Arriving in June to find a summer job in Greece was one of many mistakes I made as a newcomer 10 years ago. All of the best jobs are gone by Easter, people are in vacation mode and summer is in full swing.
Funds spent initially on a hotel, then a studio apartment, were running low and none of the interviews I had in Athens turned up anything viable or legitimate. I needed a job…and fast.
There was an ad requesting young women interested in bar work, so I called and visited the agency in Nea Ionia with CV in hand. Kyria Katerina asked me a few basic questions, didn’t look at my CV and gave me the once over, then called and briefly spoke to a man in Greek. As I understood no Greek at that time, I had no idea what was said, but I had a bartending job on Ios with room and food included. I was set to travel in three days.
I kissed my new boyfriend goodbye, hopped on a ferry and arrived by sundown on Ios, where I was met by a young woman named Irina and shown to a hotel room that was nice, but lined with blankets on one wall. She showed me around the hotel, port side cafe and seaside bar. We talked about her life in the Ukraine, how she came to the island and letters from her mother. She was homesick.
When she showed me her room, I was surprised by how small it was. Barely the width of her bed, it had one closet in the corner blocking most of the window, no chairs and a tiny bathroom with a combo shower/toilet/sink with a sliding door, which was fitting since a normal door would have nowhere to swing.
I returned to my room to unpack and relax before meeting my new boss that evening before my shift.
Mr. Nikos was a paunchy man in his 50s with greying temples and prematurely wrinkled skin caused by too much island sun. We sat down at a table, during which he spoke slowly and methodically in English about my responsibilities, meals, hours and salary. A work/residence permit would follow if there was a mutual fit.
Mr. N: And by the way, you need to move out of your room and into my house.
Mr. N: We need that room to rent to tourists. You’re not a tourist, so you live with me.
K: No, that’s not what I was promised.
Mr. N: What’s wrong? You have a boyfriend.
K: What’s that got to do with anything?
Mr. N: Well, I try to find why you have problem living in my house.
K: Because that’s not the agreement I made. If I had known, I wouldn’t have come here.
Mr. N: No problem, no $ex at first.
Mr. N: Yes, I leave you alone for some time. $ex come later.
K: Excuse me. $ex come never.
Mr. N: You American girls, what’s wrong with you?
K: Nothing is wrong with me. I came here for a bartending job, not to be a pro$t!tute. A job, food, money and a room.
Mr. N: Yes, at first you have your own room in my house, then you stay together with me in my room. You don’t like it, stay in Irina’s room.
K: Irina’s room isn’t even big enough for her alone.
N: Fine, live with me.
K: No. I’m calling Mrs. Katerina.
Mr. N: Sure, you think about it.
I was excused from working that night and could stay in the hotel room. Mrs. Katerina had gone home for the evening, so I would have to call her first thing tomorrow with the few units I had left on my prepaid phone.
I called Mrs. Katerina, and she didn’t believe what I was saying. She told me that Mr. Nikos had already called her that morning and said he didn’t want me because I “don’t speak Greek.” This was obviously a smokescreen since he knew from the start I didn’t speak Greek. In any case, Mrs. Katerina didn’t believe me.
Irina got on the phone with Mrs. Katerina, verified everything I said and confessed that she went through the same thing many months ago, but was afraid to say anything because she didn’t want to lose her job or her permit. Mrs. Katerina apologized, talked to Mr. Nikos and asked me to come back to Athens at his expense. I said goodbye to the girls, including a fellow American, and didn’t attempt to get another job on the island because Mr. Nikos was a very powerful man and owned much of it (and still does). So I returned to Athens, saw my boyfriend and got another job on Rhodes…but that’s another story altogether.
For tips on how to get your share of fun, sun and legitimate work on an island, see: