Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Translate. What's the Worst That Could Happen?

I'm terrible at maths. If anyone says "My brain is stuck, what's so and so minus 12?" I feel my stomach hit the floor and my brain turn to mush as I struggle to find a way to escape the trap without looking as stupid as maths makes me feel. I'm told this might be a Pavlovian response to my maths teachers of youth whose technique involved drilling times tables into our heads and stalking the classroom with a ruler to crack across your palm when you got it wrong. Being bad at math meant you were automatically stupid, and no matter how hard I tried, the moment I saw the numbers on a test paper, I flew into a panic and the numbers began to swim infront of my eyes.

It still happens. That horrified feeling of realising you don't know what the hell it is the symbols mean, though some part of you knows that if only you could calm yourself down, you might be able to make some sense of the puzzle before you.

I had that same horrified feeling this morning when I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs downtown in Athens to get my birth certficate translated. To get to this stage, I had to shell out EUR 80 for an express copy of a new birth certificate in the UK, delivered to my parents' house, and then my mum had to go to Milton Keynes for the Apostille stamp [add another EUR 35] and post it back to me Special Delivery which took nearly 10 days to arrive because of the Easter post backlog.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a really depressing place, a shabby building screaming out for a new coat of paint and a something to get rid of the Screw You Foreigners atmosphere of the place. I feel sorry for anyone who has to go there, I even feel sorry for myself. We foreigners milled around outside like lost cattle till the gates opened before 9 am. This was my first time dealing all alone with a Greek institution and I was really nervous. I felt like I was groping about in the dark as I followed the crowd through the gates and made my way to the 2nd floor.

When I got to the office that deals with Greek and English translations, I discovered that all the tables on the walls, on the booths and anything helpful or otherwise instructional was in Greek. And official, technical Greek. So there I was without my dictionary, staring around wild-eyed and panic-stricken, knowing if I could just calm down I might be able to understand the tables. It's just that I was so wrong-footed at finding everything in Greek that my mind went blank.

You see, here's my really radical line of thought and what I expected to find: the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that deals with, you know, foreigners, would surely have instructions in one or two languages other than Greek. But obviously that's way too crazy a thought for even the Ministry's employees to attempt. Make life a little easier for foreigners in Greece? Are you joking?? It's that kind of crazy thinking that leads to COMMUNISM, Missy!

Eventually after several moments of panic, I worked out what I had to do by following the crowd. I filled in a short form which, mercy me, had instructions in English too, and handed it over with the other papers and EUR 12 for an express translation which will take one week. Express? Oh well. Handing over my papers, the money and getting a receipt took mere seconds, but those moments of cluelessness that preceded have no doubt added some more hairs to my grey streak.

Now I can see the benefit of forcing people to do things in the native language. I've met people in the UK with so little English, and some who have been in the UK 25+ years and can speak not a word of English, because the system makes it too easy to get away with. This hinders integration.

But guys, really. I'm trying to integrate. I live here, I spend my worthless GBPs converted to Euros here, I'm getting married (if you'll let me) and maybe I'll be having little Greek babies too. I don't even hang out with expats, that's how hard I'm trying to integrate. You don't have to be so scared of me not learning Greek so as not to translate anything!

Looking on the bright side, if nothing else I am learning new words throughout this ordeal of paperwork. My latest acquisition is sfragida, the Greek for stamp, a word which I always get stuck prononoucing - sffff sffffff. This was learnt when describing my Apostille stamp nightmare to a family friend we had gone to visit, and it turns out she was having the same problem trying to process her British-born grandaughter's birth certificate in Athens. And wasn't I delighted to be in a position to advise a Greek on how to extract ones self from red tape!

Image: http://www.engrish.com//wp-content/uploads/2008/08/if-you-are-stolen.jpg

Friday, April 24, 2009

BB Goes to Mykonos

I did something I've never done over Orthodox Easter and went to Mykonos. Mykonos is Greece's number one party island, especially famous with celebs and the gay community.

We took advantage of a special offer on at a hotel that normally costs stupid amounts of money, which we shared with a very noisy Spanish family and a couple of football players. And an extremely, extremely friendly receptionist who practically ripped off her clothes and did a naked dance on the main desk in her shameless pursuit of Mr Zeus.

