and how to deal with them
by Dimitra Makatsori
Welcome to our ancient, brand new Olympic city. The moment you set foot in Athens, you'll find that you have to deal with an assortment of local tribes. That's why we've prepared this handy manual on how to cope with some of the more exotic facets of the Greek psyche.
This column has the right to remain silent. For more information check the "law and order article". Keep in mind that Greek police are not famous for being tough, that it's going to be very hot in August, they will be working very long shifts and they will miss their summer holidays this year!
We've got a brand new airport, magnificent new highways, there ought to be a tramway and a suburban railway by the time you read this, so Athens isn't what it used to be. One thing hasn't changed, though, and that's the legendary persona of the Greek taxi-driver. He isn't going to ask you to fasten your seat-belt; after your long flight, he wants you to lie back and relax. Don't complain if you suddenly find yourself wedged between other passengers - even paradise is boring when you're all by yourself. Don't even think of asking him not to smoke - yea, yea, he's got a "no-smoking" sign in the car, but it's merely an archaic meaningless ornament. On the bright side, taxis are very cheap, and some drivers can be very flirty and sexy indeed. A word of caution about the taximetre: make sure that during the day (5:00-23:59) the driver has put the single tariff on, or, better still, ask a local (or your hotel reception) how much a certain trip should cost before you get in.
Bartenders, doormen, waiters
Well, what can I say? They may be the future greatest artists, models, singers, and so on, but life is hard and they are forced to keep this job, temporarily. They can be sexy, nice, kind, rude, excruciatingly slow or indifferent - usually the latter. Doormen can be really nasty sometimes, but don't let them ruin your mood; you won't have to see them again. Bartenders can be very hot and generous, offering shots, but you may end up totally drunk, broke and heart-broken - they are a faithless lot. Don't worry, you have the right to drool while flirting with a cute barman or barwoman. As for waiters, I don't want to talk about them.
I can't imagine a reason that would make you enter a civil-service building, but if fate proves so cruel, may the Force be with you. You see, we Greeks spend the better part of our lives at the mercy of public servants. They are our number one nightmare. Due to the Olympics, they may improve their attitude, but it's best to grovel if you want to get your job done this year and not the next!
For those of you who have never visited Athens before, kiosks are those little yellow structures that you encounter on pavements all over Athens, hidden behind a clutter of magazine stands, ice-cream and soft-drinks coolers, and assorted paraphernalia. These tiny supermarkets can be a life-saver. In need of a condom at 3 am because your basic instinct has gone wild? You want cigarettes, something to drink or eat? The kiosk is your best choice. Kiosk owners don't talk much and may not have a PhD in English, but who cares? If you ask for something and they don't have it, it doesn't exist. And in addition, they know all the social gossip. Remember that they are troubled with an unsolvable problem - where's the toilet? - and that's probably why they can be a bit grumpy.
All Greeks able to drive a car fall into this category. We drive the way we make love, fast and passionately; we improvise a lot, we don't follow rules, and keeping our hand glued on the horn is taught at kindergarten. We also shout a lot, but it's our Mediterranean temperament and we always leave it at shouting. Motorcyclists avoid helmets - they cause dandruff and spoil hairdos. You will see many of them carrying them on their arms as a bracelet or a talisman against accidents. Pay extra attention when traffic-lights are yellow; it's a warning to accelerate, not to slow down. Actually, don't bother with traffic lights too much, most Greeks don't either. Stop in your tracks anyway, because you never know from which direction a crazy Hellene may be coming. We are nuts about our cars, but we are good-hearted and very helpful in emergencies.
This species is must-see. You're in Greece and you still haven't paid a visit to bouzoukia? Sorry baby, but what are you thinking of? You can follow the Olympics in China, four years from now, but bouzoukia is a uniquely Greek phenomenon! It's where Greeks let their hair down to the sounds of, er, well it's hard to explain. Ask where the locals tend to go in order to avoid tourist traps. Once there, you'll notice that some women are wandering around the tables carrying bunches of flowers, mostly carnations but also roses and gardenias. No, this is neither a wedding nor a funeral. We buy the flowers and then hurl them at whoever is on stage. It's our way of showing affection towards the performers or our dancing friends and lovers. It's also a way of showing off, for the more we spend on flowers, the richer we look. Some revellers end up having to go home on foot, but they surely impressed everyone with their flower-show. Be careful or you may pay a fortune for a few frozen roses (they are kept in the fridge). Flower ladies smile like innocent babes, but when the bill arrives they are killers! Usually they charge whatever they feel like - you buy 10 but you pay for 100. It's fun if you do it once. And no, we don't smash plates anymore - it's illegal.
It's up to you to discover the remaining Athenian tribes. Don't forget, we are emotional, loud, and can seem rude sometimes, but only because we have a different way of going about things. We are able to do the impossible (remember who won the Euro Cup 2004?) if the mood strikes us; we are generous, hospitable and when challenged we perform miracles. There are also persistent hot rumours about our skills in bed, but that is for us to know and you to find out.