Living in Greece

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

Archive for December, 2007

Countdown to “the thing”


Four days remain until we’re due to attend “the thing.”

The year 2006 was my first appearance at “the thing” my partner has been attending every year since he was born. He dreads “the thing,” he complains about “the thing,” and he’s relieved when “the thing” is over.

Me? Well, “the thing” has only been a rare occurrence in my life since moving away from California, then ended permanently when my parents passed away many years ago. I also used to dread “the thing,” develop a stress rash after being at “the thing” for more than a few hours, and sometimes met up with friends for a shot of whiskey when “the thing” was over. But some part of me wouldn’t mind “the thing” if it meant I could have my family back for just one hour of one day.

Now my partner has brought “the thing” back into my life.

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Consumers pay nearly double for basics in Greece compared to other EU nations

euro-notes-ncsrie.jpgAre things expensive in Greece? Well, I suppose it depends on where you’re from and how much money you have.

Six months ago, I published Mercer’s comprehensive cost of living ranking of popular cities around the world, with Athens jumping 30 places in one year to #29. With this knowledge, it’s difficult to understand how this country manages to meet the EU inflation index of 3 percent per year unless it’s fudging stats, and it’s well known that salaries have not increased on par with real inflation.

A short time later, I published my Greece vs. USA price comparison, using Athens (#29) and the higher ranked, more costly city of Manhattan, New York (#15). The survey used the same name brand products at comparable stores in comparable neighborhoods and followed a number of strict rules that favored Athens (sale prices, bulk, local products) and was heavily biased against NYC (no sale prices, no bulk, using imports that cost more). Athens was still more expensive.

Granted the euro is stronger than the dollar, but it didn’t explain why Athens jumped 30 places and ranked higher than other EU cities that fluctuated little on the cost of living survey and maintained high quality of living.

Finally, the Consumers’ Protection Center in Greece confirms my findings.

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Remembering Mr. Takis

tsipouro.jpgThere’s an untouched bottle of homemade tsipouro sitting in my liquor cabinet that reminds me of Mr. Takis.

Mr. Takis lived across the hallway from me when I had an apartment in the center; he was the kind of man who always had a smile and a positive thing to say, no matter what the weather or circumstance. We met when he came over to borrow some coffee or Nescafe, since he’d run out and his caregiver/brother and his sister-in-law were at work. I don’t drink coffee. But I went out and bought the largest canister of Nescafe at Atlantik and left it on his doorstep.

The next time we saw each other — a rare event complicated by my long absences in New York and sleepless socializing when in Athens, and his outings and appointments with doctors and therapists — he thanked me profusely, though I simply saw my gesture as being human. This day marked the beginning of a friendship.

Some months later, I’d barely gotten in the house with my luggage and sat down when I heard a polite knock on the door. It was Mr. Takis, and in his hands were my mail, a bowl of soup on a plate with a lemon and a glass of fresh orange juice. To this day, I’m baffled as to how he managed to carry everything down the long hallway and knock on the door without dropping anything. He was a young man but needed crutches to stand and walk.

He brought over the soup and juice because he figured I had a long flight, didn’t have any food in the house and was probably hungry. He was right on all counts. Mr. Takis explained that he kept my mail because we didn’t have mailboxes and was afraid it would be lifted or thrown away before I got back. I trusted him and was grateful.

After I thanked him in the only Greek I knew, which unfortunately didn’t include the word for ‘thoughtful,’ he made a quick exit because he understood I needed sleep. We spoke a bit about life that evening when I returned his kitchenware and gave him a few gifts I’d brought him from NYC. These exchanges would go on for two years.

On what would turn out to be our last meeting, Mr. Takis gave me a Greek music CD he made and a bottle of homemade tsipouro from his village on the island of Crete. We laughed about the dangers of such concoctions before wishing each other “Kalo Pascha” and heading in different directions, directions that would unknowingly end our friendship.

During my next visit to Athens, I found the landlord opening the door to show new tenants the now empty apartment. Mr. Takis was gone.

Terrible fights between his brother and sister-in-law often filled the air, and I wonder where Mr. Takis is living and if he has enough coffee. I worry if he’s OK and if he’s happy. Because even though he’s sadly no longer a part of my life, I will always remember Mr. Takis.

Related posts

My mother-in-law is a blessing
Four songs in Greek that always make me cry
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