Living in Greece

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

Four Greek songs that always make me cry

There is a quartet of songs that bring me to tears, though by nature I am not a weepy person. I didn’t understand the lyrics of three upon hearing them the first time, as I knew little or no Greek back then, but I believe music has the ability to transcend boundaries.

Κομμάτια/Kommatia (Pieces)
by Christos Dantis (with Martakis)

I was living near the American Embassy during this period, it was raining, and this song came on the tiny radio that was my only entertainment. By the time it ended, I’d been weeping without knowing why.

While walking alone on Ag. Konstantinou a few days later, a car pulled over and a man jumped out and popped open the hood. I knew what was coming.

Man: Hello, how are you? (as I walk by)
K: Fine. (continue walking)
Man: Wait! Where are you going?
K: Home. Bye.
Man: Wait! Do you want to go for coffee?
K: No thank you, I don’t know you.
Man: Oh sorry, I’m Vasili. And you are?
K: Kat.
Man: Great, now we know each other. We can go for coffee.
K: No, because I’m busy.
Man: Ela! What will it take?
K: I’m going.
Man: Wait!
K: No thank you.
Man: I can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
K: Clearly.
Man: What can I do to convince you?
K: How about I talk to your friend in the passenger side, and if I like his answers, then I will speak to you again, OK? And if not, I go.
Man: OK, I’ll wait here.
K: Hi, wh..?
Man 2: (Laughing and covering his face) He’s crazy, don’t go out with him.
K: Does he do this a lot?
Man 2: No, first time.
K: And how long have you known him?
Man 2: He’s my best friend, too many years.
K: Does he have a girlfriend?
Man 2: No, not for a long time.
K: What’s wrong with him?
Man 2: Look at him, many things. (Gesturing to Vasili and laughing)
K: Does he have a job?
Man 2: Yes, he’s a ____ .
K: Hmmm, really? My brother is a ____ .
Man 2: Maybe you should ask your brother to have a talk with him.
K: And what’s your name?
Man 2: Yannis.
K: Is his name really Vasili?
Man 2: Oh, yes.
(Vasilis is hopping around, waving, looking nervous)
Man 2: You know, he saw your face as we drove by, he said you are very beautiful, and we are going to meet you. Look, it’s very traffic. We had to drive around the block many times and almost crashed the car. He’s crazy, I tell you!
K: OK, thanks.
Man: Well?
K: Fine, we can go for coffee another day.
Man: Can I offer you a ride home?
K: No thank you. I don’t get into cars with strange men.
Man 2: Ela vre!
(Just then, “Kommatia” comes on the radio)
K: Hey, I like that song.
Man: Get into the car.
K: I think I will.

Vasilis didn’t take me home; he took Yannis and me straight to Flocafe where we were forced to have coffee. Our many and frequent protests were ignored, although I did eventually make it home safely without incident.

Our first date was the only time any man in the world has cooked me dinner on a date, and Vasilis turned out to be a very sweet, down-to-earth person. He was brute, beauty and brains. But when his childhood sweetheart came back to entice him, he knowingly fell into another bout of inevitable heartbreak…and Vasilis and I were “kommatia.”

And did it end there? For Vasilis and I, yes. But his best friend Yannis asked me to marry him a year later, and I had to respectfully decline.

The original is done with Dantis alone and with a voice-box during the chorus.

This is the  live version with Kostas Martakis.

Έπαψες Αγάπη Να Θυμίζεις/Epapses Agape na Thimizeis

(You stopped remembering love)
by Pix Lax

Back in the day, this classic was played at clubs during the “Greek” segment starting at 3 a.m., if the overall genre was non-Greek. Everyone knew the words, but I could only listen with my heart.

I revisited this song on the island of Aegina, where my boyfriend had taken me for a three-day weekend. My friends were back in Athens, and I was sad I couldn’t see them during this short visit from NYC — we always clubbed on Friday and Saturday, which of course lasted until Sunday. As a surprise, they hopped on a ferry and met me in Aegina.

After dinner and first drinks, we went to a beachside club with plush sofas, drank, danced like there was no tomorrow and gazed at the dark blue sea. We then hopped over to Elliniko, which was ironically an American rock club. Like clockwork, this song came on at 3 a.m. and we all went crazy, sang the song together, sobbed and danced together in a closed circle with our arms joined at the shoulders. When it was over, my friend Nick looked at me and said, “We always have more fun when you’re here.”

