Living in Greece

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

One day on the island of Ios

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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.

K: Sorry?

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.

K: Eh?

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:

Getting a summer job in Greece
Summer jobs in Greece FAQ
Non-EU travelers need 50 euros a day
website metrics

* This post is dedicated to BitTorrent Man, who laughs as hard as I do when telling this story.

11 Comments »

  rositta wrote @ October 4th, 2007 at 23:26

Now that we know you, my husband and I laughed at this story. Gotta tell you though, the same thing happened to me when I was about sixteen in Northern Ontario where I took a summer job waiting tables at a resort. I guess there are guys like that the world over…ciao

  BitTorrent Man wrote @ October 5th, 2007 at 09:46

Still a very funny story. It is just sad that it happens and continues to happen!

Everytime I read the classifieds in the Athens News or C E, I always chuckle at the ads for Barmaid, Waitress, etc. (And wonder if I should try and apply! LOL) Keep up the writing and the humor!

  The Scorpion wrote @ October 5th, 2007 at 11:54

Wow, sorry to hear you had to go through that nonsense. I was in IOS in Summer of 1986 and had a blast, but always heard horror stories about this Chief of Police or Police Commander called “O Ksanthos” the Blond one. They said he was ruthless with tourists and people were afraid of him.

So, when me and posse finally had a run in with him in a local taverna, he turned out to be a pussy cat. A little placed “Edo Ellada” and “Den Variese” combined with how much we love living in IOS (all in Greek) and this local sheriff ended up sitting down with us and having a drink.

So, I wonder what those other tourists had done to get his wrath?

Sorry if the story was a bit off topic, but your story brought back my memories of IOS as well.

  John wrote @ October 8th, 2007 at 14:07

Just wanted to say a quick ‘well done’ to your articles and comments, especially in the last few weeks. Thanks. John

  Anonymous wrote @ October 13th, 2007 at 04:04

Well, humor and reflection is all well and good, and indeed keeps one healthier, but $exual exploitation is not a very light topic, and occasionally a healthy degree of outrage is required. If these women were threatened or worse abused to do the bidding for this guy, that’s a very serious matter — as great as it is that it worked out easily and well for you, it doesn’t sound like a happy ending for everyone involved.

  Kat wrote @ October 13th, 2007 at 08:47

R – I know it happens to people everywhere AND there are a lot of nice proper employers everywhere also. This is just a story of what happened to me personally within the first month of being here. Funny now, but not so much back then. In fact, I never told my parents about it…or Rhodes.

BTM – If you ever need a job, I can refer you directly to Mr. Nikos, LOL! Peace

The S – Don’t be sorry. I’d always heard rumors of it happening before I came here, but never found anyone telling their story. I wanted to tell the story because it’s real and needs to be heard — it’s not just rumors and whispers. Some 99.5% of stories on this site are told with humor and reflection; there’s no whining or anger. Life’s too short! I see it as something that colored my life and laugh about it. You’re also free to share your stories if mine reminds you of something; you and others probably have many that I’d be interested in hearing.

Anonymous – I am outraged by many things, but I don’t use this site to rant, lecture or recreate Greek drama because everyone makes choices based on situation and need. I use this site to voice different views and put stories out there that others aren’t willing to share in order to raise awareness about the issue presented, which is still very much a serious reality, not garner sympathy for myself since I dealt with it and moved on. I believe I accomplished that.

  alex wrote @ December 2nd, 2011 at 00:22

I’m Greek-American and this story is appalling, while also (only in retrospect and at a distance) humorous. I just wanted to ask, does a guy like that really think that any woman would respond positively to such treatment?!

Kat Reply:

Apparently, yes. Both Irina and the American girl I mentioned accepted that arrangement, and there may have been others though I didn’t stay long enough to learn how many. I don’t judge them because I don’t know what circumstances they were escaping or why they couldn’t find something better, but I felt fortunate I had the financial means and fortitude to go back to Athens or America and start again.

It is appalling, which is why I told the story. But I thought it was also important to add humor to send a hopeful message and help people understand that it’s in the past…at least for me.

Thank you for your comment and question.

  Henrique wrote @ March 21st, 2014 at 07:34

i was in IOS in 2007 and 2010, i was just browsing in the internet and im thinking about going this year again as im tired of the UK and need some fresh air. i think it might be the first time in my life im posting my opinion in a blog but this got personal haha as the same thing happened to my girlfriend in 2007 with the same Mr Nikos :) unfortunately for Mr Nikos my girlfriend’s boyfriend (me) wasnt in Athens and i dealt with him pretty nasty so in some way i took revenge for you as well :) Mr Nikos is indeed a very powerful man on the island but also a very dirty man, and that punch felt really good. take care

Kat Reply:

It’s sad to hear that he’s still doing the same thing more than a decade later, and your girlfriend and I had the same experience — some people never learn or change. Thank you for taking the time to share this story (I’m honored to have your first blog comment) and for ‘taking revenge’ for me. :) Wishing you all the best!

  Holmes wrote @ August 19th, 2014 at 00:25

Bad story but funny too. I was in Ios for 4 seasons from ’90 – 94′ and thoroughly enjoyed it. I worked at the Dubliner and the Sweet Irsh dream and at Max’s restaurant in the port. Now and then I also did cleaning jobs for the old couple that lived in that huge villa overlooking the port.
I remember most of the bar owners being slimy, greasy, greedy individuals who loved polishing their motorbikes all day with some young bint on their fat arm while us workers sweated for meagre wages and robbed the places blind.
By the end of the season half the island used to be crazy after all the preceeding carnage and debauchery and all the bar and restaurant owners would be playing cards with each other while their fat ugly whisker-faces wivrs screamed at their delinquent kids and the feral cats that had a taste for human blood after attacking half the tourists during the season.
I never had any dealings with Nico but I think we can safeky assume he probably had himself a Greek boy to play with during the winter months until he got his syphilis results back off the island’s vet who doubled as a doctor then took his own life by ruding one of those poor abused donkeys off a cliff onto the rocks below.
Yes I loved Ios. Crazy place full of crazy people. Like some kind of CIA programme for meltdowns.
Yassass!
Aidan ; ) xx

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