“Is it cold outside?”
“It’s 80 and raining.”
“I’ll take a jacket.”
These are the conversations I find myself having. As an Ohioan, I never imagined a day when 80ºF with rain would be jacket weather. But last night, as I was heading out to have dinner at the program president’s house, I found myself under those exact circumstances. Before leaving home, I wondered what kinds of surprises Greece had in store for me. I haven’t been disappointed so far. While adapting to this new culture, I’ve found myself making changes that I could not have predicted at all.
Some changes are small: getting or making a coffee every morning has been a routine of mine since my senior year of high school. But the Greeks do coffee differently: they have an obsession with instant coffee. At first I was skeptical. My skepticism did not last long. If you’ve never tried a Greek frappé or cappuccino freddo, you’re missing out on life. I quickly adapted my daily routine to enjoy a shaken, foamy frappé or a cold, refreshing cappuccino freddo.
Also concerning beverages, I’ve never been a huge juice person, but after picking up some unusual (for me) flavors at the supermarket on my first day, I’m hooked on peach juice and sour cherry juice. Who knew that sour cherries made the most delicious flavor? I consistently have 2-3 containers of juice in the fridge.
The Greeks live life at a slower pace, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a workout: every day walking between school and my apartment requires me to climb over 100 stairs. You would think that would deter me from going out to explore and therefore run into even more stairs, but you would be underestimating my curiosity. Despite being an enemy to physical exercise, I love walking around my neighborhood and finding new corners. The other day, Emily and I walked to the acropolis on a break between classes (because really, why not? It’s right there!) and, despite the heat and humidity, we started the climb to the top. We didn’t quite make it–we took the road less traveled which, as it turns out, doesn’t go all the way to the top–but the view was well worth the climb.
While strengthening my legs has its benefits, it also means I usually come back to the apartment smelling like downtown Athens, which is not pleasant. Our apartment requires that in order to take a hot shower, you flip a switch to heat the water for around 30 minutes before hopping in. Usually, I can’t wait that long, so I’ve embraced the cold shower. Trust me, if you come to Athens in the summer, you’ll get on board too. It feels heavenly to wash the grime of the city off, and I’ve taken to daily or twice daily cold showers while I’ve been here.
As an introvert, I’ve sometimes struggled in situations where I don’t know anyone. Luckily in Athens, there are lots of cats to keep me company when I don’t feel like talking. (But in seriousness, parents, don’t worry, I’ve met plenty of new people 🙂 ) The stray cats around the neighborhood are very friendly, most likely because the little old ladies in our apartment feed them.
I’ve also been getting a kick out of staring. In the U.S., it’s considered rude to stare and one would look away if caught staring. Here, that is not the case. Staring is not only socially acceptable, most people will continue to make eye contact if you catch them. It doesn’t feel threatening, and I’ve enjoyed the fact that if someone looks interesting to me, they won’t feel weird if I stare at them.
As I’m wrapping up my first week of classes (!) I’ll leave you with one more story. I’ve really enjoyed my history class on the Hellenistic period so far, and found myself writing down the strangest stories told by my professor, a Greek who knows many legends about the Aegean. If you find yourself on a boat in the Greek islands (and hopefully you will), you may be approached by a mermaid asking for news about Alexander the Great. The correct response is that he is alive and well, unless you want your boat to capsize. Getting used to classes here is an adjustment, but with stories like this, I think I’ll manage to enjoy myself.