Wednesday, March 28, 2012

If you live in Thessaloniki

Every time I realised something interesting, I'd think about writing it down but somehow Greece wasn't the place to do it. Have spent a laid back afternoon in Munich's English Garden and finally managed to write a bit. So here it goes: if you live in Thessaloniki,

You smoke a lot.
Like a lot lot. People in here are literally constantly rolling one cigarette after another, which drives us non smokers crazy. Even though the government introduced a ban on smoking inside pubs, restaurants etc. the people of Greece decided it’s stupid and are cheerfully displaying their disapproval. You’ll find “no smoking” signs everywhere, granted, but there’ll be so much smoke inside the place that you’ll barely be able to see it.

You go out a lot.
Like a lot lot. It is amazing that with beer price starting at round 6 euros, the whole Europe going on about the Greek crisis and EU pumping money into the country, the pubs and tavernas are full, any time of day or night. As one of the Greeks I met put it: “That’s just the Greek mentality – we might not have money to travel or buy things, don’t save, but we will not stop eating out and going out”. 

And they definitely have places to go out – lots of pretty cool clubs and pubs, always full of people (maybe apart from Monday night).

You regularly meet with your friends in one of your favourite tavernas.
So what is this taverna thing, I hear you ask. Well, Greeks are very particular about the division between a taverna and a restaurant, so they’d constantly correct me when I’d call it one. I think it was hard for them to understand that I come from a country where we don’t have this type of a place. Tavernas are such a huge part of Greek reality, it’s hard to imagine Greece without them. As one of the guys put it: “Tavernas are one of the reasons Greek people like Greece.” And well, it’s not like it’s hard for me to understand why – they’re a brilliant hang out place! How the Greeks put it – you go to a restaurant to eat and satisfy your hunger. Plus, they’re expensive. 

You go to a taverna to sit talking to your friends while drinking and eating, which normally takes hours. And that’s about right, even if you’re not hungry, you’ll order so much food that you can’t just not eat. Not when it’s there on the table, looking so treacherously delicious. And the cool thing, especially for a foreigner, is that they only have traditional Greek dishes in very reasonable prices (anywhere between 3-5,5 euros per serving). The surprising thing is, they basically never have any kind of a dessert on the menu. For that you’ll have to go to a patisserie (and boy, will you love going there!). Depending on a place however, they might bring you a bit of something sweet with the bill, f.e. some Greek halva.

Once eating out, everyone shares everything.
It’s also a very Asian thing – unlike in Central/Western Europe and the States, the Greeks will order many different dishes (f.e. 2 people will order 3 different things each for the whole group) and once the food arrives on the table, you just dig in and help yourself to a bit of everything. 

I love this style of eating because 1) you get to try so many different things 2) it seems so much more familiar and friendly when everyone can just dive in with their fork and eat from a common plate. Of course, if there’s f.e. a salad, you’ll just put some on your plate and eat from there, but if there’s some meat in a pot, everyone will just take a piece straight from there. 

You won’t refer to Greece as Europe.
It’s said to be a typically British thing to be referring to the rest of the Old Continent as “Europe” while excluding GB, which I guess is understandable in a way, as the island’s separated from the rest of us. However, why the Greeks do it, I’ve no idea. I first realized this when we were out in a taverna, talking about different eating habits and Chris, looking at the table and our plates, said: “You see, that’s another difference – you in Europe put your bread on the plate, we in Greece put it on the tablecloth.” And, surely enough, Reni, Dora and I all had bread on our plates (and thus struggling with the lack of space!) while Chris had his next to it. I’d noticed that before he spoke of it, so what interested me more was the “You in Europe” part of his statement. I’d later hear it many more times from other Greeks I talked to.

You won’t flash toilet paper after using the toilet.
Again, something that made me think about Asia straight away. On the first and second day I’d see a “Don’t put paper in the toilet” sign in different places but I just assumed they meant paper towels that you use for drying your hands and it made sense, as we have the same signs in our restaurants. However, I was later at one Greek’s house and there was a small piece of paper on the bathroom door with a “Please don’t put toilet paper into the toilet” writing on it, which made me stop and realize that they actually meant … the used toilet paper! Turns out the water pressure is rather low, so their toilets get stuck a lot and well, there’s always a small bin waiting for you by the toilet seat…

You probably have some family or friends living in Germany.
I would have never thought that there were many Greeks going to Germany but apparently it is so. Be it immigration for personal/professional reasons, studying or travelling – lots of Greeks fly down there. Also, lots of German tourists come over here, so if you want a part-time job in Greece over the summer – it would be about time to spruce up your German!

And you’re in the construction business, you might have a hard life.
Ok, so I knew I was in Greece – one of the cradles of our civilization blahblah but I didn’t actually realize I was in the cradle of our civilization until we randomly stumbled across some big ancient ruins in the middle of the city center. 

It’s one of the cool things about Thessaloniki (but I’d assume other Greek cities as well) that you never know what’s around the corner (ok, maybe apart from the fact that you’re sure to find a pharmacy or two) – an old style building, a kind of a modern Greek block of flats, a kind of a colonial building or ancient ruins. 

However, it does make construction work so much harder, building roads and tube lines especially. They have started a huge investment in Thessaloniki to build a tube line but once they started digging, they found some ancient ruins (surprise, surprise) and the project just got dropped. 

And I mean it quite literally – they basically left everything as if they were about to take up work again the next day (I’ve heard has been like this for a couple of years now).

You’re a friendly and generous person.
Or at least I’ve had the luck to come across such, be it my host and his friends, other CSers or randomly met people. So if you’re looking for a relaxed place where you can lead the good life for a while – enjoy sun by the seaside, eat well, drink in style and hang out with open, friendly people – go on and book your flight to Thessaloniki!

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