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Our Move to Greece

It’s All Greek to Me

It’s hard to believe that we have been here for only 6 weeks. I feel like I have been here much longer and it’s only because we have been non-stop with figuring all sorts of things out.

Everything is new. Everything is different. I said it before I even left South Africa… I knew it was going to be difficult at times, but “knowing” it and living it, are two different things.

Social media is truly the highlights reel, and Greece is a complete show-off when it comes to being photographed. It’s hard to take an “ugly” photo of Greece, because it really is like a movie set. That being said, I’m not photographing the hard parts/boring parts. So, while it might “look” like we are on a permanent vacation… there’s lots you don’t see.

With everything being different AND with there being a different alphabet, there was bound to be some funny stories. Let me share some of them.

Toilet Paper:

What I’m about to tell you is going to surprise you. In Greece, you don’t flush toilet paper.

I’ll give you a minute.

Yip. You don’t flush toilet paper and there’s a simple explanation. Greek sewerage pipes are too narrow and toilet paper will get clogged. So I know what you’re thinking… What do you do with your toilet paper? There are small tightly sealed bins in each bathroom. You wipe and throw away.

Surprisingly there is never an odour and you change the bins daily (twice daily) and you’re done. Of course, toilets can handle it if you forget once or twice, like me in the beginning, but too many times and you’ll have a plumbing issue.

George amazed me… I told him about it once, when I came to wipe his little bum and after that he would say to me: “Mommy, don’t forget to put the toilet paper in the bin.” He reminded me often and got it straight away!

Some areas have modern plumbing and flushing toilet paper is no issue, but in general you’ll be wiping and binning. There will be signs in the bathrooms if you need to bin it, so when you travel to Greece, be mindful to look out for that.

Funny enough, it’s amazing how quickly one can adapt and it took a few mistakes before it became second nature and I didn’t give it another thought. We have now moved into an apartment in Glyfada and we can flush the paper (guys, it’s a luxury hahaha), and I’m now conscious when we go out to restaurants / friends and families homes to check whether I should flush or bin.

Walking with Toddlers:

We haven’t got a car yet, and we haven’t needed one yet… the public transport is excellent, efficient and clean and between buses, the metro trains, the underground trains and taxi’s, we’ve been good – it’s been fun and all part of the experience. We are walking a lot, and I’m doubling; on some days tripling my step count that I was doing in Cape Town.

George has been an absolute champion at walking, but he is still little himself at nearly 4 years old and by the end of an outing, he’s tired and one of us is carrying him. I started looking into some options. I first looked at a double stroller, but while some pavements are wide enough, in general they aren’t. So a side by side stroller was out. The double stroller (one in front of the other) was our next option, until it wasn’t an option when George’s legs were too long. We finally found the Buggy Board which attaches to almost every stroller. What a win! He can stand or sit and it’s been a game changer for us.

The other side of the road:

I am not being dramatic when I say I have come very close several times (at least 5 times that instantly come to mind) when I have almost become roadkill. Greece drives on the other side of the road to South Africa.

When having to cross the road, I often look the wrong way first, or not realise that it’s the side of the oncoming traffic and step too close to the road, from the pavement, nearly being taken out by a side mirror, or worse. My friend Dani, actually put her arm out across me to stop me from being hit by a car. I still can’t get used to it.

One other moment, which I actually caught on my Instastories. I was walking with Alexi in the pram, and we were going out by ourselves for the first time. It was a big deal for me, because it meant not having my trusted translator, my husband Sox, with me and I was nervous (and exhilarated.) There I am pushing the pram, in what I think will be the oncoming traffic lane (so I can see cars coming.) Nope… I’m in the wrong lane and the next thing this car comes racing up behind me and I got such a fright. I had to push Alexi onto the cracked pavement and wipe away the sweat.

I’ve never driven the other side and I know that day is coming. I am super nervous for it. When I go to get into a car, I walk around to the drivers side (passenger side in SA) and then have to walk around again to get into the passenger side (drivers side in SA.) Kosta (Dani’s husband) had me in stitches when he told me that he still struggles to get used to the other side, and driving a manual is really something to get your head around, because now you have to change gears with your right hand, not your left. He said, the number of times he’s smacked his left hand into the door out of pure autopilot. Gosh we laughed! Note to self: It’s best to drive an automatic if you’re going to attempt driving here. No one (aka me) needs that added pressure of gears.

A complaint:

We have had some funny things happen and this is one that comes to mind. When we first arrived in Athens, we moved into an Air Bnb in Marousi. It’s a lovely area, but sadly the Air Bnb was not great. I shared some things in this post: Read Here, like bruises on my thighs from the horrendous bed’s bedsprings and the trickle of water out of the shower head, that made washing shampoo and conditioner out of my thick hair an absolute treat. In our month in the Air Bnb, we got a complaint. A noise complaint? No. A washing complaint? Yes.

The owner told us that they had received a call from a neighbour in the opposite apartment (not even in the same apartment block) about our washing. They were “concerned” that we weren’t doing a full load of washing, since they could only see a few things at a time on the washing line.

