Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Look Both Ways

I have had a driving license for a full three years now and done nothing with it until recently. First, there was the long process of getting my paperwork done to insure me onto a car. Then came the small matter of finding someone with the time to take me for a drive now and again. Despite many offers of help, these never materialised with any kind of regularity.

At the start of this year, we decided to buy a bashed up Fiat from Mr Zeus's pal Z2. It came with the added bonus of being ready dented from previous accidents, but despite that it was a nice little car and perfect for me to drive and park - park being the key word here as there is no parking space at all in Athens. Everyone owns about 20 cars and would park them one on top of the other if they could, not to mention the idiots who buy gigantic 4x4s to drive in the city. Seriously? Did you not look at how narrow Athenian roads are before you bought that vehicle with the sole purpose of advertising your social status to the neighbours? Never mind that you put yourself into debt to do it.

Anyway, one fine day I was sitting at home and thought "I have insurance. I have a license. I have a car. Just how frickin' terrible can it be?" And so I began driving on my own. I've been sticking to my own neighbourhood so far where I know the roads and roundabouts. This is good because my biggest problem with driving here, apart from having obtained a license to drive on the left, is the roundabouts. Athens is full of them and there is no hard and fast rule about how to navigate them. Each one is laid out unpredictably, like some sort of Russian Roulette of the Roads.

In the UK, you are taught to give right of way to anyone coming in from the right and once you're on the roundabout you don't stop unless you get into an accident because once you're on, right of way is all yours. In Greece, take your pick. You never know from one roundabout to the next who has right of way and who should have stopped, or if you should stop mid-flow as you very often see on roundabouts. The only way to approach them is to just do it and hope you don't kill or be killed.

So far though the driving has not turned out to be all too bad. It takes much more concentration since you cannot rely on anyone obeying Stop and No Entry signs, and you still check both ways even on a one way street because this is Greece baby! Going both ways was practically invented here ya get what I mean?

I actually prefer driving on my own. Z2 has so far been my most regular driving companion and as much as I appreciate his help, he has the unfortunate habit of getting terrified while I'm driving. He's not to blame. It stems from him taking out another friend the first day she got (or rather bought - you can do that here) her license and her promptly crashing the car. It took some convincing to get him to agree to take me driving in the first place.

Also, like most experienced drivers, he tends to underestimate my need for Instructions for Idiots 1o1, the result being me misunderstanding his directions and screams of terror emenating from his lungs.

By far the most useful driving skill which I have yet to master is the mind/horn connection. Whenever I witness bad driving, instead of my hand flying to the horn in outrage, I sit there looking horrified and think "But I had right of way there!" Thinking that and looking pissed is going to get you nowhere whereas a lightening fast reflex action will announce your disastisfaction.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Next Top Mollycoddle

Over the last couple of Next Top Model episodes, I've been scratching my head over 22 year old Jian Nan. It's become blindingly obvious that she is becoming increasingly isolated in the Top Model house and the rest of the girls don't really get along with her.

I feel two ways about this. On one hand I feel incredibly sorry for Jian Nan. When a few episodes back the girls played a prank on her by smothering her food in salt and pepper, my first thought was "Oh no. She's not going to react the way they think. She'll eat it." And she did, cutting later to her crying in the garden and later telling a friend on the phone that the girls were not being very nice. Personally, I don't think the prank was meant to be cruel. I think the girls expected her to react in a totally different way to what she did.
Sometimes the way she acts reminds me of myself when I was new in Greece and didn't really understand what was happening around me. It was over a year before I was able to work out if the girls in bellydance were teasing me or actually being mean but disguising it as teasing, or their sense of humour or way of thinking. But soon, with some effort on both parts, I was more easily able to navigate my new friendships.

But that was my first year in Greece. Jian Nan has been in Greece for 10 years, since she was 12 years old. Here is where I get confused. From her behaviour and her Greek, she gives the impression that she somehow managed to isolate herself completely from Greek society for the last 10 years. The easiest thing to do when you arrive in a new country is to seek out your own, but Jian Nan seems to have done so to such an extent that now when she finds herself in a house with only Greek women for company, she has no idea what to do with herself. It's as if she literally arrived yesterday.

I'm puzzled as to how she managed to do this. Did she never make any Greek friends? Didn't she go to school here? If so, how is her Greek still so poor? I don't say that to pass judgement. My point is children pick up languages much faster than adults. Jian Nan was 12 when she arrived in Greece. If she went through the school system here at that age her Greek and her mannerisms should be very different to what they are. If she didn't go through the school system here, how did that happen seeing as it's against the law not to send your child to school?

