Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Why don’t you speak Greek fluently?

imagesA question I get a lot is, “you’ve been in Greece for 10 years, why don’t you speak Greek fluently?”

According to these niche groups, the answer is:

a) Greek men: Greek is a rich, but difficult language. (I agree with the rich part, but that’s no excuse)
b) Greek women: You do not have confidence to speak. (That’s hilarious)
c) People back home: You must be lazy or something. (No natural talent in the area of languages like my friend Ti who speaks 12 languages, but lazy…no)
d) Friends of all nationalities: Who cares? You already know English, French and Spanish, that’s enough!

The real answer is none of the above.

Learning Greek

When I first arrived in 1998, there were no relatives or friends to give me a home and no parents to support me financially. There were no free Greek lessons being offered, in fact this only became a reality in 2004. I did not have a boyfriend/husband, a permit or a work contract. That means I stayed in a cheap hotel, then invested my savings in securing an apartment (deposit and rent), a few basic essentials (pots/pans, cleaning supplies) and a 220V radio to hear some music.

I signed up for basic Greek lessons at a rate of 575 euros for 60 hours, a considerable amount of money, even by today’s standards with the majority of university educated, experienced professionals earning 700 – 800 euros. How is it possible to pay rent, electric, phone, food and transportation in addition to 575 euros in Greek lessons on only 700 – 800 euros? I don’t know.

My classmates were nothing like me. A German boyfriend of a Greek woman, a diplomat’s wife, an English retiree, Swedes on paid sabbatical, spoiled American teenagers and a pregnant woman from Yugoslavia married to a rich Greek citizen. I was the only person with a need to find work and a permit.

Although I felt learning Greek was crucial to my success — and Kyria Rosa was the best teacher I’ve ever had (she’s mentioned in “Dinner with Persephone” on page 216) — it was also clear that survival was a higher priority with money running out. Empty interviews, “Brits only” rules and canceled appointments to teach English and Internet savvy to business professionals forced me to accept bar work on a faraway island where I at least had free shelter, food and a little money.

The unexpected

I returned to California for a family emergency with the money I’d saved, worked two full-time jobs while there and returned to Athens when things were clear for another go. Enrolling in Level 2, I also found full-time work and tried to balance this with lessons and homework. Since the salary was not enough to pay basic expenses and support Greek lessons, I took a second job to compensate. By the end of Level 3, it became too much to the point I only slept 3 hours a night and needed to quit.

At around the same time, there was a domino effect. My boss failed to draw up the necessary papers to finalize my contract, I became illegal and then he refused to pay me because he knew I had no legal standing to complain to the labor board. My boyfriend flew into a jealous rage after stalking and seeing me talk to another man who was a friend, broke into the house, stole my remaining money and a bunch of other things to sell, then flooded my apartment by leaving the bathtub running. I cleaned everything up, accepted a job in Sweden to pay my rent while gone and returned to find my landlord had changed the locks and rented my apartment to someone else using my things. I fled this apartment and filed a lawsuit against my landlord for the rent and deposit he owed and the things he stole. To pay the lawyer, I accepted a job in New York and came back to Greece to try again, only to get robbed within five days of arrival…OK, well you get the idea. No need for me to drone on if I haven’t already. ;)

Aside from survival, not being in Greece for continuous periods and unexpected drama, my jobs have entailed speaking and writing native English perfectly for up to 14 hours a day. It’s the primary reason I’m hired. My colleagues are fellow expats or Greeks speaking highly proficient English, and this has been true of my Greek friends and boyfriends.

It’s also about employers and money. My bosses often refuse to give me IKA, which means I pay for my own insurance (ensima) costing upwards of 250 euros/month to retain my residence/work permit. And because I’m a single woman, I’m seen as needing less money for equal work and am told to find myself a husband to relieve any financial burden. To prove my point, a single American male co-worker hired at the same time doing the same job earned 300 euros more.

Always learning

The opportunity to truly practice Greek came after I intentionally moved myself to a predominantly Greek neighborhood where no one spoke English and choosing to deal with bureaucracy myself, instead of always having a Greek speaking friend accompany me or hiring a lawyer to help. Whatever Greek I know is because of my choices and doing things myself, not because I’ve had a measly 120 hours of Greek lessons over 6 months.

