October 27 2006
-Where were you born?
Wilmington, Delaware, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my Greek husband
-How long have you been living in Greece?
Just over 4 years in Greece, but I started off in Athens, then moved to the island of Kos, then to the Mt. Olympian village of Litochoro before moving here (my husband is an officer in the Greek army).
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Greece?
My husband and I met online when we were both in a volunteer customer service program for an online MMORPG. We decided to meet in reality (in Nashville, Tennessee) and fell in love. He came to Nashville many times over a two-year period, and we had decided that when he was finished with medical school I would move to Greece, since living in America was not a possibility due to his commission in the army.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Yes, it was a bureaucratic nightmare.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Actually, it was quite easy, as the wife of a Greek army officer. I had medical insurance pretty much right away. It was a nice bonus to the move – since I was about to get cut from the rolls of the TennCare program (Tennessee’s failed state medical insurance program). I don’t know how difficult it would be for someone not married to a Greek, though.
-How do you make your living in Greece? Do you have any type of income generated?
I make my living here by spending all of my husband’s money. Ha! Well, that is certainly true to an extent, and no, I am not working at the moment. I am painstakingly trying to finish my M.A. I had finished all my coursework in the U.S. before I moved to Greece, with just the thesis and exams left to complete. I took the exams and now I am plodding through my thesis. Slowly. Right now I am not actively looking for work but I would like to work eventually. I miss the working life.
-Do you speak Greek and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I *barely* speak Greek. Actually *I* don’t speak it, but I understand some of it. I understand more that is written or in subtitles – I’ve always had a problem with hearing languages properly, including English, depending on a person’s dialect. I’m one of those people who has to do everything perfectly, so I’ll come out speaking Greek when I can do it right. I’ve had some instruction with my mother-in-law, but since my husband is fluent in English (more fluent even than some Americans it seems sometimes) we speak to each other in English 99.9% of the time. Most of my husband’s family speaks English as well, so it hasn’t been too much of an issue. All that being said, I do feel it is important to speak the local language, or have at least some understanding of it. It was never my intention to move here and just not learn Greek, but I’m a slow learner, and my immersion factor isn’t so high with the people around me. It certainly helps to be able to speak the niceties – thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, etc.
As far as local customs go, I guess it is up to the expat. I find local customs and holidays very interesting, and while I may not celebrate or follow them stringently, I don’t usually have a problem participating if asked. And I find it important and intriguing to learn and understand the history of the country you are living in. I know a lot about ancient Greece, but there are so many things that have happened here in just the past 200 years that are quite tragic but also very inspiring.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss home and family and friends very, very much. I didn’t live in the same city as my parents or brothers, so I was used to not seeing them on a regular basis. For the longest time of my adult life, I thought Nashville was a horrible city that sucked the life out of everyone who lived there (referred to by many as the Nashville curse). In retrospect, and with some distance, I can see the things that were good about Nashville, and I actually miss it. But that could be a part of the curse that seemed undeniable for many people – Nashville always draws you back. We’ll see.
Recreationally, I think my favorite thing to do here is people watch when the weather is good. There are coffee shops everywhere with tons of outdoor seating – perfect for this pastime.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
My sister-in-law is living in Sweden, so my husband and I are tentatively planning a trip there in the spring. I actually hate traveling – the actual act of traveling – planes, cars, trains – what a nightmare! I guess part of it is because I hate being set to a schedule, but another big part of it is fear. My friends and family are actually quite shocked that I was so willing to move overseas with my general fear of travel. It wasn’t easy, but love can make you do strange things.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We are currently living in an apartment that belongs to my husband’s grandmother, who lives now with other family members. Generally speaking, rents in Thessaloniki can range from about 350 euros a month for a small one or two room apartment, to around 1000 euros (and more)a month for a four or five room apartment. It is actually quite expensive here. In Litochoro, we paid 190 a month for a three-room apartment, and on Kos we paid 265 a month for a three-room apartment. In Athens I think we paid 330 for a two-room apartment. We do own a house in the outskirts of Thessaloniki, part of a group of custom homes that were built by my in-laws.
-What is the cost of living in Greece?
I guess it depends on how you like to live. My husband and I use a lot of electricity (three computers, A/C blasting in the summer, TV on all the time) and we spend about 100 euros a month for electricity. The average person probably spends about 50. Water bills are quite cheap, around 30 a month, and telephone costs are low too, even with DSL (our phone bill is about 30 a month, add another 25 a month for DSL). Food prices are increasing at a rate that doesn’t seem consistent with the normal cost of living here, but I could be wrong. My husband and I on average spend about 100-150 a week on groceries, but that includes food and litter for three cats (all who expatriated with me)!
-What do you think about the Greeks? How do they treat foreigners?
Athens was generally not a very friendly city. The folks in our neighborhood were fairly friendly, especially once we became familiar faces. I don’t think it had anything to do with me being American, because my husband got the same treatment. I guess it wasn’t fair comparing Athens to the friendly atmosphere of the American South, either. People were quite friendly on Kos but friendly in a way that tourist places are – you know, “we welcome you, now please spend money.” Litochoro was filled with very friendly people, many who could speak English, and a few locals who had actually lived in America for awhile. Thessaloniki is pretty friendly too. I don’t know if there is a difference in the “friendliness factor” between North and South here, but it sure seems like it. People definitely seem friendlier up North.
As far as how foreigners are treated specifically, I haven’t noticed any extreme anti-Americanism. Sure, you see it in magazines and newspapers (from all over Europe) but it never seems directly anti-American, more anti-American policy (and I can’t blame them for that).
However, certain types of foreigners are treated quite badly here, especially Albanians and many Eastern immigrants. The treatment of illegal immigrants can be quite horrible here, as far as the condition of the detention centers and whatnot.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Greece?
The positives: experiencing a different way of life, the fantastic scenery, the beautiful weather, the magnificent culture.
The negatives: Political mire and bureaucracy, general apathy on the part of the people. Oh, and people here are very, very LOUD.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Greece?
Well, be realistic about what life can be here. Sure, Greece is a fabulous vacation destination for many people, but living day to day life here can have many difficulties. I’ve heard it can be quite difficult to find employment, and pay is not very good. When we lived on Kos, my friends and family were constantly saying how lucky I was to be living on a Greek island. Trust me, it isn’t all that great. There are good things, sure, but I have a lot of respect for islanders. Year-round living on an island has a lot of ups and downs.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Greece?
Of course, there is my own site, Mel’s Diner. Melusina has been my internet handle for about 12 years now, so I usually stick with that online.
Then there is DeviousDiva’s blog, This Is Not My Country. She is a Brit expat living in Athens and she blogs about human rights issues in Greece.
Another Brit expat blogs about teaching English here in Greece, with lots of helpful information for other English teachers out there: Teacher Dude’s Grill and BBQ.