I feel sorry for her, but at the same time her strategy of trying to make friends by emphasising cultural differences rather than looking for common ground is backfiring miserably. Multiculturalism is wonderful, but you can't escape the fact that when you end up in a foreign country, in my opinion at least you are duty bound to try and integrate into your new society.

I don't think the girls in the house are particularly racist (except maybe for Nancy who I can not stand), but I also think they are not particularly interested in foreign cultures. They're becoming aware of Jian Nan's awkwardness around them and it's setting some of them on edge. As soon as Jian Nan seemingly steps out of line, tempers flare and the line between Us and Them becomes much more sharply drawn. I think this is more a case of a bunch of extremely insecure young women shoved into a house together and losing their shit over nothing, rather than racism. I get the impression that they're getting tired of trying to coax her out of her shell.

At judging last night Jian Nan ended up in the final two, and blamed her poor performance on her feelings of isolation in the house. She also slipped up during judging when the judges told her she was a babe (kouklitsa) and she said "Yes I know, I have a babe-tastic face." She probably meant to use the word koukla in its literal sense (doll) rather than its colloquial use as babe, thus meaning to say "I have a doll-like face". The girls in the back sniggered.

As for some well meaning but highly inappropriate cultural stereotyping, we can always turn to good old Harry Christopoulos who just can not seem to get past Jian Nan's cultural identity and simply see her as another contestant. Cringeworthy comments about China can always be guaranteed from his mouth, along with outrageous statements like "You are as sexy as an Asian woman can be." or with her terrified expression in this week's photo posing with two scorpions "But you eat those in China."

*Slaps forehead*

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not Cool :-(

Apart from being Spot Chris Kontentos day, today is Eid ul Adha, a really important Muslim festival. When I woke up, Mr Zeus wished me Happy Eid, which he has never done before. I asked him how he knew, and he said he was watching on TV how public squares in Athens had been turned into prayer grounds for Muslims to come and worship. Eid prayers are considered quite important and people try to dress their best in new clothes for them.

I was happy when I saw this. Now, I'm not particularly practising... okay make that pretty much not practising at all. But it was nice to see the authorities take such a step, and I'll tell you why. Having witnessed the mess caused in the UK by unregulated mosques and imams, I very strongly believe it's important for Athens to designate an official mosque in the capital, monitored by the Greek government to make sure that the imams who preach there are moderates. Because extremism has no place in a modern society. Muslims in Athens gather at unofficial mosques anyway, where who knows who is preaching who knows what.

Wouldn't it be in everyone's interest to have an official mosque in order to keep control of extremist points of view? I'm sure we can all agree that no one wants that in Athens, especially in the current climate when things are hard and migrants are feeling hard done by. This is ripe ground for extremists to sow their seeds of hate.

Anyway, my feelings of happiness have now turned into feelings of sadness. Because a few idiots gathered at the squares where prayers were held, taunted and jeered the worshippers, scattered pictures of pigs around them and threw eggs at them. I can't imagine how humiliating this must be.

Ok, locals got upset, but to attack someone while they are praying is pretty damn low. I don't really have much else to say about this, when judging by comments on news pages about this incident the common feeling seems to be "They asked for it! Greece for Greeks!"

Just a final point for those wondering, from the comments I read. Yes, in my small home town in the Home Country, there is an active church. One of my childhood highlights was being a bridesmaid at that church. So now you know.

Be Still My Beating Heart

Oh my God guys, the most amazing thing happened today! This morning I was meeting two friends for a coffee near Acropolis metro station before work. As we walked towards a cafe, a rather tall and pec-tacular man floated into my view, struttting up the cobbled street next to the metro. After a moment I then saw who he was with.

Dressed in model black, lithe limbed and flick haired, there he was. Christophoros Kontentos. Oh. My. God. Chris Kontentos was working that cobbled street like it was a runway. Mere feet away from me! In the flesh! Breathing the same air as us mere mortals!

How I wish I had witnessed this moment when he was still in possession of his flaxen mane. I was desperate to run up to him and start fawning about how much I love Next Top Model, but the truth is Chris Kontentos comes across a little bit mean. If I had gone up to him and he'd blanked me, I think I might very well have died of disappointment right on the spot.

I obviously watch way too much TV to say that this incident made my day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bolly Moves in Athens

In May of this year, I took part in a bellydance show. I've been dancing bellydance for the 4 years I've been in Greece. It was the first thing I did when I arrived here and it turned out to be a lifesaver for me. Through bellydance I made some really good friends and was able to create a routine of my own in those early days when I was still fully reliant on Mr Zeus for entertainment.