Stunned.

I mean!! Imagine that being your complaint. Imagine that being your big concern, that it concerned you enough to contact the owner. Imagine.

We had to explain, that there were 2 balconies with wash lines, so sometimes if the one wash line was full, we’d spill over onto the next wash line, which might not fill up. We also didn’t wait for everything to be dry, so if we saw some things dry, we’d take them done to be folded/ironed and leave whatever was still damp to dry. The fact that we had to explain our washing procedure was just absolutely amusing.

Lost in Translation: Gel Manicure

I only had to learn this once to now understand, but my goodness it was really funny (not so funny) at the time. In South Africa I have a gel manicure (usually gellish) and a normal polish pedicure. In order to have a new manicure, you need to soak off the gel, right? So when I was calling nail salons I was asking for a price on a soak off and gel manicure. They understood gel, but didn’t understand a soak off. I was perplexed as to how they remove it then.

Sofi, my sister in law, has a wonderful woman, Maria who comes to the house and does a manicure/pedicure. What a pleasure. I told Sofi that I have gel and she told me that Maria could do Shellac, but that I’d have to go to another salon to remove the gel. Again, I was perplexed. How could Maria do Shellac on her clients, but then not be able to remove it?

Anyway, I did what I was told and booked a “removal” at a salon down the road.

WELL. It was traumatic.

After explaining as best as I could to the salon staff and using lots of hand gestures and Google Translate, I was sitting in the chair and waiting for them to bring the tin foil, cotton wool and acetone. Instead, this woman came with what could only be described as a dentist drill torture device. It definitely has the same sound. She pressed the ON button and started scraping away at my nails, which really hurt. It was when she kept catching the skin on either side of the nail, that I would have an instant reflex of a burning pain and immediately pull my hand back. Of course, this made her nervous and she became shaky as she went onto the next nail and I sat grimacing, waiting for the pain. It was like I was her first client and she was practising on me. I literally counted down how many fingers left to go and it was awful. I then got a manicure of pushing back and cutting the cuticles, because they just could not understand that I only wanted a removal. She pushed/ dug and cut my cuticles so badly, that my fingers were throbbing. 80% of my fingers we bleeding. I only had 2 fingers that weren’t. Torture.

When Maria arrived later that afternoon to apply the Shellac, it was then that “lost in translation” became apparent.

In Greece, Gel and Shellac are different. Shellac is like our Gellish. Gel, is like an acrylic – it’s much thicker and harder, which is why you need that torture device. Some salons still use that device to remove Shellac, because it is much quicker than waiting for a soak off, but when I explained that I had had a type of Shellac on my hands, Maria said: “Oooh, I could have soaked that off for you with acetone.”

So now I know if you want a gel manicure, as we know it in SA, you need to ask for Shellac. Lesson learned, once only and painfully.

PS. My fingers were so sore for days afterwards, that I had to use gloves in the bath to wash the boys, because the water stung them so badly.

Aren’t the brown tiles gorgeous? 😉

Shopping:

Where do I start? Everything here is so different. Firstly, when we arrived in Greece, they had been in a version of our Level 5/Level 4 lockdown. No restaurants were open and whilst we were in quarantine, shops opened up but only by appointment.

Before you leave the house, you have to send a free SMS with your name, your address and a number that indicates what you want to do.

  1. Movement to the pharmacy or visiting a doctor or to donate blood, in the case that this is recommended after a previous communication.
  2. Movement to an in-service supply store of basic goods (supermarket, mini-market), where they cannot be sent out.
  3. Movement to a public service or bank, insofar as electronic transaction is not possible.
  4. Movement to help people in need or escort minors to/from school.
  5. Movement to a funeral ceremony under the conditions laid down by law or movement of divorced or separated parents necessary to ensure communication between parents and children, in accordance with the provisions in force.
  6. Physical exercise outdoors or movement with a pet, individually or per three persons, in the latter case having regard to the necessary distance of 1.5 m.

So for example all I’d send: 2. Bailey Georgiades. Our address.
I then receive an SMS to say that I can go out.

Supermarkets allow you to just walk in, but any other store means you have to phone ahead and make a 30 minute / 1 hour (depending on the stores policy) appointment. The shop sends you an SMS and when you arrive, you have to show your SMS before you are allowed entry.

I took for granted walking through the Waterfront, for example and popping into H&M or Country Road or whichever store you wanted. Nope. It really was quite something to get used to and quite frustrating.

My girl friends and I waiting for our SMS before we can enter
The Emou Street is considered to be the main shopping street in central Athens.
You call the number and make an appointment
Waiting for the SMS
The Mall of Athens FINALLY opened. These poor retailers
Inside a pretty empty Mall

Seeing all these stores and not being able to just go in was annoying, but probably better for my bank balance.

Another option was Click Away, where you tell the store what you would like, they shop it for you and you collect it. Unless you know what’s in store (unlike me, since I’m new to the country and have no idea what’s on offer at these various stores), it’s almost impossible to do this.

