Christmas 1992, my first official Christmas as a permanent resident of Greece.
I had arrived in the summer of that year, wide-eyed and daisy fresh, with a passion for Greece and desire for independence and adventure. I got more than I bargained for when I entered the country just as 1,200 bus drivers were stood down, marking the start of strike action which would carry on for days, weeks, months. Without public transport, conscripts would pick us up from bus stops and ferry us around to our destination for free. Yeap, that’s when I knew I had come to the right country – a place where every day brings challenges, making you think outside the box.
Grateful rather than fussed, no travel costs helped ease my tight budget, made worse because my cheques were all tied up due to an ongoing Greek bank strike. Months of it, in fact. Admittedly, I did feel a bit like a nincompoop when I realised that bank strike or not, Greek bank tellers will allow you to withdraw money if you look desperate enough and cry.
“What do you think this is? Australia? We have a soul here,” said the teller passing me a tissue as my jaw drop to the ground.
But by Christmas, things were looking good. I had access to my few savings, had rented my first house – a little green unit at the corner of Artakis and Anhialou streets in Nea Smyrni – had found a job teaching English to Greek children, teenagers and adults at a local language institute.
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Yes, life was looking up, and I had even been ‘adopted’ by neighbours who pitied me and gave me a huge black-and-white television set which not only filled the spacious house, but also practically worked provided you didn’t take your finger off the ‘on’ button. I later learnt to do this using my toe. And by Christmas found that no body parts were needed by using an elastic band and an ordinary ballpoint pen strategically placed around the set though every so often the pen would eject, whizzing past my ear as it was flung like a rocket through the room.
On Christmas 1992 it was just me with my pen-flinging TV featuring Roula Koromila, a predecessor of recently-retired Eleni Menegaki.
I felt grateful to finally be alone, enjoying winter in December when you’re supposed to, and feeling free from the constraints of the traditional family meltdown – at least that’s what I told myself to continue to feel a little more liberated and a little less lonely.
Christmas, 1992. The first of the next 25 Christmases in Greece.
Maybe not the best, but definitely not the worse, and surely one to remember.