible patience. Her name was, "Eftichia" (meaning Good Fortune) or "Efi".
     She was a brown-haired microbiology student in big, brown sunglasses. Our conversation wasn't the smoothest, but we laughed through the tough parts. I left the park with new confidence. I wasn't going to be a little baby no more!
     That night, I was able to speak better with some friends I have at a cafe. And I've gone looking for work a lot since then. I still don't understand people's sentences very much, but you don't need to understand when you got confidence! ... actually, you do.
     In other news, I seem to have found a weekend job. I'll be taking pictures at wedding receptions for a photography studio. During my training, a guy explained in Greek how I'm to use a complicated camera. It would've been tough for me to understand in English - even in a strong Michigander accent. We'll hope those wedding photo's turn out.
     You can't learn languages without eating!
     I was invited to lunch yesterday by my friend who works at the library. He's an English-speaker named "Kostas." He lives in a top-story apartment with his wife and two sons. Each apartment in the building has a comfortable balcony with plants on it and perhaps ivy. Each side of his street is full of these white, Mediterranean balconies that reach out close enough to each other for the neighbors to have friendly conversations. Cooling wind blows through Costas' apartment and across the kitchen table.
     We ate hardy lentils as the main course. Big, healthy olives sang to us from a plate covered in olive oil much oilier than it was watery. Costas and I dipped soft bread in the oil. We cut slices off a moist slab of sheep's-milk feta cheese and ate them with a salad of plump tomatoes and onions. Wow, the lunch was delicious. Costas' wife brought us chopped fruit for dessert.
     Mmmmm ... who needs to speak?

"yia sas," Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Stelio & Furiel for the ride!

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