In finally settling into a legal salaried job with IKA some years ago and having the time to take Greek lessons again, my Greek salary is not high enough (then or now) to pay my rent, electric, phone, food, transportation, water AND Greek lessons now costing 740 euros for 60 hours. I would need to earn 1500 euros/month to break even, and 1500 euros/mo is a near impossible salary to attain as a non-EU female in spite of the fact I’m educated and experienced. The cost of Greek lessons alone is more than the minimum Greek salary of 668 euros. I might not be able to afford it, even if I lived at home with everything provided for me.

There are cheaper and free options. I’ve attended the cheaper ones and learned that you get what you pay for, and the free ones clash with a work schedule that my boss is unwilling to change. This works out fine because the class I need is available only once in a blue moon, so there is a huge waiting list and I haven’t been able to enroll for two years. As a non-EU citizen, Greek law says I also need my boss’ written consent to attend the ministry’s free Greek lessons, and of course he will not give his consent because he knows if I ever become fluent in Greek, I will leave him for a better paying management position and stop earning him millions of euros.

Should the class ever open up and I quit my job, then I no longer have the right to attend free classes because non-EU citizens require a residence/work permit to enroll; and in order to keep my residence/work permit, I must work. It’s a Catch 22. So the only way I can be fluent in Greek is to pay hundreds of euros for lessons or for a private tutor, but the only way I can earn more money is to take more lessons to be fluent in Greek. Another Catch 22.

Friends mean well when they say they’ll help me, but they never do as they understandably have family, work and financial obligations of their own, as do I. Learning Greek in a casual environment is also unsuitable to my profession because it demands linguistic perfection.

That’s OK. Spanish and French are in much more demand, and I am doing fine now with Greek as my fourth language. I even manage to surprise the occasional Archbishop with Orthodox Christian greetings and scare off kamaki boys who think they’re hitting on a tourist. 8)

Disclaimer

I’m fluent now. The post above is a retrospective.

Related posts

The importance of speaking Greek in Greece
Free Greek language lessons
Conversations from my life as a foreigner in Greece that no speak good English
Why do you speak Greek fluently?” — Betabug’s success story

The Author

Kat is a well-traveled American journalist and author. To learn more, see “About Me.”

  • Livingingreece.gr was created in 2007 to present meticulously researched original articles that fill a gap left by traditional media, government portals and commercial websites/forums run by people without credentials.
  • @LivinginGreece is a Twitter feed curated from recognized Greek and international news agencies to provide breaking news about Greece, plus real-time updates and insider tips mined from 15 years experience.

Please note my copyright policy and be aware that plagiarism and copyright violations will be pursued.

Photo: Nassau County Library

23 Comments

  melusina wrote @ May 19th, 2007 at 00:32

Lol, I think you are doing great at Level 3! I’ve been here almost 5 years and I still can’t understand people when they talk, unless they talk slowly (which we all know Greeks just don’t do). I impress my husband all the time with my ability to translate Greek subtitles correctly, but a growing reading proficiency doesn’t help much when it is time to communicate.

My mother-in-law helped me out in the beginning, and we used the Greek books they use in elementary school here. But I quit meeting with her for lessons on a regular basis (she is more than willing to start again if I want), and my husband and I almost never communicate in Greek (hell, he sounds like an American now!).

Currently, my answer to the question is “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, not to mention I’ve always been terrible when it comes to communicating verbally in languages, even English. I don’t do my best in person unless it is someone I know well.

But geez, what a horrific adventure you have had here! I hope all goes smoothly for you here on out!

Kat Reply:

Mel – Why thanks! (*blush*) I can understand when people speak, but some of the conversations aren’t worth joining, especially if I’m getting some unsolicited advice.

Greeks claim to speak at a regular speed, so I turned the tables on my friend Yanni (a lifelong student of English who lived in the UK for 5 years) by getting my friend Nick (born and bred in NY) to have a no-holds-barred conversation in English. Afterward Yanni said, “I cannot understand what you’re saying, you talk too fast.” Yeah, welcome to my life every day! He never said anything about “regular” again.

Your husband and my fiancé should get together. My fiancé’s best friend since childhood is an American ambassador’s son, and I would say he speaks at a very proficient level for someone who hasn’t had formal lessons and hated studying. When we were in California at a family function, people swore he could be American. I try to score points here by singing songs in Greek, which is doubly useful for learning new phrases since they often repeat the same words. ;)

  Ted wrote @ May 19th, 2007 at 22:21

I admire your courage in getting all this punishment in Greece and coming back for more. This is not one of the easiest countries to handle if you’re a foreigner. As for learning and speaking Greek, I’ve known only two / two Americans in my life who had actually attained academic level Greek and could actually read modern Greek literature in the original without touching a dictionary.

