After a few months on Lesvos, I have pretty much started to integrate: I increase my number of naps in the afternoon and in the evening I begin to go out later for dinner. Even though my stomach starts to grumble around seven, I no longer go to a restaurant before nine thirty.
This schedule pleases me, because since started dining so late, I no longer have to eat alone. And thus no longer have to endure the prying looks of the holidaying couples that start with their moussaka or stifado at 7 o’clock, a time that the Greeks just wake up from their siesta. I am amazed that a person eating alone attracts so much attention. Normally I do not care and I openly stare back at such couples sitting there without any conversation. And then I wonder to myself why is it that they have nothing to say to each other. In the past I sometimes invited such couples to join me, but the answer was never yes. Although my intention was never more than to pass time together, have a nice evening with good conversation: it was the female member of the couple that would refuse the invitation. Why? I have no idea!
There is something to learn from the Greeks in social behaviour. In Greece having dinner is a social event. A Greek never eats early in the evening and almost never alone. When most tourist couples on a Saturday night are on the way back to their hotel room or apartment, the restaurants will fill up for a second time, this time with Greeks. Everybody knows each other, everybody is welcome, chairs are shuffled around. So it can happen that when arriving in the harbour at 22.00 o’clock I might share some sardines with Nikos, then later Stavros will take a seat at our table to have a ladotiri saganaki, that Manolis will join us for an ouzo, followed by Maria who may come just to greet me and then a fisherman might want to show off the squid he had caught some minutes before. And at the end of the evening the owner of the restaurant and the cook might appear at the table to celebrate their evening’s work.
The later it gets, the more animated the evening and the more I hear about what is going on in the village: about the four fish that danced in the full moon yesterday; About that arrogant tourist with his catamaran moored in the harbour and is a malaka (asshole) because nobody is allowed to pass his gangway to reach the quay; about the daughter of Heleni who has a boyfriend and about the stubborn donkey of Michaelis who has escaped. I hear that Yannis has shaved off his beard and that the Captains Table – the restaurant that blew up at the start of the season - is trying to make a new start up.
When everybody knows what is going on and the empty ouzo bottles on the table are too many to count and after some dirty jokes, around 2 o’clock it is time to go home. Even though it is Sunday, in a tourist village work still needs to be done – every day, every morning and at the beginning of every evening. The end of the afternoon is for the siesta, otherwise you will not survive the night. The end of the evening is for maintaining social contacts. This is how it works here. Since I have started dining late I have begun to understand Greek life much better as well as to hear much more about what is going on in the island. So if you want to integrate – you had better start with having a nap in the afternoon.
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
© Pip 2014