Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Living the life bilingual: Part 4

There's a certain perverse pleasure to be had from being bilingual - and it's multiplied when we're talking about a relative 'minority' language like Greek.

Outside of Greece - despite the diaspora - the chances of someone eavesdropping on me and my Other Half as we chunter away merrily a la Grecque on the bus or train, and understanding what we're saying, are pretty remote.

Of course, there are ex-pat Greeks to be found virtually everywhere on the face of the earth, but the chances of one of them being in earshot of us as we rip our fellow passengers to pieces are pretty damn slim. And even if there's a Greek listening in, surely they won't take offence but are more likely to greet us with a huge grin of recognition and a heartfelt "Yeia sou, patriote!"

If we were speaking French or German, there's a good chance that EVEN THE BRITS around us will get the gist of what we're saying and - if we're engaged in our usual people-watching analysis - that could result in a smack round the chops!

The trouble is, it just doesn't work the other way round.

Virtually everyone in Greece has at least a rudimentary understanding of English so, any observations about my fellow man, woman, child or wombat have to be made in the privacy of my head, the car, our living room - or in the safe anonymity of this Blog.

So, humour me while I take advantage of my online anonymity to share some of those observations I dare not state out loud in public about the different folk we see every day:

There's the ever-so-macho male who is so confident about his superior manhood that he proves it by strutting everywhere with his paunchy chest thrust out as he puffs furiously on a fag with the vaguely uncomfortable look of a constipated hamster on his face (personally, I think the too-tight jeans with the stomach hanging over the belt may be the problem).

There's the rusty black-clad little old lady who goes to church more often than the local priest but who would think nothing of cutting you down in your prime with her walking stick to get that bargain in the 'laiki' (local market).
[Warning: Despite their frequently recited and lengthy lists of ailments, these old dears are made of stern stuff, having grown up amid the hardships of Greece in the early-to-mid 20th century. We baby-boomers are no match for them!]

There's the new generation of the 'Ekalia Mafia' in their designer clothes and big fat cars, who owe everything they take for granted to the very Greekness that they treat with utter disdain ('cos they're dead cosmopolitan, dontcha know?). They're the offspring of self-made Greek businessmen, that older generation who have literally dragged themselves out of poverty to build a rich comfortable life for their families. But the offspring weren't around to witness Dad climbing that slippery pole, spitting blood, dripping sweat and sometimes shedding ethics as he scrambled to the top - they just appeared in time to reap the benefits, attend the private school, drive the BMW/Merc/SUV and enjoy some 'trendy' hobby-career until they get bored with it.
These are ones who look at me in horror when I reveal that my son goes to a state school (Omigod!).

And of course there's always good old Mitso, the ubiquitous Athens cab driver I've mentioned here before. Often a retired mariner, Mitso has an opinion about everything and everyone, and he enjoys his God-given right to express it - loudly - amid a spray of coffee droplets, tyropita (cheese pie) crumbs and cigarette smoke as he drives you around the houses to your eventual destination.

There are many more Athens portraits I could paint - including my fellow ex-pats - and maybe one day I will.

But love 'em or hate 'em, they're all part of the rich tapestry that is Greece... ...and life would be just a little less interesting without them to gossip about behind our hands on the bus.

1 comment:

  1. I love your pen portraits: they conjured up such wonderfully vivid pictures. Such a terrific post: thank you.