The good news is that on the 14th May, all shops open up and you won’t need to make appointments anymore and that’s going to be a game changer.

Self check out

Speaking of shopping, remember that big day that I ventured out on my own, without Sox (my translator) and nearly got Alexi and I squashed by a car? Well, I was going to the supermarket on.my.own.

I spent 15 minutes on Google Translate trying to figure out what the different cold meats were. It’s one thing to use Google Translate, and I’m grateful its an option, but it’s not that simple. I want to share the procedure. Firstly I had to install the Greek Alphabet as a keyboard option. I then have to toggle between the two. I then have to find the letters, put them together and get the word and then the English translation. Tedious yes, but its a great way to learn. A lot of people told me about the photo translator, which is really handy, but let me tell you, you learn far more when you have to type it out yourself.

Admittedly there are days when it’s funny and I can have a good laugh about it, and then there are hard days when it’s frustrating and time consuming and toggling between keyboards and trying to find the word for “ham” makes you want to actually find the words for “dry wine.” I’ve gulped back tears in a supermarket because of frustration and just feeling completely helpless.

For baking, I had to look up the various flours until I found what I needed:

On this big outing to the supermarket, I had all my items in a basket and Alexi in the pram and stood in the queue to pay. One of the staff came to me and said: “Karta?” (“Card?”), so I assumed she meant, will I be paying with my card? I replied, proudly in Greek: Nai (You pronounce it: Ne – Yes.) She then ushers me out of the queue and straight to the Self Check Out counter. I just looked at it, looked at her and felt the blood rush to my cheeks. I had no idea how to do this. When I didn’t move forward, this woman looked at me like: What’s wrong with this grown woman? Why doesn’t she know how to use a self check out counter?
I walked up to the touch screen, desperately looking for a button that could change the language to English (there wasn’t one) and it must have been when I still wasn’t doing anything and just staring at the screen, that she came forward. She showed me how to scan all my items, what to press on the screen if I wanted bags or not and then showed me to wait for the slip, so I could scan the QR code, which would activate the turn style to open for me.

I felt like I’d won a trophy when I walked out. Sure, I had to be helped and I’m pretty sure the staff had a laugh, but it felt like a victory that I’d done it on my own (well, you know what I mean), without a Greek family member doing it for me. It lasted until I realised that I had bought too many heavy things and I now needed to lug it home, with Alexi in the pram. Again, taking for granted that in SA, you just pop your shopping in the boot of your car, and off you go.

The supermarkets here are incredible though and the big ones are insane. We went to a massive Sklavenitis and we spent ages walking up the giant aisles. I saved the experience in my Instagram stories highlights reel. Look under Greece Move/Greece 2.

A whole long aisle just for sanitary products
The trolley game is strong
Spoilt for choice with milk
Greece has a big coffee culture and tea is NOT big at all. I have a friend bringing me my favourite 5 Roses Tea (and I have more coming on the container.)
This is an unbelievable chocolate… The Sokofreta – the red is the original, but the green has hazelnut and tastes like a whole bar of Ferrero Rocher. YUM

It’s all the small things that need to be learned and familiarised, like when I asked for tomato sauce. I was taken to the fresh tomatoes, then the pasta aisle, until I realised they call it Ketchup. Now I know.

It’s these funny things that make this all one helluva adventure and sometimes the days I’ve had lots of cries, are also the days that make good stories and make me a little stronger/wiser.

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6 Comments

  • Reply Michelle Reitsma

    I can so relate! When I moved to South Korea for a year I ate bread and peanut butter fo the first two weeks as I was so scared i would buy dog at the supermarket by mistake (given Koreans eat dogs).

    May 14, 2021 at 2:18 pm
    • Reply Ruby

      I think you are doing great, after all you are not in a small Country. This is one place I always wanted to go to, but unfortunately life throws you some “lemons” at times, so for now I will have to do with Club Mykonos up the West Coast in SA. Regarding your tea dilemma, I’ll send you tea, you send me some of that red and green yummy looking chocolate ? Please send my regards to Dimitra

      May 15, 2021 at 10:03 am
  • Reply Stephanie

    When we first moved to South Africa we wee driving on the highway and my father pulled over to the side as a sign said Slegs Only. I asked why we were pulled over and he said he wanted to know what a Sleg was

    May 14, 2021 at 5:30 pm
  • Reply Tegan

    Loved this post. So interesting ! This is really good advice for when we travel to Greece ! Keep sharing the funny moments !

    May 15, 2021 at 8:46 am
  • Reply Anna-Luisa Rossetti

    Living in a country is just so different to being on a holiday there . I can relate to the toilet paper part as I lived on Koh Samui (Thailand) and the same situation we had with the toilet paper.Freaky and weird in the beginning but you adapt.

    May 15, 2021 at 8:17 pm
  • Reply Caley

    Ah my Bails – this made me laugh and cry for you too!
    Always thinking of you on your new adventures x

    May 20, 2021 at 8:03 am
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