As in all languages, the key to vocabulary is reading. Speaking is an entirely different matter — and boyfriends and girlfriends, contrary to popular notions, won’t help all that much.

I certainly hope your luck with Greece improves. I think you’ve earned your wings and the right to criticize this country as much as you want!

Kat Reply:

Ted – Thanks for stopping by and for your kind compliment! There’s a song that goes, “If you can make it here (New York), you’ll make it anywhere.” My friend Euripides says, “Forget NY. If you can make it in Greece as a non-EU citizen not married to a Greek, THEN you can make it anywhere and should get an award or something!” (Maybe that “something” is a swift kick in the a$$ — haha). He stopped doing business in this country, even though his parents live here, because he says it’s too tough to do simple things.

People have offered to drop me in a remote Cretan village to learn Greek from a local speaking no English, and I suspect that would work just great. I just haven’t taken the offer because I’m afraid a misunderstanding might marry me off. ;)

Friends and foes think I have bad luck, but I don’t see it that way. To me they’re just lessons and challenges I encountered on the way to making a dream come true.

  Cheryl wrote @ May 20th, 2007 at 07:22

Holy Cow! You have been through A LOT! Good for you , that you overcame so many obstacles. You are so brave and intelligent!

I have been married to my Greek husband for 17 years and can barely communicate effectively in Greek. I lived in Greece for one year, have visited 3 times (1 month each) and also attended Greek grammar lessons at one of the churches here in Milwaukee. My mother-in-law has visited often (6 weeks per vistit…Ay!) and we usually have a communication breakdown or two since we are both trying to speak “Grenglish.”

One of the primary reasons we are moving to Greece this summer is so our children can speak fluently and truly experience Greek culture. I really tried to teach them Greek with videos, books and flash cards early on, but as it is not my mother-tongue, it became more difficult for me to keep up. AND, most importantly, whenever I am around Greek friends in Greece, they all want to speak English with me so that they can get some use out of all of their years of attending English lessons. Basically, you are not alone!

Oh, and I know many Greeks that have lived here for years and they can barely speak English…so I suppose it goes both ways!! :)

Kat Reply:

Cheryl – Hi again! I moved to Greece having only been to Athens once in winter on a feeling. Your move is easier to understand, and I hope you keep in touch. I actually get along great with my future mother-in-law, which is a blessing because both of my parents passed on a few years ago and I didn’t want to spend my life fighting with her.

I have flashcards for vocabulary and tapes so I can hear how Greek is spoken in normal conversation. There are programs that are better than others, and it’s important to find what’s right for you and your children because everyone learns differently. My first teacher was great, and her enthusiasm gave me a solid base from which to build. I was also immersed, 4 hours a day, 3-5 times a week — I highly recommend that because anything less is like being a weekend warrior.

Greeks tell me things like, “I can’t take your tests for you because I do not speak and write properly, so you actually know more than me” and “if you only know 500 words, that’s 400 more than me.” It makes me feel better, even if I don’t believe them. :)

  Thomas wrote @ May 20th, 2007 at 10:56

I just found this blog last night (when I saw your comment on mine) and I look forward to reading more.

I’ve been teaching English here for ten years now, and have spoken Greek my whole life, and I think I can offer some insight into the two languages.

I suspect (but can’t substantiate this in any way) that a lot of us whose native language is English find it more difficult to learn other languages than it is for people whose native language is something else. English is a very loose, flexible language, a kind of hit-and-miss language, and the language you speak affects how you think and channel your thoughts into words. When we try to learn languages where the choices are more limited and where the grammar is stricter, I think it’s harder for us to fit our somewhat rambling thoughts into them.

I’m not saying that we English-speakers don’t think as clearly as others, but that we put our thoughts into words in a different way. But then, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.

