Monday, 4 December 2006

'I leave'

Today I got an email from a reader with questions I'm often asked. They're about what it's like to come and live here. My first reaction of course is: great! But living on Lesvos is not for everyone.

The most important question you have to ask yourself is: Do I have enough money to make a living on Lesvos? But don't count on getting a job here. There might be some jobs in restaurants or bars, but only for a few months. And then those jobs have pretty lousy pay. Wages are very low in Greece and you really have to be a seasoned Greek to master the art of living with that little money.

If you are planning to start your own business, you must have a lot of patience, because Greece is a country with a vast number of rules and regulations. It is especially hard for foreigners to find their way. Most officials don't speak a second language and many times you will feel you've been conned. Things like organising a telephone line, ADSL, buying a car or building a house are such big adventures that many a foreigner has written a book about it, or suffered heart failure from it.

If you really insist on getting a job in Greece, it goes without saying that you must master the Greek language. Is Greek a difficult language to learn? Nainaiaiaiaiai! Unless you are young or you have a skill for languages, it will cost you blood, sweat and tears to learn Greek. The fastest ways are: marrying a Greek or attending a Greek school in the country itself.

Another important question you should ask yourself is: what am I going to do on Lesvos? You can take walks for the whole day, or car trips through the beautiful landscape, you can count the passing donkeys, you can make coffee for the chorta pickers, you can deliver all the crushed animals you find on the roads to a veterinary surgeon, you can give directions to tourists who are lost, you can have a coffee each day in the harbour, you can hang around for whole days in kafenions, getting high on ouzo, you can try your luck at fishing, you can attempt a conversation in your best Greek with a local farmer, you can help for a day picking olives until your back hurts so much that you have to stay in bed for a whole week, or you can wait for days for the carpenter who will never show up. So you see, there is plenty to do on this island, but is this really what you want?

In the summer there is plenty to do. The terraces are full of people, the beaches are nice for cooling off, the open air cinema plays some interesting movies. But in the winter half of the people working here go home, half of the inhabitants go for months to visit their families in Athens or Thessaloniki, a tourist will be a curiosity, most shops close, as do most restaurants and so you will nearly be on your own.

Can you afford to live here financially, does the Greek language suit you and are you improving at saying hello, goodbye, how are you, thank you, good night, happy birthday and have a nice journey, are you sure that you will not be bored to death after two months? If yes, then you've taken your first step.

The next step however is a dexterity test in the (Dutch) 'man-do-not- get-annoyed'-game. When you do not get annoyed by sheep and goats in your garden, when you know how to deal with roaming donkeys, when you don't mind all the rubbish in the countryside, when you don't lose your temper waiting for a Greek who has stopped his car in the middle of the road because he has something to say to a friend, when you don't get upset at all the reckless driving, when you think it is very romantic when there is a power cut for the umpteenth time, when you know how to stop yourself from taking in too many poor little cats, when you don't mind shutting the windows because they've set fire to the dump, causing dangerous fumes, when you don't laugh too loudly seeing the plumber installing your new boiler in the 'Greek' way, when you don't care about all the chinks in your house through which the icy cold wind blows, when you don't get angry when the banks are on strike for weeks, when you're not worried about a poor health system (you must remember: this is an island), then you will probably fit into Lesvian life.

So when you know you can handle all of this without problems and you are sure that you want to swap your well settled life for a Greek adventure, then you can pack your suitcases and I will welcome you to the paradise-like island of Lesvos.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

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