It was one of the best nights of my life.

I miss you, Nick.

Το Σ’ αγαπώ/To S’agapo
(The ‘I love you’)
by Michalis Hatzigiannis

Hatzigiannis’ song is the only one I could understand, and the only song associated with a relationship. For those who know the lyrics, they refer to myself and my choice to leave, thus closing a long chapter of my life and starting over.

Greek National anthem

by Dionysios Solomos

In February 1998, a young woman from California set foot in Greece for the first time after celebrating Carnival in Venice. It was winter, she was alone, and it was Sunday in Athens.

Vassilis Sofias closed to traffic to make way for a contingency of evzones going to Syntagma Square for the official changing, all stomping in unison, all staring straight ahead, all wearing hand-stitched uniforms steeped in historical meaning with sleeves of flowing motion. The band announced their arrival, two men deemed “best of the week” were threaded from the group by a senior officer to “allagi” and the national anthem began to play.

As colors of blue and white waved gracefully in the wind, and I looked upon the dichotomous marriage of young and old, modernity and tradition, present day and historical past, a powerful surge of emotion came over me, though I’d never heard the music or knew its lyrical poetry before this moment. Tears fell uncontrollably. After the evzones turned their heads in honor toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they left the square to the triumphant tune of “Evzonaki.” This was the day I vowed to make Greece my home.

For years, I made a point of going to the square every Sunday or visiting on the last Sunday during visits to Greece when I was living elsewhere. But I stopped this ritual because it became impractical, though the experience is still relevant to who I am and what I feel.

There was no one who cried harder at the Athens 2004 Opening and Closing ceremonies, and the same wave of emotion that came over me 15 years ago is ever present. I have no explanation for it. It just is.

So say what you like about me, call me names, swear at me, tell me I am not welcome here and to get out of Greece. It’s nothing I haven’t heard a million times before. A deep-seated part of me will always love Ellada, and she and I have been — and will always be — inseparable.

But the day to bid her goodbye is on the horizon, as some loves are not meant to be together. Some grow stronger when they are apart and longing, some loves are pulled back by the forces that bind only when other forces are pushing away, and some can only grow in perfection in one’s heart when the realities of daily life are no longer eating away at the soul.

Related posts

My infatuation with Dimitris Basis
Greek National Anthem
Famous bands from my California hometown

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 violations will be pursued.

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96 Comments

  GreekAmericaninGreece wrote @ October 18th, 2007 at 18:59

I cried while reading “…But the day to bid her ‘goodbye’ is on the horizon, as some loves are not meant to be together. Some grow stronger when they are apart and longing, some loves are pulled back by the forces that bind only when other forces are pushing away, and some can only grow in perfection in one’s heart when the realities of daily life are no longer eating away at the soul…”

It is so perfect what you wrote….so perfect…I thank you.

I am back in the States now.

  Stavros wrote @ October 18th, 2007 at 19:16

Katinaki,

Funny how music can bring us back to a time and place associated with the first time we heard it. I think you once referred to yourself alternately as an American and a citizen of the world. That may be so, but your soul is Greek. Some of the best Greeks I know haven’t a drop of Greek blood coursing through their veins, yet they put the rest of us who claim our Greekness by accident of birth to shame.

Posts from the heart are always our best ones, aren’t they?

Kat Reply:

Ela Stavro mou! – I don’t know if anything about me is Greek, but the emotions I experience are unexpected and catch me off guard. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the anthem or how often I see the Athens 2004 DVD, it’s the same reaction. When I was in my “surge” stage with Greece, a lot of people thought it was a good idea for the GNTO to hire me to promote Greece; after all, who better than a non-Greek to rave about a country she’s not ancestrally connected to or from? But… Thanks for coming by and making a comment today! Mou leipeis!

