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The Trials and Tribulations of the Everyday Lotus Eater

by Sarah Button 

Posted: 11 December 2008
Word Count: 1372
Summary: An article written for 'The Corfiot', Corfu's expatriate magazine, about getting used to, and becoming familiar with the Greek way of life

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The Trials and Tribulations of the Everyday Lotus Eater
(1367 words)

Lotus; (in Greek mythology) a legendary plant whose fruit induces a dreamy forgetfulness and an unwillingness to leave.
Definition courtesy of The Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

We are all used to jealous responses when we tell our friends back in the UK what a great time we’re having, and how good life is here. For myself and husband Pete, the odd brag about sitting on the veranda supping wine in the sun merely provokes grumpy texts from our cheesed off children who have to cope with the treadmill of keeping body and soul together in the cold and draughty north of England. As far as they see it we are just winding them up.
I got a mail from a friend last week congratulating us on our chosen life style, he finished by saying, ‘There must be a down side, what don’t you like about it?’
The downers are minimal and beat some of the depressing features of life in England like permanent damp, insidious bureaucracy, Health and Safety officials, Boris Johnson’s ego, speed traps and the permanent whinging of the British press. But, in order to prove to my friend that we too had to put up with irksome national traits and bewildering red tape, I sent him the following list.

I am an Old Bird Cruiser and cannot cope with the Young Boy Racers on the strip past Tzvros on the way into Corfu Town. If it’s not Master Hothead up your bum it’s a taxi driver on speed. Not that these guys need amphetamines they could survive on the adrenaline rushes they get from scaring the pants off the English lady in the sedately driven 10 year old Cinquecento. Driving up Troumpeta tailed by a menacing maniac in a pick-up truck full of goats or worse, going down the other side tailed by a truck full of concrete driven by the bloke you know has a penchant for half a bottle of Metaxa with his lunch is enough to drive the calmest of drivers for the valium – or brandy bottle.
We have to live with this one and short of acquiring a Chieftain tank to nip down to the shops in we just keep our eyes open and drive defensively

Greek TV.
In our remote corner of the island the reception is limited and the few channels that manage to hit our aerial are amazingly poor. We could always get a NASSA sized satellite dish, but I don’t want to turn my garden into a replica of Portandown and quite frankly we are too tight to buy one. Instead we channel surf and take what we can get. We have become closet fans of Jeremy Clarkson; yes, on Saturday nights we watch the pompous petrol head in re-runs of Top Gear. On Sundays we sit down and watch Simon Cowell being very nasty to young American wannabes on Pop Idol. Sad aren’t we.
After 9 there’s often a movie but we’ve usually fallen asleep and lost the plot long before it ends because of the interminable commercial breaks. The ads give us more than enough time to make a cup of tea; if we could be bothered we could have a bath then pop down to the local kafenion for an ouzo or two.
Perhaps our evenings would be better spent reading an improving book – or nipping down the local for an ouzo or two.

OTE. (The Greek equivalent of BT)
You too? Well there’s a surprise! These guys exist to shatter nerves, it’s a wonder we haven’t been driven to shattering their windows. We waited for our phone and ADSL line and we waited some more. Each time we chased them up they said, ‘Very Soon, very soon.’ Which we all know is Greek for, ‘Haven’t got a clue, but we might get around to it one day – if we can be bothered.’ Following an interminable visit to their offices in Skripero to bang our fists on their desks we were taken upstairs to meet someone in authority. Here we found a cluster of ancient desks wired to each other by trails of cable, phone sockets swung from the ceiling into which more cables were plugged, this was not the state of the art communications emporium one would expect to see. This was Heath Robinson meets Jamie Oliver on spaghetti night.
‘We tried to call you but we don’t have a number for you’. Said a man with a cigarette hanging from his lips. Oh, For Pete’s sake! But Pete had given up.
‘We need to come out and decide where to put the poles.’ Said the man taking a deep draw on his cigarette. He gave us a look that suggested this task was tantamount to sinking telegraph poles from here to the North Pole.
In the end we persuaded a neighbour with a landline to set up a wi-fi router. Then we told OTE where they can put their poles.
We downloaded Skype so we could stay in touch with family and friends back home. Problem solved.

No direct flights all year round.
Yeah it’s a pain and something we all mutter about and as Easyjet cash in on our desperation by charging a whopping £175 for a single ticket in April our visiting friends apologise; they will not be bringing the Marmite, Earl Grey tea bags and Daddies Sauce because they won’t pay the £8 for hold luggage, they are travelling light and by the way, do we have a washing machine.
For us it’s not that bad and we are lucky we have plenty of time. The ferry to Venice is pleasant, flight connections are relatively straight forward and incredibly cheap if booked well in advance. Our last trip back to the UK cost us 90 euros each, allowing us time for a water taxi tour of Venice and a couple of pints of Guinness in Belfast on our way to Newcastle.

Clothes shopping.
I’ve never been one for fashion but the choice here is decidedly diabolical. I don’t want to dress like a tart and I’m not ready for the donkey riding widow look. OK we’ve got Marks and Spencer, but somehow the Greeks have managed to persuade this traditionally conservative institution to bling the clothes up, even the draw strings on the tracksuits are studied with mock diamonds. The other shops dress up the window mannequins in clothes that wouldn’t even fit Victoria Beckham, draping them in studded leather belts, kinky boots and heavy gold chains. More S&M than M&S.
I don’t bother now, preferring to shop on my trips to the UK.

There are a few other things that bug me but they are trivial; queuing for example. Try getting on a bus in San Rocco square at school turfing out time and you’ll find yourself in a rugby scrum with a bag of books and a half eaten pitta giros in your face. The elderly are forced to resort to violence to get a seat; I once saw a woman who must have been in her nineties (or was she only 34 and an employee of OTE?) slam her handbag into the crotch of a gum chewing youth. The impact was so great the chewing gum shot of his mouth and landed in the neat coiffure the well turned out lady sitting in front.
When it comes to Greek etiquette and manners Pete is phased; kissing blokes is not something a Geordie does. If he tried to greet a mate with a kiss on each cheek in Newcastle he’d be laughed at first them beaten to a pulp. But I think there is something endearing about the gregariousness of the Greeks, they are a passionate people and one thing’s for sure, you always know where you are with them, it’s a kind of easy honesty that makes a mockery of the British stiff upper lip and I like it. We signed up to Greek culture the day we got our Residents Permit from the quaintly, but probably quite accurately named ‘Department of Aliens’ in Corfu town.
The niggles? they go with the territory.

Sarah Button

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