Living in Greece

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

Crazy American things

One great thing about reading the blogs of other American expats is it gives me a chance to reminisce about things I sometimes take for granted.

Does that make me old and jaded? Maybe not. I think it’s normal to stop comparing life in Greece with my birthplace after being abroad for 13 years.

Inspiration

Megan did a funny post called “A question of tea,” and it reminded me of various inquiries over the years.

Friends have questions, strangers approach me on the street, and co-workers use me as their resident translator and Cliff Clavin of all things American. It’s never been annoying. In fact I love connecting with people and building bridges, and it’s given me insight on how ridiculous America must look to the world.

I’ve also learned that there isn’t a satisfactory response to everything, and certain subjects spark other questions that are even more difficult to answer.

“Hey Kat, what means…?

What I love about these questions is the unspoken ‘no holds barred’ rule, that people feel comfortable to ask me anything. I never ask where or how some of these questions come up. Believe me, it’s better this way.

butter.jpg

1. Questions about spelling and pronunciation

— Why is quit pronounced <qwit> and mosquitoes pronounced <mo-skee-toes> without the ‘w’ sound?

— And what about biscuit and suit? Why isn’t biscuit spelled bisquit (like the ‘quit’ in mosquito) OR spelled with no ‘u’ since there’s no ‘oo’ sound? And why isn’t suit pronounced <sit> then?

These are the kind of questions for which I have no answers because I’m not a linguist, and the English language has irregularities I’m not qualified to explain. But I think it’s like any language — they all have their exceptions and intricacies.

no-bush-lightblue.jpg

2. Questions about politics

— Can you explain why the U.S. government goes to war over Kosovo but not Cyprus?

— Why did Bush get elected for a second term?

Personally, I do my best to avoid political discussions because they start innocently, grow heated and end strangely, even when I agree with those involved. But for the record, I didn’t vote for Bush either time, and I’ve long believed the Cyprus issue needs resolution.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTWKbfoikeg]

3. Questions about American culture

— You’re an American, why aren’t you fat?: Of course all stereotypes are based on some truth, and I’m aware of what they are. But I’ve taken pride in trying to dispel stereotypes by being an exception.

— What is that guy from Nirvana singing about?: What can I say about Kurt Cobain and “Smells like Teen Spirit?” I could barely understand what he was saying back in 1991, and it’s difficult to explain the concept of teen revolution, angst and disillusionment. I normally use the other explanation that he’s singing about his ex — it’s easier because people universally relate to having their hearts broken.

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4. Questions about specific words

— Cheese spread: “What did you call the tyrisalata?” asked the man standing next to me at Everest. “Cheese spread — it’s cheese and you spread it,” I said. “Oh, that’s so simple and it makes sense. Thanks.” (Note: I think Greek can be like this too. Melissa is a bee, and meli is honey. To me, that makes perfect sense.)

— “Cornhole“: Working in an office with more than 50 men is a breeding ground for questions, and thank goodness there’s another American in residence to help me field them. My colleague wanted me to take this one, likely for his personal amusement, but I couldn’t get through the lead-up after looking at wide-eyed innocent faces expecting the word to relate to vegetables, so he calmly and academically enlightened them. He even took follow-up questions pertaining to ‘why?’ I admire him.

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5. Questions about food

— “Why are Tootsie Rolls shaped like turds? Doesn’t that make them unappealing to eat?”: I never know what to say because it’s true, and I can never get anyone to try one no matter how much I rave about it’s chewy goodness.

— Marshmallow Peeps and Bunnies: Back when my mom was alive, she’d send me some classic yellow Marshmallow Peeps and modern purple Marshmallow Bunnies for Easter. These sugary confections are curious and pretentious in comparison to traditional Orthodox Easter in which everything has significance and religious meaning.

peeps1.jpg

Dimitri: What are those?
Kat: They’re marshmallow bunnies.
D: What are they for?
K: They’re for Easter. In America, a lot of people take Easter baskets and fill them with candy shaped eggs and bunnies.
D: I understand the eggs, but what’s with the bunnies?
K: Eggs and bunnies are symbols of fertility to mark the beginning of Spring, but most people just do it for fun.
D: What do you do with them?
K: Eat them.
D: That’s it?
K: Yep.
D: Why is the bunny purple?
K: Because Easter in America is pastel — pink, purple, yellow, light blue, green.
D: Why does it have a face?
K: Because it’s cute, I suppose.
D: I don’t get it.
K: It’s crazy American things
D: Oh, okay.

That’s my fallback — it stops questions 99 percent of the time and is somehow satisfactory in explaining everything that otherwise makes no sense. :)

Related posts

Taste of America in Greece
Name that Dimitri
Corn dogs in Athens?