"Mr Zeuuus" she cooed one afternoon after we'd returned from lunch for a nap, "how aaaare you?" *makes goo goo eyes, makes goo goo eye*

"I'm doing fine Kyria Whatever (Kyria in Greece is the equivalent of Ms or Mrs, and used regardless of a woman's marital status)"

"Oh chortle chortle! Not Kyria Whatever, DESPINIS Whatever (Despinis is the equivalent of Miss, used not that often but to imply a young, unmarried girl)"

Next, she probably dropped her pen down her cleavage and asked him to retrieve it "because I just painted my nails" for all I know, since I decided I'd had enough disrespect for an afternoon and went to wait outside our room while two little Spanish girls played with a stray cat that looked all partyed out.

That's the telling thing about Mykonos and how it must be in the summer. Even the cats on the island look coked out of their brains. They have these pathetic little scratchy voices like they spent all night smoking and shouting "Yeah DJ! Louder! Louder! Come on cats, hands in the air and SCREEEAAAAMMM!"

At this time of year, Mykonos is still just about okay to visit and have a relaxing time. But if, like me, you tend to have Ugly Days, it's not the most fun place. The light in Mykonos is so white it highlights flaws on your face you weren't even aware of so that even if you think you're okay looking, a day in Mykonos makes you throw up your hands and scream "Oh God! I'm... Quazimodo!"

The island is crawling with beautiful people who don't smile and all look like they were made at the same factory. Yeah okay, I know the beautiful people are what Mykonos is all about, but for all their good looks none of them looked like they were having much fun. We went to the famous Caprice bar which was lovely, but not much partying was going on in there.

So we went to Mykonos Bar which drew us in with the one and only decent song they played for the next hour and a half, by which time we'd ordered drinks and it was too late to make a quick exit. Finally when we couldn't take any more remixed Greek ballads, we went hunting for something else and we did find one really small bar, the name of which escapes me, where we had a great time.

A bunch of drunk Greeks took a photo with me as I was making my way back from the ladies room, so if you woke up with a picture of you and a dark-skinned girl in a white dress with glasses and you have no idea who she is or why she's in your picture, that's me.

The hotels' pool was filled with sea water. The sea around Mykonos is chilly even in the summer but it was positively asset-freezing this time of year. Still, having dreamt all winter about swimming, I couldn't wait any longer so while Mr Zeus dipped his toes in, I dipped myself in.
Bonus points for me since I was so terrified of the sea four years ago I would blanch if I went any deeper than my waist. I couldn't even swim back then, and I'm not too great at it now either since my muscles have turned to custard sitting all day infront of this computer. But I did enjoy myself more than ever before.

On that note, winter seems to have lasted forever. It's still not hot. It's starting to feel like summer will never come. My life in Greece is the summer, and then the bits where I'm waiting for summer to happen.

Image: http://www.mikatravel.com/front/files/travels/TVL6813FM54YF263/img/mykonos2.jpeg

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If You're Happy And You Know It

I was puzzled this morning to see a news report about new child wellbeing statistics for Europe by the Child Poverty Action Group which placed Greece at number 24 out of 29 countries, just above the United Kingdom at number 25.

The usual countries like Sweden, Finland etc were near the top and the Netherlands came out at number one.

How could this be? Can Greece really be only just about marginally better to raise a child in than the UK? I'm not a parent so I'm not exposed to a child's view of life in Greece. Let's take the points one by one:

Greece: Overall rank 24 our of 29

Health: 29 out of 29

This could be true. A public health system does exist in Greece, theoretically for free, but like with all other things, nothing gets done without bribes being exchanged. Practically everyone has health insurance for private hospitals as most Greeks will snootily tell you that government hospitals are only for gypsies.

However, if you turn up at a hospital needing urgent treatment, you will not be turned away for lack of hard cash or insurance to cover you. You will get treated.

The Greeks also have some of the worst teeth I've ever seen which is saying something after life in the Home Country. I don't really understand that, since the diet is quite healthy in my observation, yet if you stood on the street and did a random count, you'd be left thinking most people in Greece really can not afford a dentist. Or a toothbrush. But do Greek kids have the worst teeth and health in Europe??? I doubt it.

