Posted by: tabliope | December 18, 2009

Beyond the blue skies…

….was a heck of a lot of rain which wasn’t really what we’d signed up for, but I suppose those orange trees needed the water.

Getting by in Athens without Greek is mostly not too difficult.  The large things, for instance the internet and phone connection arrangements (oh we dream that one day we too shall be connected) could all be managed in English, as could opening a bank account.  Most of the large stores have staff who speak, at least, a little English.  It’s the smaller deals that are harder to manage; buying bread or milk means me pointing and smiling.  I know the word for bread, but it’s generic bread and I don’t know what small, large, round, square, sliced or anything else is.  When I open my mouth to speak in these situations my default foreign language is German and so I’m hoofing around Athens doing bad things for the Germans abroad.   The other day when I couldn’t make myself understood in German I found myself using some of my school French which for the sake of Franco-Greek relations really needs to stay in the school room.

Food shopping is straightforward enough if I go to the supermarket and buy only what I need from the shelves and ignore the counters.  I stand there with packets in my hand running my finger underneath the Greek letters trying to decipher them, only to find that once I’ve changed the Greek letters to letters I understand, that it’s still the Greek language and I don’t understand it.  Changing the letters doesn’t seem to magically change the language at the same time which, in my view, is an opportunity lost somewhere for someone.

The prepared food stuffs are interesting: pomegranates taken from their skins and the shiny seeds piled in plastic boxes; stuffed aubergines and peppers alongside the ready-cooked chickens; tinned octopus; frozen artichoke hearts and the lovely spanakopita.  Yesterday I thought I’d brave the meat counter because I really wanted to buy some lamb and I couldn’t find anything in the wrapped section.   At the counter I pointed at what I thought could be lamb and asked ‘lamb’? which had the assistant waving her large butchery knife around and saying a lot in Greek but none of it seemed to be ‘yes’, or for that matter ‘no’.  It was time to drag out the French and so, ‘d’agneau‘? but this got me nowhere.  To be fair, it probably wouldn’t have got me anywhere in France either because the accent may have been missing a little.  Had there been any other customers or other staff around then I wouldn’t have done what I did, but I wanted a piece of lamb so I leaned closer to the counter and looked directly at the assistant and said, ‘baaaah, baaaah’.

In January I’m taking a Greek class.  Either that, or seriously considering becoming vegetarian.

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Responses

  1. I love this!
    Isn’t it funny, I often wonder why I always change into school french when I have forgotten the englisch words, and I change to school english when I don’t know the french words anymore…und spreche lieber deutsch, weil ich wenigstens sicher bin das richtige zu sagen ….auch wenn es für andere unverständlich ist.
    But I never thought of animal….it must be international. Do you think I would get a steak in … maybe Kopenhagen or Kairo, if I ask for “Mooh mooh” ?

  2. Oh you baaahed at her! Oh you’re brave. I might have gone vegetarian on the spot. Nevertheless, the names of basic foods are surely to be found in a phrasebook that you could carry around? Don’t you have one?

  3. Oh how I’d love to see you buying a chicken 😉

    One year, I think it was the Grauniad, gave away a small booklet for travellers with hundreds of pictures of different things in. The idea being that you pointed at the picture of the thing you wanted. I think it was this one:
    http://www.stanfords.co.uk/stock/point-it-travellers-language-kit-78740/

    You could always make your own with pictures printed off from the net, or saved on your phone.

    OoOOooh a better idea, see if there is a language app’ for your phone.

    Oh and I seem to remember that the thumbs up gesture, doesn’t mean good/yes in Greece. You might want to avoid that if they pick the right thing when you make animal noises.

    • Oo yes and if you put your hand up (palm out) at someone it’s like flicking the v’s at someone (so no high fives). I saw it used with great panache by a girl, at some guy who was hitting on her in the unisex loos on Kephalonia.

  4. I have one of those dictionaries and a phrase book but they were both at home so serves me right.

    • So: what you don’t have in your handbag, you have to have it in your brain (that’s German english?)
      it was not bad to baah, but what about fish?


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