Observations of Greece #1

As Vincent Vega, the murderous yet eloquent mobster from the film Pulp Fiction, so accurately said, the interesting thing about being overseas is the little differences.  So, in that spirit, here is the first in what I hope will be a series of observations of what itís like to live in Greece.

Grocery Shopping:  Sure, there are different brands, different prices, and just different things to buy, but the biggest difference is the shopping carts, for two reasons.  First, you have to pay to use them: there is a slot for a 100 drachma (about 30 cents) coin which you have to use to unlock the cart and take it around the store with you.  When you return it to the cart corral, you can use a ďkeyĒ from the next cart to unlock your 100 drachma coin.  All this is to discourage shoplifting of carts, of course.  The other interesting thing about the carts is that all four wheels steer independently.  You might not think this makes much of a difference, but try driving one around a corner for the first time.  The cart slides out like a rear wheel drive sedan on a frozen lake.  So, until you get a little used to it, you spend an extraordinary amount of energy trying to keep the cart from bumping into things; you have to get outside of the cartís path and walk sideways (as if you are leaning into a heavy cross wind) to keep it under control.  Therefore, itís extremely easy to tell the natives (or at least the people who have shopped in Greece for awhile) from the rest of us: the natives are the ones who arenít grimacing and sweating at each turn of the cart.

Other things of note:  your produce is weighted in the produce section, not at the checkout, a concept which was a little difficult to understand the first time we tried to check out and the salesperson was trying to use sign language to tell us to go back to produce and get the bananas weighed there.  You have never, in your life, seen so many olives or so many varieties of olive oil for sale in one place.  There donít seem to be such things a liquor stores, you just pick up whatever you like at the grocery store, or the bakery, orÖ practically anywhere imaginable.

Driving:  Itís a free-for-all out there on the streets, let me tell you.  You can pass anyone, anywhere, anytime Ė and the people coming the other way around a blind corner may well be doing the same thing.  Speed limits are not noticed, and every sign is merely a suggestion.  Stop signs donít seem to mean a thing Ė no one stops at them, anyhow.  Traffic into Athens is a nightmare, and even in the relatively remote suburb of Kifissia where we live itís a little nuts in the morning, at night, and anywhere near anything resembling lunch time.  And, if you want to park your car practically anywhere, youíd better know how to parallel park.  Iíd pretty much forgotten before arriving here, but Iím an expert now.  Of course, you can park on sidewalks and more or less into intersections, too Ė again, anything goes Ė except right turns on red.  Those are forbidden.  Of course, people still try them on occasion, but by and large these driving maniacs will sit patiently waiting for the light to change before turning right onto an empty street.  Well, itís a system of some sort, I guess, and it seems to work most of the time.

Eating out:  When does dinner time start for you?  Well, if you said anything before 9 pm, you have some adjustments to make when arriving in Greece.  Everyone eats late, stays up late, goes to work at 9 or so, goes home to take a little siesta, and then goes out to eat late again.  Angela and I are getting used to the early bird specials everywhere: we show up at a restaurant at 6 or 7 pm and have the place pretty much to ourselves.  This is good, because if you are at a restaurant which is crowded, the cigarette smoke is pretty overwhelming. 

This is all for now; look for more observations soon at an e-mail box near your.  Oh, and for you movie fans out there who may be wondering, you can indeed buy beer at McDonaldís and at a movie theatre, but the Quarter Pounder isnít the Royale with Cheese here Ė itís the McDeluxe.