Sunday, September 13, 2009

Things I have learned about living in Greece and particularly Corfu.

Topographic map in English of the Corfu island...Image via Wikipedia
Everyone expects you to learn Greek but then only speaks English to you, anyway, except for the people in hardware stores, welders and quite often discount stores. They usually don't speak any English and most Greek classes unfortunately don't cover the words you actually need to use in those places.

Drawing pictures and pantomiming work well however. [T regularly goes to a welder with drawings and sometimes an exact mock-up in cardboard of what he wants made. Our welder is delighted with T's clever plans, and after T leaves with his finished handmade item, we often see several others in the village in use. T considers it a form of "giving back" to the community.]

Corfu is on Eastern European Time (EET) or Standard Time = GMT+2. Summer Time = GMT+3 Corfu changed to Summer Time at 1 am on 29 March 2009. It will change back again October 25.

These dates change every year, but fortunately I don't have to worry about it, as I try not to travel or make appointments for either March or October so as not to be early or late for them.

Time is however relative in that a set time for, say a workman to arrive at your house, is often really more a virtual guideline rather than actual physical time.

The words "Avrio" and "Methavrio" as well as "morning" and "aftrnoon" or even "evening" are important in estimating Greek time. Do not be deceived in thinking it is time -as you may know it- however.

Avrio means "tomorrow"... as in 'tomorrow maybe someone will come'. Methavrio means "the day after tomorrow" or 'whatever you are calling about, as far are I can tell, probably isn't really that urgent', and so you may not see them for about a month- maybe.

If they say they'll call you back- they won't. (well, not true. Usually they won't call back but sometimes, once in a while, you get lucky.) Everytime you go into a place for service they'll respectfully ask for your phone number. They write it down and then seemingly lose it before you come back again, when they will ask for your phone number as if they have never asked before. This can go on for years.

Another word about workmen: For some reason they often arrive without tools. They ask if you have tools, and then use them in various ways. (I once had a gentleman use my delicate computer screwdriver as a hammer, thereby splitting the handle BUT he did get the nail into the slot he was trying for!)

I have NEVER had a workman arrive with his own ladder. Cleaning up after they have done their piece is not part of their job description. Allow plenty of time for clean up!!

Morning is anytime between 8 AM and 3 PM. Afternoon is usually from Noon until 7 PM. Evening is generally from 6 PM to 10 PM (though it CAN be as late as 11:30 PM)

Stores are never open on Sundays except for confectionary stores - that sell cake and biscuits (cookies) - but NOT bread (also sometimes open are some small local shops and the odd kiosk, and usually only Sunday morning.)

A lot of restaurants are closed Monday night. Many restaurants don't open for dinner until 8:30 PM. (Most Greeks don't arrive for dinner before 9:30 or 10!)

Buses may seem the same but they are not. The BLUE bus is "local" which means it come out as far as our village, but it doesn't come out too much past the village rather it returns to downtown. (T was once caught in the loop and ended up going all the way back into town, in order to ride back to "near" home again). The GREEN bus is the one take back home from town. In order to go the extra three kilometers past the village (and to get to the other side of the island as well.) it is necessary to catch THAT bus. The BLUE bus drops one off 'close" but makes for a long walk.)

The GREEN bus and the BLUE bus are stationed in different parts of the city.

click to enlarge
[sign over Takis cash register]
Opening hours seem at first to be a movable feast, but quite simple when you get the hang of it.

Shops are open in week days from 9:00 am – 1:30 pm and from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm. or else they are open 8am to 2.00pm and then 5pm to 8pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. (On Monday, Wednesday,Saturday they are open 8am to 2.30pm ONLY and not open in the evenings at all.)

I still haven't got the hang of it.

Shops in resorts stay open all through the day and will open even on Sundays in the height of the season. Shops in resorts are open approximately 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Supermarkets out of town are generally open all day until late (8 or 9 PM). They are closed on Sunday except on the rare occasion Christmas or Easter is on a Monday or a Tueday. Then they are open on Sundays!

Tourist shops in the old town of Corfu too are usually open until late, and in high season really don't seem to close all day long as well. Some of those same shops are boarded up or sell completely different things in the wintertime.

Pharmacies are open during "normal" shopping hours (Greek shopping hours). Outside of normal shopping hours a 24 hour rota system operates and a list of times is displayed in each pharmacy's window (sometimes in Greek). Pharmacies in Greece are NOT like the rest of Europe or America. If you are sick and need an antibiotic, you can buy it over the counter. Most drugs that are considered "prescription' are available from your pharmacist. (However, if your pharmacists does not know you, but thinks you are a strange tourists, or trying to "game the system" they may recommend you see a doctor and get a "prescription" which they will then honor.)

In general businesses, including most tourist attractions, are open from early morning (8am or 9 am) until early afternoon (2 or 3 pm) unless otherwise stated. (several DO "state" otherwise!)

Three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, shops (but never banks, museums, or post offices) will re-open in the evening from about 5 pm until 8 pm. In the summer, hours are sometimes extended and during the peak of high season some attractions stay open all day.

Bank opening hours are 8am-4pm Monday-Thursday, and 8am-1.30pm Friday.

Banks, shops and most museums close public holidays and celebrations. Some businesses close on St Spyridon's Day (12th December).

