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Honeymoon, Day 11

April 25th, 2009


Sachi and I woke up at a reasonable hour to leave Spain. Unlike other flights, this one left at a civilized hour, about 1:00 in the afternoon. That meant that, with a -hour time difference with Greece, we arrive in Athens after 5:00. Our arrival here was met with all kinds of minor unfortunate twists. First, the train line we’d planned to take into town was closed, for several months. Fortunately, there was an alternate line which served just as well–a nice train, in fact, very smooth and quiet. From a transfer station, we changed to the Green Line, where we experienced rather heavy sensuality among the car’s occupants–at least three couples were engaged in some rather heavy oral massages.



We also experienced an introduction to the less attractive social graces of Greece. At the transfer point, I was heavily laden and right at the door to get out. When the door opened, people flooded out, a few pushing past me. I let them go, but tried to get out after them–but the line of people behind them just flowed past. No courtesy go-ahead. I was without doubt “ahead” in line, and indicated clearly that I was moving forward, but they didn’t let me through, until I just shoved my way in. On the Green Line train a few minutes later, Sachi and I found two seats open together and Sachi stood over them while I set up our suitcases in a stable manner. Despite there being a single conspicuously open seat very close by, a man muscled his way past Sachi and sat in one of the two open seats she was clearly hovering over. We sat apart.

This is not to say that Greeks are impolite. When I have asked for directions, they have answered graciously and with a smile. A ticket-taker at the Ancient Agora was not only helpful with information, but joked and was very congenial. Shopkeepers have been very helpful in volunteering directions and suggesting other businesses we could visit to suit our needs. But there is the other end of the spectrum, like the metro ticket seller who grunted when we paid and virtually threw our tickets down. And then there’s the street urination, which leads to the rather unpleasant smell gracing so many of the smaller avenues in downtown Athens.

Another thing which bothered me, which happened a few days after we arrived: a cashier tried to cheat me, no less irritating that it was for a paltry sum. There was a pastry shop (“Apollonian”) we found the first evening which had a great assortment of tasty looking treats. The other morning, I went there to get some morning pastries, and when I checked out, the total came to €7.57. I had a €5 bill, and some €1 coins, but I wanted to give exact change. However, I didn’t have a 50 cent piece or the equivalent in smaller change, so I put three €1 coins, a 5-cent and two 1-cent coins along with the fiver to make €8.07. The cashier took it, put all the money in her drawer first, and then handed me back a 20-cent coin. I objected, and she took the 20-cent coin back–and gave me a ten cent coin. I objected again, making a five-fingered gesture to denote the bill I gave her, three fingers while saying “Euro” again, then seven fingers with the word “cent.” The woman said something back which obviously disagreed, and when I objected again, she called for an English-speaking staff member to translate. I told her what happened, and she translated–then reported back that the cashier claimed I had only paid seven Euros. Clearly a lie: she would not have given me change at all if that were the case, and the 20 and then 10-Euro change also indicated that she was full of it. The woman clearly had tagged me as a non-European tourist and figured she could make a few dimes off me and I wouldn’t know the difference–rather contemptuous when you think about it. The thing is, one skill I’m good at is calculating change–I made no error there. What’s strange is that the woman did it for such a small amount. The staff member she called apologized quickly, but it was clear she wouldn’t help (I can only assume that the cashier, an older woman with a better position, was her senior in the workplace). Also, there were many people waiting in line behind me. I gave the cashier back the ten cents in a show of contempt myself and left. The money mattered not at all–it was the utter disrespect showed that galled me.

Essentially, the Greeks seem to have a wider spectrum of civility than most other cultures I’ve encountered–many people on the gentle, kind and generous end, and many on the other end. A snap analysis that may be in error, but that’s what it seems. Sachi has compared it with Shanghai, and I have to agree that it’s close in many ways–crumbling pavements lined with sellers of fake goods, pushy people often shouting and making a fuss, obnoxious traffic and more. People commonly jaywalk (Sachi calls it “Shanghai Walking”). It is certainly closer to Shanghai than anywhere else I’ve been.

Shanghai Walking01

In any case, back to the narrative. Sachi and I got in to the station where our hotel was, and soon became more depressed about our choice of venues. We were tired and it was late, and being the Monday after Easter Sunday, almost everything was closed. We walked from Omonia Station, but the sidewalks were not made for suitcases. The small tiles of the sidewalk wreaked havoc with poor Sachi’s suitcase wheels. And although we have since gotten the feeling that it is relatively safe, it very much had the feel of the “wrong part of town.”

After checking in, we asked the hotel receptionist and he told us that there was probably nothing open, but we ventured out anyway. It turned out that a small kiosk right outside the hotel sold drinks and snacks, even beer, for a lot less than the hotel did. We stocked up from there, put it in our room, and then ventured out farther, finding a few shops open, including the pastry shop mentioned above.

However, our opinions of the area dropped even more after our short walk out. We got more than an eyeful of some dank and dark streets, and witnessed all too closely why the streets have that special urine smell. Going back to our hotel room, we concluded that the hotel was very nice indoors, but the environment outdoors was far less attractive. At the time, we were pessimistic about Greece being a very good honeymoon stop. That opinion would change soon, but it did put a damper on our first night in.

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