  Kostas wrote @ October 18th, 2007 at 20:31

Ela Kat, I keep telling you that you are Athina reincarnated (yr soul was born here!) and this is your country too, but you don’t believe me! Anyway, how you can feel this with everyone always saying you’re not Greek, you know nothing and don’t belong here. Its sad. Good for you that you are leaving, bad for me, bad for us. 🙁 Filia

Kat Reply:

K – I resist what you say because it’s not for me to say, and I couldn’t believe it anyway with how much I’m made to feel like an outsider here. I came here to put down roots and make a permanent home, and people kept pulling out the roots. But it’s totally OK. I’m at the summit and there’s nowhere left for me to go, and that’s just not good enough for me. I want something more now. It all worked out for the best!

  xristina wrote @ October 18th, 2007 at 20:43

All your posts have always made clear that you love Greece. Whether people do manage to live in Greece, try but need to leave, or would never dream of trying, love for Greece, agaphi ki erota, always binds us. Its problems wouldn’t be so infuriating otherwise!

Kat Reply:

X – That’s a nice thing to say, but not everyone agrees with you. Nearly every day, I get people calling me names, telling me to go “home” (wherever that is; I thought it was here) and asking me why I hate Greece.

  Evangelos wrote @ October 18th, 2007 at 20:53

If you are touched by the Greek national anthem, it’s because you perceive Greece more as a higher state of mind, an idealised place of the imagination, similar to the ideals that Solomos had for Greece when he transcribed the anthem lyrics. You should feel privileged Kat because very few Greeks still perceive Greece this way, most of them are demoralised by the harsh realities of the everyday Greek life, forgetting that Greece works better as an idea and less as an organised state or as a geographical country.

Kat Reply:

E mou! – What a sweet and insightful thing to say! I don’t know what I feel or why, and I don’t try to figure it out; I just accept it. As a non-EU immigrant, I’m beaten down more than the average Greek or EU citizen in bureaucracy and everyday discrimination, so how is it that I still hold this ideal and pure feeling? Or am I crying tears of sorrow because I know that these ideals can never be achieved? Hmmmm… 😉

  yiannos wrote @ October 19th, 2007 at 08:41

Kat, i just lost a bit of respect for you. crying to Greek songs? that is the living, breathing, definition of C-O-R-N-Y. however, i’m willing to give you a second chance because i like you. 😉

Kat Reply:

Y – I already said in the post that i’m not a weepy person, so the repeated occurrences are strange and mysterious as far as I’m concerned. It just happens. I can try and fight it back, but it just doesn’t work. Corny to you perhaps, but maybe you’re just C-Y-N-I-C-A-L. I believe that’s a Greek word. 😉

  The Scorpion wrote @ October 19th, 2007 at 10:08

You mentioning the Greek national anthem brought back another memory as well. Years ago, when I lived in Glyfada I used to listen to the US Military’s Armed Forces Radio (1584 on the dial in Athens, and 1485 in Kato Souli) and every night at (was it midnight or 1am), the US Air Force announcer from the American base at Elliniko would say goodnight and preface that by playing the national anthems of the Republic of Greece and the United States of America. I enjoyed each one while laying in bed waiting for sleep to come.

  Ioanna wrote @ October 19th, 2007 at 17:45

i was doing university stuff and google pass me to your blog.
kommatia is probably the most beautiful greek song with such touching lyrics i ‘ve ever heard. reminds me of so many things in the past. its nice that someone feels the same way too about it though this song was never really noticed by others here in germany.
thank you for sharing your live and your experiences in freaky greece. i grow up in germany still studying here and i just know life in greece just during the holiday time in summer. i feel like a stranger always when i am there but i am going to move back to greece after i am finishing studies. some things i read here sounded so familiar to me.
anyway
have a nice day
greetings to athenz
=)

  Kristie wrote @ October 21st, 2007 at 19:42

I just recently came across your site. I just love the graphics you have on top, its really beautiful. I think that I will be coming back here (I have already bookmarked you!). Looking forward to more from you!

  PanosJee wrote @ October 21st, 2007 at 21:11

You have an amazing site and a deep insight into our little land that is not paradise usually, unless you look for it (usually in places where not many greek people are 😉 ) I am really moved that you chose to stay here despite all the problems and sometimes even I do want to leave specially after dealing with TEVE and FPA and so on… or rude greek people and so on but I when I rest on the beach with friends drinking ouzo or going to concerts of Thanasis Papakwstantinou, I change my mind.

  Trina wrote @ October 22nd, 2007 at 19:47

I am a huge Dantis fan. Kommatia is great, but the one that always gets me is To Domatio.

Thanks for the site. My husband and I are contemplating moving to Greece. The information and opinion you provide have been invaluable!

