Living in Greece

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

Bugs and beaches: At home in Athens

Our home in the southern Athens is close to the mountains and minutes from the beach, which many believe is an envious location. I’m not convinced.

Sure, I like the sight of trees from my window, the walking trail and the open fields next door where I can hear “the nightbird” (gionis) birp all night. But as it looks more like summer, our area is choked with more traffic, more pulsing music at all hours and more bugs.

Today was a very buggy and birdy type day. After getting only disturbed sleep from another noisy night, I opened sliding doors to both the front and back balconies to get a cross draft. Within hours, a bird had flown into the house because (of course) there are no screen doors. As it flapped furiously, I cursed the fact I couldn’t pass this task to my Greek partner and chased it around the house with hopes I could return it safely outside again. Done.

I go into the kitchen, and a green bean on the counter starts moving — it’s a hoppity green grasshopper. How it got in, I don’t know since the window wasn’t open. I put a Tupperware bowl over him and left a note for the man of the house to take him outside. He didn’t, as he thought it would be amusing if I dealt with that too. Fine. I slip a piece of paper under the bowl and release him outside, and (strangely) a man in NY who calls me ‘grasshoppa’ sends me an email after that.

My Greek counterpart had the idea of taking a drive along the beach and stopping at a no-name taverna to get something to eat for a change of pace, but within minutes we encountered roads choked with traffic and turned back. Apparently everyone had the same idea.

Arriving home, we both smack at a yellow jacket before I’m told my swatting duties are not needed, the door is closed and the incident is over…or so it seems. After it was flattened and squashed into a napkin, I found he’d crawled out of the garbage can and was struggling for life on the kitchen floor. Admirable. That’s what my friend Niko calls, “duro, duro.”

I happily took a phone call from friends G and C visiting from Sweden. I was supposed to meet them on Rhodes sometime during their two weeks but honestly couldn’t see spending more than a month’s wages on a few days within Greece when I can get better value by visiting them in Stockholm instead. Anyway, I need a break from Greece after being here continuously for two years. It turned out fine since they were busy doing the ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ tour with three young children, entertaining relatives who joined them for a portion of their vacation, and visiting several villages. They depart exhausted, needing a vacation to recover from their vacation.

I love talking to them because they spent a year on sabbatical in Greece during my first year here, so we share a common history of learning Greek, dealing with dysfunctional landlords, scaring away kamaki and delighting in old yellow trolleys that jerked and stalled. They also helped me move out of my cockroach house in Plaka at 6:00 one morning. We had a good laugh about that tonight.

Hours later, I went into the bathroom we just cleaned yesterday and what was on the shower wall? A cockroach the size of a yam. Blah! Well, at least it didn’t crawl over my face (see, “Monday morning“). No Tupperware, no releasing into the wild, just a good old-fashioned smack with a flip flop and off to the eternal nap!

Apparently, my critter karma is fully zen. Kala ohm! :)

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  Paul in Canada wrote @ June 16th, 2008 at 01:03

Man … are the roaches huge in Greece. I remember seeing some the size of small cats. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but they are bigger than anything I’ve seen here in Canada.


  Cheryl wrote @ June 16th, 2008 at 10:16

You’re so funny…but I hear you. The bugs are everywhere here….just everywhere. I like the grasshopper story…they kind of freak me out too. But the bird-that’s a pain in the a$$. I haven’t ever had to chase one out of my house yet but I don’t look forward to it-I’m just glad to hear that it didn’t poop on your head while you were chasing it! And, roaches…they get no sympathy from us. The flip-flop, the swatter or Kosta’s big shoe with a stomp are always fitting. I hope that you can enjoy your summer -even if it’s crowded. We dealt with traffic yesterday too-so I know what you mean-totally frustrating.

  Kat wrote @ June 16th, 2008 at 19:02

P – I agree with you. I’ve been in a lot of countries and seen a lot of roaches, and the ones here (specifically when I lived in Plaka) are the biggest I’ve seen. I had to wear shoes in the house all the time because I was afraid of stepping on one in the dark.

C – It’s almost understandable where you live because you’re not in the city and have a garden, but jeez! Don’t you miss the days of screen doors? I’ve got another yellow jacket in the house, so I (exterminator girl) must go. And the funny thing: I’ve not opened a door or window, so I’ve no idea where it came from since it didn’t enter through the front door when I came home.

  melusina wrote @ June 17th, 2008 at 00:05

The lack of screens here really irritates me. It is so stupid, since so many people choose to live without A/C and open up in the summer. I whined about it for five years and thankfully, our house now has screens (that was a dealbreaker for me, and apparently for everyone else in the family, because it is buggier here than it is downtown). Although obviously every now and then a bug does break through.

My brother-in-law had a bird in his house next door, no idea how except through the chimney (even though it was closed). Thanos had to go over and chase it out because my BIL wasn’t at home and SIL was scared. The poor thing shat all over the place before it made its exit. I pity a bird that accidentally flies in our place though – three cats just itching to get to a bird.

Being in the way of summer traffic would be so annoying. Luckily we are at the end of nowhere, so aside from the goats, sheep, cows, and an occasional dirt bike, we have no noise. Ok, there are birds. But it is nice hearing birds sing that aren’t caged.

  graffic wrote @ June 17th, 2008 at 00:44

I got experience smashing cockroaches. I’ve had one every day.

They started to appear in January, but only one or two per month. Not much to deal with. But while the temperatures were rising, the cockroach population too. And they wanted to come to my place to die.