Greeks on the whole tend to be better at learning other languages, especially at learning the pronunciation, than other Europeans. I don’t know why this is. I mean, for example, that Greeks do a better job at pronouncing English than the English do at pronouncing Greek. Greeks do an even better job pronouncing other languages like French and German. I don’t know why this is, but it might have to do with the phonetic qualities of the native language. The phonetic building blocks in Greek are very simple and limited, so you’d expect them not to be able to do so. English is phonetically very complex, with many small differences between the way a single vowel can be pronounced, so you’d expect English speakers to be able to do a better job of it. But they bring into Greek a certain delicate, almost fastidious pronunciation. (Compare how lightly we tap out our t’s compared to Greeks.)

But the essential difference is this. When you compare how we learn Greek and how Greeks learn English, you have to remember that English is an easy language to learn the basics of. Reaching an advanced or proficiency level is a whole other story. English is like tennis or chess. Anyone can swing a racket and hit a ball, but playing well is another thing. Likewise learning how the pieces move in chess is easy, but mastery of the game is totally beyond most people.

Greek, on the other hand, works somewhat the other way around. For English speakers, the basics are much more difficult. Most Greeks hit a brick wall when they try to become advanced or proficient speakers, and get very disappointed because they expect it to continue being as easy as it was before. English speakers start off with that wall. Because English is so pervasive, it’s easy to resort to it when you’re in a tough spot or are feeling discouraged, and this removes one of the things that could push you over the wall. At any rate, once you’ve cleared it, the rest of it should be smooth sailing.

Kat Reply:

Thomas – You offer a lot of intelligent insights, and I’m glad you shared them. I don’t think it’s as simple as Greeks learn English easier than native English speakers and Europeans can learn other languages, although I can appreciate and agree with all of the arguments you give to support that stance.

Over 10 years, I have met a few Greeks out of thousands who speak English quite well, but use unique methods: Panagiotis dreams in English and speaks perfectly; Yannis speaks English without an accent because it’s his passion; my fiance speaks proficiently because he grew up with an American; Petro’s parents speak perfectly and he picked it up from them. All of these people have never been abroad or taken formal lessons. When I proctored English proficiency exams for some years, I met two students who spoke English well — their motivation was wanting to live in the USA one day. What do you think about that? Are these special cases?

On the other hand, there’s: Drosia speaks broken English though she’s had 10 years of lessons and five years in the UK immersed in the language; Nick, who was born and bred in NY with English as his native language, is now more proficient in Greek and losing proficiency in English despite speaking it in his home in Athens; Pavlo can barely speak though he took lessons for seven years, lived in Florida for five years and has an American girlfriend. How is it they haven’t learned basics or are losing their basic level of speaking? In the majority, most Greeks proclaim themselves unable to speak beyond basic levels after years of lessons, which totally proves what you said.

European friends I know are: Ti, who is native Swedish but speaks 11 other languages fluently; Nol, a Frenchman speaking perfect Italian, Turkish, Arabic and Greek; Karin, a German speaking perfect Arabic, French and Greek. None of these people had formal lessons and picked up languages by living in these countries. Perhaps they’re all very talented?

I’m told that English is easier to learn, though I was born into this language and wouldn’t know if that’s true. I do think Greek is challenging at first because there are certain sounds not encountered in Latin languages and the grammar is different (”the wall,” as you called it), and I agree that things go better after getting past that. I also agree with Mel that it’s easier to learn when you’re younger; I have no other explanation for my French and Spanish remaining viable, even after years of neglect.

Despite not being fluent, my 6 months of lessons have served me well and I’ve been able to negotiate things alone like taxes, green cards, filing lawsuits and going to court, lodging complaints at the epitheorisi, speaking intelligently with Archbishops and apparently convincing some I could be Greek.

Your input is extremely valuable and enjoyable, I hope you’ll comment on other things also! :)

In closing this comment, this post fast forwarded through a lot of other events, but I only included those I felt were relevant to the story. My friend John says, “the things you’ve been through would have killed other people,” but I don’t agree with him because I know there are other people in this world who have it so much worse.

It does not make me intelligent, courageous or strong, although it’s sweet if you think that. Maybe it just makes me stupid, stubborn and a glutton for punishment. ;)

My only worry is coming off as a bragger or complainer in which neither is true because these experiences have only made me more grateful and humble. This is just my life, it’s a journey and a gift.

  Thomas wrote @ May 20th, 2007 at 15:46

I never said Greeks could learn other languages better than other Europeans. I said they generally have better pronunciation, which was essentially besides the point. Pronunciation doesn’t help you learn a language. But Greek speakers do learn English more easily than others learn Greek, for the reasons we agree on.