Subjective Wellbeing: 3 out of 29

Now this is telling, because this measures what the kids surveyed actually thought their own lives were like, and they seem to think their lives are pretty good. Either they're seriously delusional (along with me who thinks Greece would be a super place for kids) or their actually lives and their lives as on papers and statistics are quite different.

Children's Relationships: 23 out of 29

This measured how well children were able to talk to and get along with their peers and adults. Confusing, once more. On one hand, the Greek approach to parenting is like the Greek approach to any other problem: either bribe away the problem or scream away the problem. If you've ever been to Jumbo you'll see this gloriously illustrated.

On the other hand, children in Greece are the absolute centre of everyone's universe. They are adored and longed for and their futures dreamt about by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc long before they're even in existence.

When I take my replacement-for-a-child doggy out for walks, I very often see grandparents out with strollers talking to their teeny tiny charges, describing everything they can see to infants often just a few months old. I'd say that's some pretty solid bond forming. So I don't know what to think of that one except to say maybe kids in Greece don't get along that well with other kids in Greece.

Material Resources :19 out of 29

Indicated by income, access to material goods and parental unemployment. Could be true. Mr Zues and I pay more in utility bills per quarter for our tiny flat than my parents do in the UK per year for a whole house, and we don't even have children. God only knows how parents get along in Greece with the cost of day to day living being so high. Food, clothes and day to day living costs a lot in Greece, and that's for a moderate lifestyle.

Greece also has a high rate of female parent unemployment. But then have you ever been to visit a Greek baby at home? They live in permanent danger of being squashed to death by the mountains of toys that are lavished upon them. Either this is an extreme exception, or Greek kids like all kids everywhere are greedy brats who watch those flashy toy adverts and always want more, more, MORE!!!!

Behaviour and Risk 22 out of 29:

I'm someone who spent much of my early years in the Home Country doing the following:

  1. Gallantly fulfilling dares to stick my little fingers into those perfectly child-finger sized electricity sockets,

  2. Eating the lead out of pencils (it was a craze in my class)

  3. Faking illnesses to win contests for who could pop the most pills at the school nurse's office

  4. Setting everything and anything on fire while my parents slept

  5. Finding snakes under pulled up rugs

  6. Throwing screaming tantrums in the bazaar because Mum wouldn't buy me whatever junk it was I simply had to have

  7. Sucking on sample tablets from my Dad's clinic until the sugar coating wore off

  8. Drinking and passing out on an entire bottle of cough syrup because I liked the taste

  9. Fishing for used syringes in Dad's clinic dustbin to inject my sick baby dolls with and

  10. Whiling away many an afternoon with my sisters strapping a blood pressure monitor armband around my neck and pumping it up until I could see stars. For those who don't know, that armband is supposed to go around your arm where it is pumped until the blood supply is temporarily cut off.

So who am I to say anything about a bit of bad behaviour and the stupid things that children do. Rather that than a sterile childhood, I say!

Education: 21 out of 29

I agree with this one. Kids in Greece face a really tough educational system in schools that are so run down they make even me feel appalled. The teachers are poorly paid and unmotivated and the children are kept on a constant treadmill of homework and tests that are so advanced for their age I really feel sorry for them.

Because this is the system I went through myself in the Home Country, and all it did was make me feel like an idiot through my entire school life until we came to the UK, where suddenly my teachers thought I was a genius because I was at a level at least four years ahead of the curriculum in the UK.

I feel bad for the kids in this system in Greece, because some of them will be like me and won't be able to keep up, and they will spend all their school lives thinking they're stupid or slow or can't work hard enough as a result.

Housing and Environment: 14 out of 29

Not the worst, but not good either. I can't speak for the rest of Greece by in Athens children grow up in tiny flats, sometimes without their own bedrooms (using the sitting room to sleep) and play on tarmac streets because there is a severe lack of both footpaths and green spaces in Athens.

So that's what the survery had to say and while some of it was true, I would still question Greece's ranking so low in the index. On paper it may look like children in Greece get a raw deal, but in practice, in terms of what I see around me, things are not so gloomy. Let's consider this for a second: the way children are raised in Greece has had some impact on lessening the effects of the credit crunch in Greece.