But one month ago, the wanted more to “play” than to die. Even my cat caught one that died the next day, but because it was poisoned the poor cat was throwing up all the night.

I got tired and I patched a bit my house with the help of my gf. Closed a big hole in the wall that connected to my house directly. Closed the drain hole in the bathroom and patched some tiles. Good team work but not good results. They stopped for a while but then they started again.

One day I arrived home after work and found one dying. I showed it to my landlord’s husband and the guy acted like a typical “ellinaras”: “Bah! this is nothing, we all have them”. What?!?!?!?! We asked you before renting the house and you lied us? Well, I didn’t say anything, it’s their house, is their cockroach, so I give it to him… he smashed it.

After more dead visitors, and some of them not so dead. I got tired and started to return my visitors (cockroaches) to their owners (landlord and company). So I got a dead body I found and put it in front of the external door of the building, in a place that you won’t kick it away, you’ll see it.

Reaction? Without asking, they put a net on my bathroom window. Also they fixed the space I have between the door and the floor (I put a door sweep but… I guess it was doing nothing). And they called to fumigate the house.

Wow! So I’m suffering them for half a year but you find one dead outside the building, but in front of your door and… ALARM! ALARM!

I just imagine my landlord’s husband sitting in the entrance and smashing the dead cockroach with his @ss: plotch!

I had a hard week when they were visiting me daily. I couldn’t sleep or rest, I was looking for cockroaches everywhere.

Now I put some poison in some tiles that are still with holes in my bathroom (I do it daily), and I have ready some hard poison in case the invasion continues.

Tomorrow they will come to “clean” my house from cockroaches. We will see what will happen, because these things last for 6 months, but the landlord told me they do it every year. And that’s the reason they started to appear in January this year. (And of course, the Greek way of just canceling appointments or arriving 2 hours late).

So, if you find bugs… απολύμανση. And fix every hole in your house. And don’t forget to return your visitors to their owner. Perhaps they were lost, like mine.

  Cheryl wrote @ June 17th, 2008 at 03:34

I have screens, that’s one of the few things that this house had going for it and we installed them in MIL’s summer place 12 yrs ago. Living without them isn’t an option for us but out here we still deal with a million bugs getting in per day. I don’t even want to think of what it would be like without them.

  Dora wrote @ June 17th, 2008 at 16:13

I know very well about the no screens thing. Years ago while visiting our island, a huge roach alit on top of my sister’s chair and stood up right behind her. Our uncle noticed it and said “Oh a bird just flew in!” and flicked it away so she wouldn’t see it to let out one of her blood curdling screams. Island people talk, you know.

  Kat wrote @ June 17th, 2008 at 19:22

M – A bird in a three-cat house would indeed be playtime ;) riarrrr! I also like the sound of birds chirping and the gionis birping, but in my case in comes with a side of hens cackling on the balconies until 1 a.m., all the neighborhood dogs barking wildly, putt putt of scooters, and people talking (no, yelling) on their kinitos. But I guess we can’t filter what we don’t want and let in the things we do want…it’s all or nothing. It’s mainly the neighbors’ lack of respect that bothers me. My earplugs are good, but they itch after some hours.

G – Remember when we talked about this in winter, the holes and the traps? Roaches are very sturdy and persistent, so if there’s a warm moist place to hang out (even after you shower), they come in. As our homes are poorly constructed and maintained, I suppose we are vulnerable. As you told me today, there is the option of fumigation, but listen to what I found. After we fumigate (and pay for it), the bugs don’t die really, it’s like they get chased out into the open so it sometimes gets a bit worse until it gets better. Why? Because it’s not done right. In the USA when they fumigate, you can actually do it yourself with a product from the grocery store. You seal the house, set off the bomb, get the heck out, leave it for many hours to penetrate and kill, then come back. Here, they just spray here and there and it’s over. That’s not really any better than laying traps and taking a can of RAID and spraying yourself.

I giggled a little with the thought of you putting the dead ones in front of your landlord’s house.

C – I can see how screens would be required because you have a large yard and no doubt a bunch of critters appreciating it.

D – LOL! Your uncle is a wise man, and yes they do. I scream, but it’s more of a war cry I make before killing my opponent. ;)

  Pat wrote @ June 24th, 2008 at 00:46

Try Fort Lauderdale, FL for bugs – yech. Can’t even walk on the grass because of all sorts of wunderful foot fungus!

  Kat wrote @ June 26th, 2008 at 02:39

What I found disconcerting when I lived in Miami were the worms that would crawl into the house for cool relief, then die slowly on the floor due to lack of humidity. Ironic…and yuck. I’m glad there were no rugs in the house.

  Tammy wrote @ April 28th, 2009 at 20:49

Good to know to add screens to the ‘hope to have list’ when searching for a place to rent. Though how are the spiders? I cannot stand spiders.

We are looking for a place in the northern suburbs of Athens – hopefully for a house to rent rather than an apartment so we can get a bit of breathing room. We live out in the middle of the woods in the US, so moving into the city will be a bit of a shock (okay, will be a huge shock :) ).


Kat Reply:

Hi Tammy, I thought I’d answered your question but didn’t. Spiders depends on where you live. I have an occasional one on the top floor of my current apartment in the southern suburbs of Athens, but I had none in the center. Other people I know with houses and a yard or significant land have tons of them coming into the house.

And yes, it will be a shock to move from the woods to the city. However, you can find a house in the northern suburbs that can be satisfactory. It will be less shocking than living in the center of Athens.

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