You also seem to be disagreeing me when you’re actually agreeing with me, I think. You say you’ve met few Greeks who speak English quite well. That’s because it’s difficult to reach that stage in English. But they’ve learned the basics. But I’ve met, and been friends with, a lot of people who have lived here for ten or more years and are still struggling with the basics of Greek. That was my point from the beginning. A large percentage of Greeks have got a handle on the basics of English, but fall flat on their faces when it comes to going beyond that. (And I know — I’ve been trying to teach them to go beyond that. One of the reasons they can’t is they approach learning a language as something that they can do simply by studying.) The (usually British) ex-pats that I know have not learned enough Greek to have a decent conversation owe this to the fact that most Greeks around them know enough English that it’s unnecessary. In other words, any Greek who has got his FCE or ECCE can speak better English than they can speak Greek.

Of course there are exceptions. I met a German who I thought was American because his pronunciation of English was so good. But he was, as all exceptions are, unusual. I had a Scottish friend whose Greek was so good that it began to affect and supplant her English. Some people just have a natural talent for learning languages. I don’t. I’d hate to have to learn another one. I can barely manage two. My fiancee has such a talent and speaks fluent English and is mistaken for a native speaker. She lived and studied in England for five years in the nineties. She teaches English too.

Immersion is the best way to learn a language. That’s the biggest difference between your six months and others’ six years. You live in a Greek-speaking country, whereas others are what you call weekend warriors. The average person cannot become proficient in a language by taking six hours of lessons a week. There’s simply not enough exposure to the language and opportunity to recycle what you pick up.

Children pick up languages better when they’re immersed in it, but not necessarily when they’re studying it. In a classroom environment things are different. Children pick things up much more quickly than adults, but forget it and get distracted much more quickly. Adults have to make more of an effort, and are able to apply themselves more, and then can retain what they’ve learned for longer periods of time without repetition.

Another difference I’ve found is that there’s an element of frustration with adults. It’s easier for a 9-year-old to express the thoughts of a 9-year-old with a 9-year-old’s level of English. But when a 25-year-old tries to express the thoughts of a 25-year-old with what is essentially a 9-year-old’s level of English, they get frustrated and struggle more apparently.

Don’t worry about coming off as a bragger or complainer. I get the impression that you have a very open and generous and tolerant attitude, but not so much that you’re unable to criticise where criticism is due. It was immediately apparent.

Kat Reply:

Thomas – Yes, we actually do agree on everything!

I believe the examples I gave are either very talented people (those very proficient in English without immersion or lessons, perhaps like your fiancee) or horribly lazy people (ones immersed in English in the UK or USA, but unable to learn basics). I wasn’t using these as examples to disagree with you, just listing them as ‘rare cases’ that puzzle me.

I misread that you were talking about pronunciation, and I’m sorry about that because you’re also right on that point. Greeks are much more able to grasp that, it’s true.

Not being able to communicate at a certain level was a huge frustration because I’m in love with communicating with others, but couldn’t do it. When I and many others in my class made it over that wall you mentioned, there was still some frustration with learning new things, but our attitude was much more relaxed because things were coming together.

Thanks for correcting me! Sorry that your comment didn’t post right away, it was put in spam for reasons I can’t figure out. Yet something else for which I don’t have proficiency! ;)

  Megan wrote @ May 20th, 2007 at 20:24

Hi Kat

Still no real internet at my place, but the neighbor just installed unprotected WiFi so I’m taking the chance to check out your site. Your ‘coming to Greece’ stories blow my culture clash moments in Germany out of the water! You win a gold star for perseverance!

If I were you (and I’m in a similar language situation) I’d let go of any guilt that you should attend more classes. I’ve learned that after you leave the structured class environment and start using/learning language in everyday situations, you quickly start to grow and develop out of sync with classroom language studies. This means that when you try to re-enter the classroom you’re way ahead in some areas and way behind in others, making it especially hard to find the right class for you (other than private tutoring).

Previous comments are right on in their advice to read, which is what I try to do. Read and speak with people who promise to correct you. Sure it would be great to be perfect, but really, as long as you feel like you’re functioning and even improving slowly, you don’t really need to invest in expensive courses that may not be able to really meet your needs at this point anyhow.

