Lately it's all been doom and gloom for me, but this weekend things started to look up again. On Saturday, Athens experienced a beautiful Greek spring day with a gently warm breeze and hot sunshine. Waking up to such a lovely day and feeling optimistic, I decided to go out and about and do the day's shopping all by myself. Since the incident with the rude girl in the ticket booth, my confidence for talking to Greeks plummeted, so I thought what better way to get back on track than the hubub of the weekly vegetable market, called the laiki.
Local weekend markets are still big business in Greece, despite breakfast news regularly featuring irate yiayias complaining about the crazy price rises. "Carrots were only 50 cents last week and now they're 70!!" sort of thing. It's a good place for ladies to get together and gossip while they do the weekly shop. It's also a pretty safe place to practice your Greek as farmers are eager to shift their goods and are very unlikely to be rude to you, unless you're rude to them first. Pave your way with lots of good mornings and how are yous.
Now, for most city slickers, markets are an alien concept. They're just too used to turning up in a supermarket and tossing lots of uniform, shrink wrapped produce into their baskets. I remember a friend in the UK who couldn't understand what I was up to when I went through the melons in Tesco trying to sniff out which one smelt sweet. So if market shopping is still a bit tricky for you, here is my fool-proof method for picking up the best of the best: Watch where all the little old ladies go.
Trust me, it never fails. When faced with seven different stalls selling tomatoes, I always head for the one where lots of little old ladies are mingling. On Saturday I overestimated my own skills and decided to buy tomatoes from a stall sans little ladies. They turned out to be bland and boring, and I went back for round two, this time sticking to the little ladies. Try it, works every time!
Apart from the laiki, I also went to the bakery. I somehow managed to lose our regular bakery, missed it by one street, and was finally able to use my classic phrase from the original Greek classes I took in London: Is there a bakery nearby? The answer to that in Greece will always be yes.
So Saturday was very productive. I received warmth and friendly curiosity from everyone I spoke to, from the girl in the bakery who told me the name of the bread I was pointing at in an exaggerated manner "xoriatiko", to the lady in the cleaning shop who helped me pick an unbranded but very effective washing powder.