Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guest Post: Psonia by Anneke Kamerling

This is the second in a guest blog series written by Anneke Kamerling about her expat life in Greece. If you want to find out more about Anneke and her anecdotes, take a look at Typical Greek.

Shopping in Greece is an adventure in itself.

I like to stroll about the market, where tomatoes are uglier but sweeter than at the supermarket, the fish is fresh and free-range chickens have really been free. Hungry for chicken? Then you have to kill, pluck and slaughter it yourself. For other meat there is a separate department. Here, cows and sheep hang like brothers (or should I write sisters?) together in the open air, where flies and wasps have free play. How do I get some minced meat and where is that steak, exactly? In my poor Greek, I ask for fine (ground) meat. "All meat is fine", answers the seller proudly. "Yeah but I mean ..." I try to explain with hand gestures. "For the keftedes (meatballs)," I finally get out. Ah, now he seems to understand me. He cuts off a piece of the cow. Lets it fall into a waste well, picks it back up, wipes it off on his bloody apron and puts it in a big meat grinder, which I didn't see earlier. Otherwise I would have pointed straight at it, of course. That will have to be well-done, I think, as I stare at the waste pit. The butcher captures the mince on a piece of paper, grabs it and sets the price. Should I bargain or not? I ask if he wants to repeat. "Slowly, please." It sounds different than before. Has it got cheaper or more expensive or did I really not understand just now? I pay. "Kali órexi (enjoy your meal)," he beams at me in a friendly farewell.

Photo: Pal Csonka
In the village five kilometres below the village where I live is a mini market. Here, you can get anything! Along the walls are shelves with crates full of vegetables and fruit, cans of tomatoes, and bags of chickpeas and lentils, baby milk, toilet paper, books, and soft drinks, and on the ground here and there boxes with washing powder, detergent, diapers, oil barrels, beer crates, spirit bottles and homemade wine. The outfit also serves as a cafe. A meeting place for the men of the village who sit together all day in front of the only TV for miles, watching, no matter what is broadcasted. They sip their Greek coffee or ouzo together with a glass of water, which invariably remains untouched. But why this shop is very important to me is the fact that here not only the only TV, but also the only phone for miles around is to be found. I regularly stop here on the way home, in order to do some shopping or to call my parents. Calling is expensive and so I ask my parents to call me every Tuesday at 21.00, Greek time. I make sure I'm on time. I order a beer or a soda and join the men watching some Greek soap, until promptly at 21:00 the phone rings. The owner picks up the horn and passes it on to me. After a few weeks she doesn't pick up the phone anymore, but gives me permission to do so with a friendly nod. This way I keep my parents informed about my adventures on Corfu.

Photo: Constantin Jurcut

In Corfu town, I often use the indispensable periptero (kiosk). Anyone who has been in Greece knows exactly what I mean. In every town, village or hamlet is at least one periptero. This is a sort of Makro in mini size. Within about two square meters you can find almost everything you could get at a supermarket - from chilled beer and soft drinks, snacks, tobacco, ice, books, magazines, toys and bus tickets to drugstore products, including an extensive range of condoms and aspirins. Usually you will find a public telephone as well. Amongst all this it's never easy to locate the salesperson. Wedged in the box with everything within arm's reach he or she serves customers, day and night, through a small hatch. Whenever I walk down the street, the periptero is always open. Even during siesta time. Might the clerk literally have gotten stuck in there?

As friendly as people in the market and the shops are, so stiff are the officers and bank employees. Once a Greek takes place behind a desk, he undergoes an unprecedented transformation. Women often also seem to like to use glasses on their noses, making them look even stricter. Suddenly they no longer smile, and the jovial 'no problem' is not used anymore. "Nai?" sounds a gruff voice from behind the desk, usually protected by a glass shield, and you as a customer can start a monologue, which the clerk in question is listening to with a stoic face. No response. They would excel at poker, these officials! Sometimes they go in an agonizingly slow pace into action and you get what you came for. Often they abruptly leave you, without explanation, to discuss your private matter loudly with colleagues. Privacy is out of the question. Also because all other Greeks do not wait their turn politely lined up, but prefer to eavesdrop nearby so they won't miss any of your business. Very possibly, the clerk will nod you on to the next counter, where the entire situation can start from scratch...

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