Kudos to you also; Greek does not look easy. I feel like I got off easy with German and Germany after reading this post of yours!

Kat Reply:

Megan, I missed you! I’ve been checking your site for new posts that I hope come more regularly when you have time and real Internet again.

The question of my fluency comes from others, not me, close friends or anyone who is an expat themselves; I myself have no guilt. I see no point in taking more classes since I’ve been able to negotiate difficult situations alone for so many years. i.e. Who else in my Greek class has been to court, the labor board and run their own business…and do they even have “lessons” for that? ;) I still read and listen to tapes, ask questions sometimes.

Should I change my mind, I would hire my first Greek teacher as my tutor for the reasons you rightly gave. I can still see her facial expressions and remember the hilarious stories she told — more than that, she was tough as nails and really cared.

  Ted wrote @ May 21st, 2007 at 06:50

Kat,
Your friend Euripides is right in packing up and leaving. Doing business in Greece can quickly develop into a nightmare as many of my friends have discovered over the years. And those of us who do not have the advantage of leaving tomorrow must bear the full brunt of this land of freedom for public sector loafers. This is my angriest time of the year — preparing tax returns so that my precious cash goes to be wasted by Greek politicians ….

  Alina Popescu wrote @ May 21st, 2007 at 08:24

Wow, it’s amazing that you went through all that and still wanted to live in Greece! You were pretty determined and really brave to try it again and again! The lessons are indeed a lot! I cannot imagine why that much. Question, do you speak French, if you do, try locating an Assimile book for Greek. Try DC++ or something, the method is pretty goo. I used it when I started to learn Turkish on my own.

Kat Reply:

Alina – Thanks for dropping by and the recommendation! I do speak French, I’ll check it out.

  yiannos wrote @ May 25th, 2007 at 17:23

interesting topic. i agree with most of what thomas said, but here are some of my own observations on the differences between the two languages, and possible reasons why the to learn occurs on both sides:

1.Greek is difficult for beginners because it’s strict, inflexible grammatical rules and procedures render it static IMO. there are serious limitations to it. that’s why people like me struggle to learn it because we are used to having more ‘options’ in regards to expression, whether in the formal or informal sense.

2.English, esp in its more complex form, is a spidery, multi-directional language; meaning just comes from all angles. Greek, on the other hand, tends to be a little more ‘direct’ as far as communication, expression and meaning are concerned.(although i’m sure ted and others could pick me up on this, since their greek is way more advanced than mine will ever be) there are many reasons for this IMO: 1. there are more words in the english language that have multiple meanings and whose meaning is almost entirely context dependent. it’s the context which generates the meaning, not the actual word itself. there are greek words like this too, but not nearly as many as English. so not only do you have to learn the different meanings of words, you have to know how to apply them and WHEN to apply them; the possibilities are endless. And more options generate a whole new set of complications to deal with.

also, English relies more on subtle suggestion, through understated use of language, or a variety of filters, all which lead to double, even triple, meanings; try being too sarcastic or ironic in Greek and watch the edifice topple right in front of you.

so yes, i generally agree with Thomas; English is a simple language in terms of fundamentals. But if you want to go beyond this level, it requires great effort. it just isn’t the simple language that so many Europeans make it out to be. And they believe this because they mostly don’t pick up on the ‘subtlety’ of it.

On a broader note, if language helps us understand, define and shape our meaning of the world and our experience of it, then i wonder if more ‘static’ languages like Greek, German etc are particularly useful in this regard. i’m not dismissing them entirely–i love the Greek language, it’s a challenge, and i like challenges–but i wonder how much ‘static/inflexible’ languages prevent us from ‘seeing’ things the way they ought to be seen? Or at least make it more difficult for us to grasp new ways of thinkings, new points of view that inevitably emerge as time goes on. a German friend of mine, with exceptional English language skills, once said that English was great because it allowed him to be more ‘creative and playful'; it opened up a whole new realm of possibility. it was an interesting way to put it, that’s for sure. But i think my reach has extended my grasp at this point so i’ll end it here. :-)

  yiannos wrote @ May 25th, 2007 at 17:42

of course, more advanced speakers of Greek will be able to point out the faults of my analysis with relative ease. however, when i started to learn more Greek as i got older, i was told the reason i wasn’t progressing like i should was because i was looking for meaning that ‘wasn’t there’.

as for Greeks picking up English, i’ve noticed they pick up the basic mechanics of the language well–as they are taught in a very old school formal way in school–but they miss the subtleties and filters i mentioned earlier.

as for the relative ease in which they pick up the language, well that’s obvious; Greeks consume a large amount of American and British cultural artifacts, mostly via music and film, and this helps facilitate the learning process enormously. shame the reverse scenario doesn’t apply because my Greek would certainly be more advanced! it’s difficult to learn Greek when you are 3rd generation and your parents speak English in the home.