The main post office in Corfu is situated in Alexandras avenue and is open from 7:30 AM to 8:30 PM. Post boxes are yellow and can be found in every resort and village. You will also find stamps at most shops that sell post cards but they charge a 10% premium on the price of the stamp (note: it's worth paying the 10%, not to wait in line at the Post Office!!)

Waiting in line or queuing is an interesting exercise. Generally most people here, feel they really need to be first in line, or at least gently interrupt if you happen to have finally become first in line, just to ask a simple question (that ironically is always MUCH more complex than initially thought!) Motorcycles and mopeds are universally incapable of queuing. They ALWAYS go to the head of whatever line of traffic exists. They do so by passing on both the right AND the left side of stationary and slowly moving queuing vehicles.

Between 2:30 PM and 5:00 PM many people have a siesta. If you live in or drive through a village during siesta- DON'T MAKE NOISE! People can be very very snarky about their siesta!

Flyers are posted downtown to let you know what film is being shown at the movie theatre. It is posted no where else. [To find out what film is playing we drive by the theatre to see the posters, or we call a friend who lives around the corner.]

There are 11 public holidays in Corfu: New Year's Day - 1 January, Epiphany - 6th January, The first Sunday in Lent - February, Greek Independence Day - 25th March, Good Friday & Easter Sunday - March/April, Labour Day - 1st May, Feast of the Assumption - 15th August, Ochi Day - 28th October, St Spyridon's Day - 12th December (some business close), Christmas Day - 25 December, St Stephen's Day - 26th December

Oddly enough there are several other days that mysteriously show up wherein everything is closed. As I have yet to figure them out, I cannot name them. Usually the Sunday public holidays mean that business is closed on the following Monday too.

T reminds me that general strikes also close certain places, such as the phone company or the electric company or the bus stations or even the government buildings. Often there is a forewarning of sorts, as it may, though not always, coincide with either a teachers strike wherein all the children are running around the village, or a garbage strike (and the less said about that, the better.).

Living here is like a taste of Paradise, and I love every day of it, to be sure, but it is also, always, no matter how long you've been here, a little bit of an adventure!


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  1. Oh so much of this is familiar...Workmen without tools and ladders...Medication without prescriptions. The Turks always expecting to be first in a queue. I can go one better on the language problem though. If I try to communicate in Turkish...I often get a response in German, even though I'm English. It makes no difference if I say I'm English, I don't speak German...they'll still carry on in German.

    And times...appointments...when something is due for delivery etc...I always assume that it's Turkish time that is referred add on another couple of hours....or possibly days!

  2. Oh I remember- totally!! I have sooo many memories AND stories of when we lived in Izmir... we were there five years, almost six from the early 90's.

    I find that it prepared me perfectly to live here! (except we hear church bells instead of the call to prayer)

    Still, for all the annoyances and silliness, we find the trade offs acceptable. If ever we can't laugh about it, then I guess it's time to move on.

  3. You are so right...if I stop laughing I'll know I have had enough!

  4. It's so funny, if I didn't live here I would probably have to read this a few times to figure it all out:) It's crazy but not horrible.

    Luckily, the supermarkets are open on Sundays in my area-but only for the summer months.

    Loved reading this post. Oh, and I like your music!

  5. Are you sure you don't live in Africa? With all the confusiona and choas you describe, life must be interesting . . .

    About learning useful things studying a new language: I lived in Palestine for some time and studied Arabic, including learning the alphabet. After a few months I could read sentences from the Quran but still didn't know how to ask for a dozen eggs in the store.

    Life is wonderful ;)

    Miss Footloose
    Tales of the Globetrotting Life

  6. PS -- I really do know how to spell. I just don't know how to type ...

  7. Hi Cheryl! Yes it IS crazy and no it's not horrible just... interesting. (do you hear mad laughter?)

    Re music: IT"s your fault! I really enjoyed your music and your player so when i found out it was so easy, i snarfed it up and put one on my page! I still have to develop a few playlists tho. That was just sort of off the top of my head what i'd listened to in the past week. I will get better ones - when i have the time to tinker!

    Hey ho dear Ms Footloose,

    Nope. This IS Greece, though with slight variations depending on the locality.

    That language thing is so bizarre isn't it? You'd think they'd try to make it a bit more practical (other than how to greet different people within the family structure or write a letter regarding Easter celebrations!)

    To be fair, I suppose if I'd married into a Greek family I'd probably need to know those things while my husband shopped for nails and bolts and hinges. (right. I'm not going to go any farther with THAT one.)


    re: your experience with not knowing how to ask for eggs... God will provide??

  8. Lovely!
    You should market this as the only practical guide to life on any guide book.

  9. Where is that very funny sign (Takis' opening hours)? How I love Corfu. GB isn't exactly a model of logic and efficiiency at times either. My neighbour asked me to wait in for a workman the other day: "He say he'll arrive about 9.00 am". He actually turned up at 12.15 am. Tch! Still, he got the job done and, as he said: "You weren't going anywhere, were you?"

  10. Hi Viv!

    The sign is in a really nice restaurant in Gouvia called Takis. It's in the group of restaurants at the turn across from the Gouvia Alpha Beta grocery store. Mostly it's a fish restaurant. (tho everything he cooks is excellent. They're only open from May through October.

    If I were your neighbor, I'd have waited til that thoughtless idiot was finished and then screamed something on the order of "What makes you think your life is more important that MINE???" (of all the condescending remarks, a simple apology might have sat better. GAAAH.



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