Kat Reply:

T – There is a small percentage of opinion contained on this site, which reflects many peoples’; the rest are stats and facts from legitimate sources and true stories based on my life. You’ve actually consulted me before on your “possible” move to Corinthia, perhaps a year ago; I wrote you a lengthy customized response with links and never got acknowledgment you’d received it. And I’m actually not a Dantis fan, something inside of me apparently connects to that one song. What that is, I’ve no clue! 🙂

  ein Steppenwolf wrote @ October 23rd, 2007 at 20:35

The first story is lovely! But the music doesn’t touch me. De gustibus…

(From K: For those who don’t know Latin, this is the beginning of a phrase translated to English meaning, “there is no accounting for taste”)

Kat Reply:

ein S – As I told Yiannos, I have no explanation for why something inside me stirs in relation to music I’ve never heard or words I don’t understand, it just does. When someone asks me what kind of music I like, my answer is hip hop, opera, classical, old school metal, alternative and anything I can dance to.

  Dino wrote @ October 31st, 2007 at 23:59

Kat, as far as I’m concerned…you are more Greek than a born and raised in Greece Greek. Greece is not just the whitewashed houses, sun washed beaches, and the Parthenon. Greece as you know is billions more things…and it is hard country if you understand me. Greece is 50/50 — you either love it or leave it. When people come face-to-face with the harsh and different realities of this country, they either leave or embrace it for what it is. Because Greece is beautiful chaos!! And you chose to stay without complaining and embraced all that is beautiful about it, and to me that is a real Greek. Remember, it was Aristotle who said that a Greek is not the one born in the narrow geographical borders that make up Greece, but the one who embraces and assimilates to its culture.

I am in the US (San Francisco) right now for studies, and you have no idea how much I am longing to come back!!!!

I will be in Athens in January. Maybe we can go for coffee…but I promise I wont sing “Kommatia” — even though i like it too!

Kat Reply:

Dino – Ela and hello! What kind words, but I am still just me. You happen to be near my hometown now, isn’t that funny? True, chaos is a form of order (disorder) and there’s a lot of it here. I can’t say that I’ve never complained; I have, but probably more when I was a newbie and used it as a scapegoat. However, as I’ve said many times before, it’s much healthier to accept things for what/who they are because ultimately they cannot be changed. Life is too short, we can’t get back any single moment so there’s no reason to waste it, and happiness is ultimately something we create.

Let’s see where I am in January, but yes it’d be nice to have coffee. Be a pal and bring me a 1 lb. round of Boudin sourdough. 😉

  Simon Baddeley wrote @ November 12th, 2007 at 15:43

I like these from Elytis’ Axion Esti

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGQLuclvFjc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QVbC0ZeKu4

Glad to have found your site via technorati. I’ve linked.
Herete
S

Kat Reply:

Simon – Delighted to make your acquaintance. I actually knew about you through Buru Buru, Adventure of an Athenian, who mentioned us both during the August wildfires. Got quite busy after that though. Your blog meets my high standards, and you’ve been added as well.

  Jo wrote @ November 14th, 2007 at 06:51

If only you knew how many times I’ve started “answering” one of your posts but never actually submitted any comments; all I can say now is that it’s too bad, as we may have gotten to know each other sooner…. Oh well, better late than never, right?

En tout cas…. Kat, I want to thank you for this site. I used to come across it often whenever I’d try to google any info of a more practical nature on Greece, but I’ve since learned my lesson and now come directly here! Most other information that’s provided is often outdated, if not confusing, unclear or contradictory.

I’m sorry to hear that your stay in Greece will be coming to an end, and it saddens me even more that a person with as much love for ANY country as you obviously have for Greece has been “pushed” away and forced to make such a choice…. It also scares me to see how much you’ve tolerated over the years (sorry, I’m still thinking of yr landlords); it seems that Greece kept throwing you lemons, you’re STILL making lemonade, and yet…. reality got the upper hand.

I myself am a first generation Greek Canadian contemplating moving to Greece in the very near future. I’ve wanted to for a long time now and have somehow always felt more at home while in Greece (and I’m not talking island hopping). I recognise the “powerful surge of emotion” you refer to quite well; in addition to it, I randomly get overwhelmingly nostalgic for a country in which I have never lived and that I know for a fact is full of problems and will most probably never provide me with the orderly ease of life I have grown accustomed to in my neck of the woods. Nonetheless, I dream of living there; in my mind and my heart I’ve always associated Greece and greekness with history, myth and the overall wealth of its multifaceted culture, all of which Greeks are proud of yet take for granted. Greece has so much beauty to offer and provide inspiration that one only needs to sit back, soak it up and enjoy it to the fullest. I regard this as one definition of Quality of Life just as much as any other. It seems the ability to “work to live” can only be appreciated once you’ve had a “live to work” routine that is unfortunately all too familiar in N.America.