Kat Reply:

Yiannos – Thanks for coming by! Thomas had some great insights, and I appreciate you adding yours too as a Greek abroad. Your other comment entered a black hole then returned, so you’re good to go.

  PIC wrote @ July 24th, 2007 at 16:41

First a little sucking up to the host on the wonderful blog (then my point)

Wow! Your site has really turned into the place to be. I have been visiting expats’ blogs for over 2 years when there was only a few out there (Mel’s Diner and This is not My Country were a few notables back then).

But, without a doubt, yours is the best. Informative, allows complaints, organized, etc).

Now, regarding your post. You should just tell Greek people the reason you don’t speak Greek (well?) is because “den exo anagee.” I haven’t had a need for it. Also, you could remind them that the EU’s official language is English (whether true or not). Example: The other day, a clerk at the supermarket asked me why I don’t speak Greek to her since I know it. I tell her (in an apologetic manner), Well, since Greece is Europe now, I feel obligated to speak English to be a good Euro Citizen. I think I almost had her believing she should start speaking English…

Finally, overheard by a Greek American friend of mine: Greeks who speak English do well, those who speak only Greek are destined for Dimosio….. :)

Kat Reply:

PIC – LOL! Sucking up is not necessary, but I appreciate the compliment nonetheless.

First, I’ve no clue if my site is the place to be or not. I started it purely as a way to inform and assist people by providing realistic, first-hand accurate information from experience. I think Mel’s Diner and This is not my Country have something different to offer, being that Mel is the wife of a Greek in Thessaloniki and Devious Diva is from the UK — we all cover different issues. I don’t know if mine is the best or not. I just put myself out there and see what happens.

I do tell Greeks and non-Greeks alike that speaking fluent Greek isn’t necessary for the jobs I’m offered because of my background, but it’s a question I get anyway because “I’m in Greece and need to speak Greek.” I already speak Spanish, French and English so I don’t see what the big deal is. I speak at a high level, just not fluent…that’s more than I can say for many. I’m doing jobs that Greeks don’t or can’t do, so I’m stealing nothing from no one. And by the way, I lived in NY in neighborhoods where people have lived their whole lives and speak not a word of English…and there are free lessons on every block. I don’t criticize or question, I accept.

Your story about the clerk reminds me of the time I was with my Greek friend Yanni who studied in the UK for 4 years and has a perfect London accent. Some local was listening to us speak in English on the metro escalator and remarked that we should go back to our own countries. He politely snapped back (in Greek) that Greeks should start acting like part of the EU by at least standing right, walking left. She shut up after that.

And to your last comment, Greeks complain about the Dimosio but want to work for them, so that’s about right. ;) I heard some ridiculous figure from my friend Michalis about how there were 200 positions and 40,000 people applied. That’s insane.

  ch-athens wrote @ July 31st, 2007 at 11:50

How come you speak Greek fluently?

Kat, an American in Athens posted a very interesting article titled Why don’t you speak Greek
fluently?, which explains about how she never got around to really learn Greek fluently after
10 years living here. In short: circumstances. My story is tota…

  Panagiotis wrote @ July 31st, 2007 at 21:04

Your story sounds amazing! I admire your courage still staying here after all these difficulties. My very good friend betabug (Sascha) adapted much better, but I think language played a great role on that. I think that encountering common, working-class people on every aspect of daily life, would get you closer how many things work here, in order to avoid all these problems you encountered.
Cheers,
Panagiotis

Kat Reply:

Actually Panagioti, my life has certainly encompassed full-on exposure to every class of people and every situation you can imagine. I speak a high level of Greek not because of classes, but because of my life. I just don’t speak it fluently. I encountered problems not because I don’t know how things work, but because I’m a non-EU, non-Greek female. Your friend adapted better for the most part because he is a half Greek male and enjoys the benefits his Greek/Swiss citizenship, ethnicity and gender afforded him.

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