P.S. Anything that is colored and underlined in this post, and all posts on this site, is linked to an article or an explanation if you need one.

14 Comments »

  John Tsevdos wrote @ August 18th, 2007 at 21:18

hehe lovely post – I bet that the “Cornhole” means something bad, but I’ll double check it on Wikipedia l8r… I did the same questions about the bunnies/eggs to an American friend, a long time ago!!! Although he was the one in shock when I explained to him how Greeks are celebrating Orthodox Easter! We just “play” with homemade, unstable and really dangerous fireworks (my personal favorite hobby from age 9 till 18) or shoot “baloties” (gunfires) with hundreds of serious injuries (sometimes even deaths) of innocent people!!! And all that just for fun and celebrating… Yet we consider the bunnies a strange custom…

Kat Reply:

John – Thanks for leaving a comment and a link.

Your story is hilarious! I guess certain things look crazy to different people. Maybe dangerous fireworks in Greece are “OK” in some people’s eyes because it’s a celebration of Christ. In the USA, they outlawed these death rockets to stop people from blowing each others’ arms off on Independence Day and New Year’s (us silly Americans wanting to save people from themselves), but I’m sure people still sell them somewhere.

  melusina wrote @ August 18th, 2007 at 21:25

I have yet to see a perfect tootsie roll shaped turd.

Hmm, maybe the cats make them. But they *are* turd-like because people are attracted to the scatalogical, I guess, and everything that even remotely resembles poo makes us think it is poo.

But – I’m American and I still don’t get Peeps. They creep me out.

Kat Reply:

Mel – Did you see that recipe for Cat Litter Cake? Personally, I don’t know how I’d be able to eat that…Google it and see. If Tootsie Rolls didn’t already look like turds, just put them in the microwave, stretch them a bit and woo-lah! To make the bunnies and peeps less creepy, just bite their heads off. ;) Oh, I guess that would be worse, then they’re just headless animals.

  graffic wrote @ August 20th, 2007 at 02:02

Hi!

I found your blog through the “wewantapplegreece” web site, when you made a post.

Nice things about americans. Years ago I had in my head the stereotype of the fat and not well educated guy/girl. With time I learned two things: stereotypes sucks, and americans are not “all” that way. (In fact the ones I met outside america were the most open).

I’m a spanish looking for a place in Greece. I found your blog very useful (with lots of useful articles for me). So I’ll add your blog to my rss feeds reader :)

Kat Reply:

Hi Graffic! Welcome to the site and thanks for adding me. I already visited your site and am looking forward to learning your story and helping you through my site in whatever way I can. It’s great to get your input on how you see things, so please comment when you feel like it.

  Jul wrote @ August 20th, 2007 at 16:53

I love peeps! My parents used to send them to me when I lived in Germany. :)

Kat Reply:

Jul – Why don’t you get peeps in Switzerland now? Too grown up to eat marshmallow animals? :) I still ask a friend to save me a pack from Easter if I’ve got a trip to the USA around that time; if not, I wait til next year. This year, a childhood friend saved me some Cadbury creme eggs — you know, the ones with that weird white and yellow sugary goo in the middle. My teeth hurt after biting into one from sugar overload (boy am I getting old), so my fiance finished them off.

  melusina wrote @ August 23rd, 2007 at 20:13

Cat Litter Cake. Even I couldn’t make that monstrosity. And no, I hadn’t heard of it before!

  PIC wrote @ September 3rd, 2007 at 18:26

My BROTHER IN-LAW: You shouldn’t eat those American products, because they have alot of “E”.

ME: What the hell’s an “E”?

My BRO IN LAW: You know, “E” like E42, E37 etc..

ME: Oh, you mean preservatives?

HIM: NO, I mean “E”

ME: Well, American products don’t have “E”, they have preservatives.

HIM: (smug) I’m sure American products have “E” in them.

ME: Finally, I show Mr. Blockhead brother in-law the ingredients from mentioned AMERICAN product which did NOT have “E” but rather the actual name of the preservative and not some mysterious “E” code.

Him: befuddled….

Kat Reply:

It’s the whole conspiracy thing again. We’re putting “E” in stuff to destabilize Greece and take over the world.

Your BIL is a dork. Must be a fun evening of eye-rolling and shaking one’s head when he’s around. ;)

  Dave wrote @ May 24th, 2010 at 21:07

We put faces on peeps so we know which side is its front.

Kat Reply:

LOL! So true.

  Mike wrote @ February 27th, 2011 at 04:29

I am American and to me “cornhole” is a game. People stand on opposite sides about 25 feet apart and throw bags at boards, trying to get them into a hole. to score points. Better known as “Bags” here. Played everywhere from sporting events, bar-b-q’s, beach parties etc.

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