Most people I know (Greeks and Canadians alike) think I’m crazy and then proceed to list all the difficulties I will most likely face; many of your posts confirm them. It’s even harsher that I can already relate to your (mis?)adventures more often than not, and this just by visiting; as a Greek of the “Omogeneia”, I am also regarded as a “3enh” and even made fun of to my face under the assumption that my language skills aren’t sharp enough… Isn’t that enuf to make anyone feel welcome?

In any case, my point at present is that your site is God-send. Your articles have hit home more than once and I find the overall site to be both informative and insightful, not to mention reassuring (something abt having all of this centralized and at your fingertips really does it for me). I haven’t yet organized myself for a move, I’m still a little chicken (can we say comfort zone?) but considering the fact that I quit here, I’ll be snapping out of it ASAP. By then, the magnitude of what I want will most likely have hit me and I will probably have loads of questions.

Until then, I just wanted to give you a shout out (you don’t even need to publish this, I just wanted to send you a message), say hello, cheer you on (though I’m sure ppl show you their appreciation daily) and thank you again. I just hope that I will not, one day, also be forced to face reality and change my mind abt living in a place I already consider home.

Pros to paron, as elpisoume na mhn er8ei ayth h mera. Pisteyw ki elpizw na ta 3anapoume.

Geia sou. Filakia polla kai na prosexeis.

Kat Reply:

Jo – Hey there, nice to finally meet you. It is too bad you haven’t commented before, but realize that a lot of people don’t so you’re still unique in that you actually took the plunge. Now you have a bigger plunge to take. The best way to overcome fear is with action. You’re right, it is tough for non-native Greeks as well; I tell people that, but I’ve been accused of being racist for saying so. The material I present on my site reflects the reality one must face upon arrival; it is not meant as a deterrent, but an overall view of life here — not just sun, sand, sea. It’s cars bought for the ego/flash factor, not because there is any real wealth or substance; it’s schools that are free, but crumbling and substandard; it’s a 7-euro frappe nursed over 4 hours (to quote a Greek-Australian friend); it’s bureaucracy, discrimination and a flogging job market. If one doesn’t mind these things and faces no challenges, that’s great. But at least the Pollyannas have been warned.

I was one of those optimists long ago whom Greeks attributed their resurgence in Hellenism. The funny this is, the majority have now admitted they were just humoring me because they wanted to be supportive; they came clean once I opened my eyes. The minority are still living in a world where they think calling themselves Leftheris instead of Ted or spelling their name Xpistos instead of Christos is making some sort of statement of Greekness. It’s bull.

And just so you know, I heard the warnings and saw the pitfalls, even experienced them, but I was in denial and convinced I could persevere and emerge victorious. In many ways I have, more than most people, and I’ve done it alone and from nothing. If I was OK with shouldering mountains of bureaucracy, discrimination, paying outrageous prices, wasting my life and being a housewife or working a mediocre job, this might be a fine place to be; it’s not about money or a house or material things. Reality didn’t get the upper hand. I am choosing to leave at my own free will because my priorities have shifted, and Greece is no longer and will never be enough for me and others like me. Greece didn’t change, I did.

About the site. The challenge with this site being named “An American in Athens” is it doesn’t convey an obvious sign of containing practical information about working and living in Greece, whereas if I’d called it Living in Greece and commercialized it, the majority might come here first. But what’s more memorable, Living in Greece or An American in Athens? The drawback in commercializing it (which it may come to) is ads may follow and I’ll have to close comments; I’ve thought of splitting the site, thus ending it’s one-stop shop appeal, but two sites is twice as much work and time. I appreciate the compliment and the fact you’re taking the time to thank me without also wanting something. You’d be surprised to know it doesn’t happen on a daily or even monthly basis amongst thousands of visitors. Some even steal info and insult me afterward, in addition to those to whom I write customized replies never saying ‘thanks.’ But the few that do make it worth it.

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