Next week it'll be three months- τρεις μήνες! - living in Crete. Emily Freeman, author of Simply Tuesday, does a great "what we learned" linkup on her blog so I thought I'd jump in. Quarter of a year on an island in the Med... So here's some of what I've learned so far.
1. You look at people - the whole world, really - differently when you're on the other side of a language barrier.
When you're in your own country, you might have any number of thoughts when you approach someone- in a store, say, or on the street. Or even just when you're near someone. When you're a foreigner in another country, the very first thing you think is, "Can I - or could I - communicate with this person? Does she speak English?" You think this almost before noticing what she looks like. It's fascinating. You become aware of the imperceptibles of a person - the unconscious or innate capacities she carries in her makeup - in a way you virtually always overlook in home life. Sometimes I find myself wondering, "What else does she invisibly carry around inside her that I'd never think to consider in regular life?"
2. Greek's not that hard to learn - or at least, to start learning.
In the official "Language Difficulty Ranking," (yes there is such a thing, thank you Foreign Service Institute), Greek ranks in category 3 - harder than traditional romance languages and a few others. This makes sense - what with its alternate alphabet, tricky grammar, three genders (so ever-changing word endings). Also words are pretty long compared to English.
And I sure won't say it's easy... but I don't know that it's as bad as people, even Greek people, can make it sound. The alphabet's fairly user-friendly (and completely phonetic, unlike English) once you learn the letters. And there're the links to English words. My husband and I started taking lessons last month, twice a week for an hour, and between that and constantly capturing and rehearsing words we hear around us, we've made some decent beginning headway. I type the words into my phone's "Notes" app, then record myself saying them - about a dozen at a time - as voice memos. In spare moments I replay the voice memos over and over. I record new ones maybe five times per week, so I'm getting maybe 60 or 70 new words a week, real-world ones I hear out and about.
Throw in short conversations at the grocery store, some Greek radio here and there, and a few You Tube clips, and I feel like I'm slowly getting a handle on how the language works and some basics. Slowly! (Turns out Peppa the Pig is a sweet little show... even in Greek.)
For me working with languages is pretty fun, even weirdly compelling. Other folks don't enjoy them at all. I guess my point is: if you have reason and inclination to start learning some Greek, don't be deterred.
3. Before doing touristy stuff as a family, you gotta give your kids more coaching than you think you should have to.
We're living in the site of an ancient civilization; there are a ton of cool things to see around here. My husband and I are keen to see them all. Y'know who's less keen? Our four kids, ages 5 to 11. Or they're keen for the first twenty minutes and then they're done. They get bored or complain-y or bicker-y or overly rowdy (or all of the above).
We found this pretty disappointing at the beginning, and we were frustrated. I mean: we're LIVING in Greece. And we wanted to be, y'know, the "exploring, traveling family with the engaged kids." Then we remembered: 1) they're kids, and 2) their reaction's pretty darn normal. So before heading out for an expedition someplace, we started giving them talks along the lines of "This is what we're doing tomorrow, this is why it's important, this is why people think it's interesting enough to visit." Along with a sizeable dose of, "Here's how we want you to behave, and the fun stuff we'll get to do too if things go well." It's definitely helped. I 'm realizing that where sight-seeing is concerned, realistic expectations plus ongoing training will build dividends over time.
4. Amazon Prime's a girl's best friend when you live abroad.
God bless Amazon Prime. Stuff normally arrives about a week and half after ordering, still no shipping fees, and you can really get most things you want that are hard to get here. Stuff like maple syrup and craisins and KIND granola bars... and everything gluten-free. It's mostly pricier than I'd spend for the same items in the US, but not that much pricier. And generally speaking they're much less expensive than similar foods being sold in Greek stores (though I will say there are more gluten-free foods available in Greece than I anticipated. Happily so.)
5. Finding someplace to regularly volunteer is a great way to jump into a world and culture when you're new.
There's a coffee shop in downtown Chania that provides free coffee plus laundry and shower services to folks in need; once a week they even open an adjoining "store" where people can get free clothing that's been donated. I volunteer on the clothes store days, and it's been great all around. I get involved in the local community, I get to know the other volunteers and build some relationships, and I get to practice my Greek (and be exposed to a bunch of other languages too, as it's a veritable smorgasbord of languages). It's certainly a case where the server gets more out of it than the servers. "Better to give than to receive" is true truth in this case.
Last week the girl who runs the outfit, a spitfire originally from Moldova whom I love, invited me to join a little group "off hours" in making traditional Greek food. We did an assembly line with hundreds of these little spanakopita pockets, and it was one of my favourite experiences here so far.
6. Man, it's gorgeous here.
I mean really gorgeous.
I mean can you even...?
It's certainly been a fall to embrace adventure... There's been plenty to embrace, all kinds.
(And P.S., I'd love to hear what anyone else has learned this season, whether adventure-sparked or quietly germinated. Share, if you will!)