Σάββατο, 15 Μαρτίου 2008

Starting 2008 with a bang

The famous letter from the Surround. I was so happy to get it that I didn't notice they misspelled my name... This would come back to haunt me later. (See "Trash", March 2008.)

Hello, beautiful people!

I know, I have been silent for a long time, but not for lack of things happening since I came back to Greece after spending Christmas in Belgium.

Let me tell you the epic fight of having to go shopping for groceries on New Year's Eve with my little grandma. ("But grandma, why today of all days??" "We have nothing to eat for New Year's Eve." "How about shopping 1 or 2 days in advance?" "We must have fresh meat on New Year's day." "Grandma, I really don't care. How about we eat bread and cheese, maybe a salad, and go shopping after the craziness is over?" Oh, the shocked look. Heresy. No meat on New Year's day?!?! What did I learn in America? Barbaric people.)

There is no arguing with my grandma once she's decided something. She is deceptively small, for such a strong will. So we found ourselves at the supermarket at 11.00 am on the 31st. I wanted to go at 9.30, knowing that Greeks are notoriously late-risers and hoping we might avoid the brunt of the shopping onslaught, but we had to wait for my grandma's pension to be delivered to her house at 10.30 that same day.

Yes, in this country, one's pension is not wired to a bank, apparently; it is delivered by hand, by a sloppily dressed guy who stays for a cup of coffee and some biscuits (sorry, cookies), always thoughtfully provided by my grandma (and, presumably, by the other 50 old ladies he delivers a pension to every month - I wonder how he's not obese).

Once that immutable ceremony was finally over, ("Grandma, can't we skip the coffee and cookies for once?" "This poor boy has come all this way to bring me my pension!" "But that's what he's paid to do." Yet another disapproving look. Clearly, those Americans also took my sense of hospitality away.) - we finally got to the supermarket.

One look at the throngs of cars lining up 10 deep outside, waiting to get into the overfull parking lot, and despair grabbed me. We would be there until 2.00 pm. I dropped my grandma at the door and went to park 2 blocks down the street. (Only smart move of the day.)

Inside, claustrophobia briefly squeezed me when I saw the hordes of people, packed like rats (or sardines, whichever you prefer) as far as the eye could see. I'm not kidding, wading through that crowd was physically exhausting, not to mention mentally, since Athenian shoppers on or before any given holiday are notoriously NOT filled with any kind of Christmas spirit.

Trying to find my grandma in the crowd, worried that she might already have been pulled under and trampled by thousands of enraged shoppers, I didn't notice right away the woman who was repeatedly pushing me with her cart. After the 3rd time, when she viciously bumped me on the ankle, I finally turned around and asked if she could please stop hitting me with her cart, especially as she could see there was nowhere else for me to go, unless she expected me to step onto the head of the grandpa in front of me.

Big mistake. I saw her face light up: I had just provided her with an excuse to release all her pent-up frustration of the last hour she had spent in this hellhole, possibly even for her whole shitty week or her failed marriage.

"There is no way I can avoid pushing you", she screamed in my face, "there's too many people!" I pointed out to her that she probably could if she wanted to, since I had so far managed not to hit or shove anyone. This released a fresh burst of screaming, but I wasn't really listening, as I'd finally spotted my grandma in the crowd, fighting over some yogurt with another grandma.

I started moving in that direction, but the woman had no intention of letting her nice fight blow over that quickly. She screamed something about having the right to put her cart wherever she felt like it. I almost asked if that included my ass, but refrained and instead told her she was very rude, at which point she screamed even louder that no, I was the very rude one, and how dare I?!

Unfortunately, the crowds were such that I couldn't get away as quickly as I wanted to. Ever had those dreams where you feel like you can't move forward, and something or someone ominous is right behind you? That's exactly what it was like, being followed by this screaming harpy and her cart while slowly edging forward, except I couldn't wake up.

I finally reached my grandma (who'd won the fight over the yogurt, as it turns out), and the harpy gave up, since old people still command a minimum of consideration in this country and usually don't get screamed at as much as the rest of us.

After about 40 mn of shopping for various superfluous stuff, my grandma suddenly remembered our New Year's meal. Reaching the meat counter after an agonizing 10 mn spent crossing the supermarket, my grandma took a number, and I almost fainted: the number was 76. The counter above us read 7.

I tried to reason with her. This would obviously take over an hour, she couldn't remain standing for that long. But she wanted to choose the meat herself. I pleaded with her. Please, grandma, let's go home, I don't care if we eat nothing special, there's only 3 of us. But we had to have meat on New Year's Day. I begged her. I even threatened to leave her there, but she's crafty. She told me to go on, which of course I couldn't do.

So we stayed there, the crowd jostling us constantly, while the counter slowly crawled forward. After another 45 mn, we had reached number 41. I tried again to convince her to leave, knowing it was in vain. But she had a secret weapon, she said. She would use her age. Turning to the guy behind the counter, she wheezed: "My dear boy, I am 88 years old. Have mercy on an old lady."

I was expecting some outraged reactions from the crowd, but old age is somewhat sacred here, after all. After finishing with his current client, the "boy" (who looked in his early 50s) dutifully asked my grandma what she wanted. She pointed at a huge chunk of meat. I didn't even try to argue, knowing that my grandma always cooks for 10, then donates whatever we cannot eat to the neighbors and wonders why she is constantly running out of money.

I briefly wondered why she hadn't used her secret weapon right away, but I guess even Greeks have to see an old woman suffer for a while before ceding their place. Seeing her success, another old lady elbowed my grandma: "Say, I'm 81 years old. Could you also ask him for that piece of meat for me?" My grandma of course complied.

I'll spare you the other 40 mn spent waiting in line at the cashier's, and my brief murderous impulse when I was told I should have weighed even the pre-packaged fruit and vegetables I had bought at the special fruit & vegetable counter, where yet ANOTHER giant line awaited me.

Instead, I'll share with you the wonderful news of 2008.

Are you ready?


I have received a letter from the Greek government, stating that YES, I AM GREEK AFTER ALL!!!!!!
(And apparently have been since August, when I first deposited all my docs with them, but who's counting the months before they told me?)

Of course, I must now begin an entirely new fight to get a passport/ID card form my local city, but who cares? I am seriously thinking of having that letter framed.

Hope 2008 is turning out to be a good year for all of you.

Take care,


Kim R:
Absolutely frame it.

Cory M:
That settles it. Greece is a jungle.
But I'm glad you finally wore them down and gained admittance to the tribe.

Bénédicte G:
Et vive les Grecs !

Diane Lisa J:
I always knew you were Greek. They should have just asked me, I could have told them.

I still love the story of you going from room to room getting rejected until you finally found the one helpful lady by lying and saying you were sent to that room. These are tricks you must have learned at USC.

Will M:
Congratulations on the victory!

Amy T:
Woo hoo! Glad to hear you are back and giving us updates.

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