In our classes, we like to encourage dancing for the group. It builds confidence in the dancer and helps the rest of us be not quite so critical - everyone who feels like dancing is welcome to do so, and it's only then you realise the amount of nerves that come with performing, even for a group of familiar faces. You're not quite so quick to comment on what you thought was sloppy dancing once you've been on the other side!

The teacher asked me if I wanted to dance some Bollywood for the girls. So I did. Once a week for a couple of weeks I danced something for the girls and I'm happy to say they loved it. Eventually, news came round of a show and my teacher bullied the organisers to get me into the programme. This would be my first time dancing on stage alone, ever. I would be dancing a form of dance that is not very familiar to the audience, and I'd be doing it in costume and thus praying with all my might not to step on the edge of my sari and fall off stage. To say I was crapping myself is an understatement.

Show night came around and I was a complete bag of nerves. I kept cursing myself for agreeing to do this as I stood in the wings. My heart was pounding and my mouth was dry. Eventually, the moment came when I had to step out of the wings and onto the stage. And what a big and empty stage it felt like!

But once the music started, I was fine, and even managed to enjoy myself. I flew back into the wings on a cloud of adrenaline, wishing I could do it all over again. When the next number went on, I made my way to Mr Zeus in the audience and members of the audience started coming up to me, asking where I teach.

Now there was an opportunity I hadn't thought about! Sadly I didn't pursue it. Although from time to time I give a mini-class with my bellydance teacher's blessing during our regular classes, I realised quickly I didn't have the resources or the time necessary to teach on a regular basis. First off, I had no idea how to teach a form of dance I hadn't actually learnt, I had just picked up growing up with Bollywood movies. Moves I can pop out without a second thought become impossible for me when I try to break them down into teachable sections.

But I do have good news for anyone interested in learning Bollywood. On the same night as I performed, another wonderful dancer danced a Bollywood number. This October, she has started teaching and having attended her class, I can say it's totally worth it!

Check out the website of Oriental Expressions dance school. Bollywood dance lessons are every Monday from 7.30pm and cost EUR 15 per lesson. Enjoy!


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Why Did you Do It!!!!!!!!!!

With Greece in economic meltdown, we are a little sensitive here at the moment to change. The public gave a big two fingers up to all the political parties last Sunday with a unusually low voter turnout at the local elections ("What's the point? They're all the same.") and an unusually high level of deliberately spoilt ballots (decorated with drawings, hearts, stars or scribbles according to observers).

So everyone here is basically saying please just do something that doesn't suck so bad without having to change everything.

I was not ready, not at all ready then to be assaulted by Next Top Model judge Chris "The Hair" Kontentos's new look. It was alarming enough when he shaved off his beard. But then, I caught a glimpse of him on a chat show and was assaulted by this, his new look:





Why'd you do it Chris, why! Who will bring me my Monday night dose of bitchy follicular spectacularness now? What next? Vicky Kaya with a beefburger in one hand? Jenny Balatsinou saying something I don't immediately forget? Harry Christopolous being left alone with a naked Next Top Model and saying "Let's just play Scrabble."? I can't take all these changes right now!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Sitting at Home, Going Loca

Sorry muchachos for my lack of posting. The truth is I have had no life lately thanks to whole bunch of things, such as losing our dear Yiayia, coming down with a cold and therefore first not wanting to leave the house and then not being able to. I am still trying though to save this blog from a slow death.

So I've been stuck indoors without the release of my usual twice weekly session of bellydance to keep me sane. All I do is work and watch TV, the quality of which has deteriorated significantly this year.

When I first came to Greece I only watched MAD music channel and CNN since I couldn't understand anything else. And a hell of a lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. If I thought things were bad then, they're even worse now, because Greek TV in the last few years has discovered the fast food equivalent of TV programming- reality TV.

Thus our schedules are filled with Kati Psinete, Top Chef, Masterchef (someone gets an idea and everyone runs to copy it)Big Brother which I hate and Next Top Model which I LOVE and a host of other satellite programmes much too stupid to mention. And the worst part is, you'll usually find me on weekday evenings parked infront of the TV in my pyjamas, watching some reality programme or the other and making snide remarks.

Of all of those shows, perhaps the only useful ones are Masterchef and Top Chef. You could actually learn something that you could apply to your everyday life, such as a new recipe or a new way of using an ingredient. Because let's face it. The chances of me standing in the kitchen wondering what to cook are significantly higher than Vicky Kaya popping up and asking me to do a pose that's not so commercial but more boutique.

On a total tangent, Shakira has released a new video. When I first saw it, my immediate reaction was: Where did she go??? Girl has lost some serious weight which is such a shame because seeing her super fit but still juicy figure was a delight in a sea of stick insects. Disappointed. Hope she puts the weight back on because this new skinny look doesn't suit her at all!

Have a good weekend y'all!