For a start, most parents try to provide their children with a flat of their own when they grow up. Secondly, a great family safety net exists here which means that it would be almost unheard of for someone to get their house repossessed because of falling back on mortgage payments. Your family would simply never allow that to happen and would pitch in to keep you from sinking.

Surveys can tell you a lot and they can also tell you nothing at all. Ask the right questions and you could come up with a different answer every time. I for one don't believe that Greece is such a rotten place for a child to grow up. If this survey were true, why would North Europe's happy and delighted children grow up to kill themselves and their peers in such great numbers?

Image: http://blog.syracuse.com/family/2008/02/tantrum.jpg

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dream a Little Dream

Watch this and if you can tell me your heart didn't melt at 1:56, it must be made of stone!!!

Just goes to show how much we judge people on their looks every day, and how wrong we can be.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

When Models Eat

It amused me no end to hear a rumour that Kate Moss is going to write a Kosher cookbook. Kate Moss, as in supermodel Kate Moss, as in that's-not-icing-sugar-on-her-donut Kate Moss? Bahahahaha!!! A supermodel.... that ... eats food .... ha ha ha... please I can't laugh any more, my face hurts.

So what exactly might Kate's book read like, I tried to imagine?

Coking Cooking with Kate: A Culinary Journey

Hi! I'm Kate Moss. You're probably thinking "Do models even eat?" but rest assured, within the folds of this book lie threes of delicious recipes from over the years. Some conjure up warm childhood memories, while others were gathered through my extensive travelling as a model. Though it may surprise you, I adore food. I believe in simple food that excites your drugged out brain and leaves you wanting more.

Boiled Pea
Difficulty Level: Easy
Preparation time: 15 minutes
A filling meal and cheap too in these credit crunch times.

One organic Pea

Solid Gold Saucepan
Evian Water

Take organic pea and gently rinse with Evian water. I believe in organic farming, but who am I to preach! Place golden saucepan on the hob and fill with Evian water. Bring to a boil. Add pea. Salt if it's really necessary, but don't forget that that's extra calories. Boil for 5 minutes, drain and serve on diamond studded dinner plates. Your delicious plate of pea is ready for you to tuck in to.

Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Preparation time: 10 minutes

Ah spaghetti! My childhood favourite and still that humble staple that I tuck into with gusto when I feel particularly piggy.

Three strands of organic spaghetti
One organic cherry tomato (naughty!)
One basil leaf

Solid Gold Saucepan
Evian Water

Bring your golden saucepan of Evian water to the boil and add three strands of spaghetti. Boil until ready. I like mine el dente, because the extra chewiness means I probably burn a few more calories here and there. Drain and pile onto a large platinum plate. Slice tomato and basil leaf and garnish spaghetti strands. Phew, all that lifting pans and chopping tomatoes is exhausting when you're always on the brink of starvation. Enjoy the delicious rewards of your hard work to their fullest! Mmmmm.

Difficulty Level: Difficult

Now I know what you're thinking - models and icecream?! Yes, it is true that models are forbidden by law to consume icecream, but that's why I invented this delicious alternative.

500 gms of cocaine
Evian water
Sweet thoughts

Place cocaine into a bowl, preferably the hollowed out skull of a rival model. Add enough Evian to make a creamy paste. Stand over bowl thinking the sweetest thoughts you can, like that time you told the behind the scenes fashion show girl that she was an ugly freak but not a hideously ugly freak, though she was. Anyone other than models are a less human race, which is another sweet thought.

Freeze. Stir now and again to break up the ice crystals, but take care that your twig-like arms don't snap off in the process. Serve up a big bowl and consume while taking a champagne bath.

Author's note: This book may seem a bit thin content wise, but it can be put to further good use if you don't have the time or the inclination to eat. Or if you are a model in which case you just don't eat at all. In a pinch, sprinkle the pages of this book liberally with cocaine or any other Class A drugs you have lying around and consume. A great way to beat those hunger pangs before a fashion show!*

*Not even joking here. A friend of yours truly has observed models behind the scenes at fashion shows eating tissue paper to keep away hunger pangs. Ever heard of cucumbers or celery, ladies?

Blue Screen Thinking

Today's post was going to be a pleasant ramble about how I should stop being so ungrateful about all the marriage paperwork. After all, there are people in the world who would do this much paperwork and ten times more for the privilege of marriage that we take for granted, but can't because they are a different religion or the same sex or not what was chosen for them.

But that's before Round 2 of the paperwork started. One fine day after my dad had couriered my birth certificate to me in Athens, I began making enquiries about getting it translated into Greek. I thought I'd get this out of the way while the 22 days the British Embassy wants to issue your No Impediment certificate pass.

A translated birth certificate is a necessary step in order to process your application for marriage. I checked with my other foreign and much smarter than me friend about what the translation office was like to deal with. And she asked if I had got the Apostille stamp for the birth certificate.

The what now? I rechecked all the papers. The Greek papers said all foreign birth certificates had to be legalised with an Apostille stamp and that most embassies would do this. But not the British Embassy. The only way I could get this done was through a government office in Milton Keynes. Doing it by post would take another three weeks on top of the three weeks I was already waiting for my I'm Not A Bigamist certificate from the embassy

So I altered my Easter plans and scheduled some days in London to fit in a visit to the Legalisation Office. I'd done all my checks online beforehand and felt satisfied at my own efficiency at solving the problem. When I boarded the train bright and early this morning, merry thoughts ran through my head. Soon I'd have my legalised papers and within a week we would finally have a date. Our wedding announcement had already gone to print with mine and my parents' names amusingly translated into Greek. Anxious friends would be able to book their tickets at last.

When I got to the Legalisation Office I was 15 minutes early and joined a weary looking queue outside the offices. Those mean government workers wouldn't even let us into the warmth until it was EXACTLY 9.30. I had not even had a morning cup of tea, but oh well. We were let in, issued numbers and then waited for one of the only two operating counters to free up as the numbers of hapless waiters grew and grew.

Finally it was my turn. And do you know what happened? After taking a morning train, trekking around in the cold, waiting 15 minutes in the wind and another 15 minutes while the employees finished a 'work meeting', I was out of that office in under one minute. Not because the employees are mega efficient, but because my birth certificate is laminated.

I'm surely not the only person in the country with a laminated birth certificate. Couldn't they write me a letter or something with the Apostille stamp and staple it to this? No. What about peeling off a corner of laminate and stamping it there? No. What about stamping the laminate and quickly putting some tape over it? No. Is there absolutely positively nothing you can do? No. But it's the only copy I have. Well then apply for another one. It'll only take till your first child is born.

These freaks have written an entire section on their website called Avoiding Delays where it says jack all about laminated paperwork. How long would it take someone to write "If your documents are laminated, roll them up and stick them up your backside but don't bring them here"

I should have guessed what a bunch of miserable and inflexible morons they'd be when their website declared warningly NOT to bring children and babies along when processing papers. Such items would have to be left at the desk on arrival. It didn't say that but it might as well have. Any office that bans children is out to facilitate the downfall of humanity.

I bet in their little morning meeting they pick numbers out of a bag and declare that Today's Number to Shaft is numbeeeer eeeeeiiiiggght! That was my number.

So I called Mr Zeus in tears of frustration at having come all the way to somewhere as unglamorous as Milton Keynes, paid money and missed half a day's work for nothing. He suggested checking if the British Embassy in Athens would issue me a new birth certificate. Which is what I did, and basically they told me to go get screwed since I hadn't been born in Greece.

Abandoned by my own embassy. I thought embassies existed overseas to make the lives of their countryfolk easier.

Well muchachos, you can forget me registering any of my future children with YOU. If one of them gets stranded somewhere godforsaken and I call for help, you'll probably send me a leaflet on conception so I can make a new one. You know, for all the talk of Greek bureaucracy, so far it's been dealing with the British side of things that has been a complete nightmare. It's the inflexibility of thinking that gets to me. In Greece, a few contacts and some silvered palms and you're on your way again. In the UK, if Computer Says No, Computer Says No, and not even God can change that.

So here I am, stuck without a legalised birth certificate with hardly any idea what to do next. In my fury I told Mr Zeus that I'd take my unstamped birth certificate to the translation office and just bribe the person on duty to translate it anyway. But I doubt that would work.

My checklist for you if you're a foreigner in Greece wanting to get married is this:

1) Don't do it
2) If you insist on doing it, don't be British

Image: http://hotcrumbsoflove.com/blog1/wp-content/uploads/Frustration_Relief.gif