ξένος (foreigners)

February 14, 2009

Now I want to take the time to put to paper (err, binary coding?) some things that have stood out to me in the last week:

At our orientation we were told that Greeks, compared to the rest of Europe, “have the most sex, eat the most red meat, smoke the most and still live the longest.”  (Statistically speaking anyways.)  For a culture that has such a distinct emphasis on pleasure, the Greeks have begun to mistify me.  They have mastered the art of sitting down to a three hour long dinner to savor food, drink and conversation as much as possible, yet they do not do two things that I consider certainly along the lines of pleasure seeking.

One, they are always in black clothing (ALWAYS).  Honestly, in Paris there was a lot of black to be certain, and from my impression of all of Europe it seems they generally dress less colorfully than we do in America, but this is absurd.  Color, to me, is a part of the richness of life.  The way a sunset can completely take your breath away- a colorful environment can make everything feel more lively, more interesting.  The buildings of Thessaloniki are a rainbow of beachy pastels, but its people bustle around, unsmiling and dressed head to toe in black or dark greys.  The only time I can even begin to blend in is if I don my darkest jeans with converses or grey boots with my black jacket (which was a last minute godsend of a purchase, thank you target and mom!).  Then again I will never truly blend in here because of my hair color.  I am the only (natural) strawberry-blondish (whatever color you call it these days) person in all of the city it seems.  The only blonde shade you see here is platinum and it is always accompanied by black roots.  We have decided as a group that if color makes us stand out, so be it.  I not only don’t have the money to redo my wardrobe, but I also love green and pink dresses too much to even try.

The other thing that mystifies me has to do more with the younger bar/club crowd.  At the tavernas you can always find people of all ages getting up to dance a bit to the guitarists that play live in the evening, in the traditional fashion of course. But, take these same people (18-25 year olds) and put them in a gigantic club with flashing lights and subwolfers that actually change the rhythm of my heart and they will stand COMPLETELY STILL.  Okay well not completely, the Greek women seemed to have mastered this ability to keep both feet in the same place while gently rocking their upper bodies back and forth to the beat.  It is rare that I have seen actual dancing at any of these clubs (with the exception of the Ja Rule concert, but that wasn’t surprising, he’s American!!).  This is all fine for them, I juts don’t understand how they resist!  Their djs are spectacular and there isn’t a minute after I walk into one of those places when I want to just stand around.  When a good song comes on we always stand out as Americans because no one can help the instinct to move!  Tonight we are going to try out the most well known dance club in the city though, so hopefully I will come back with this observation changed.

The way the young people go out is also quite different.  Kristin, an American student at ACT who did her semester abroad there and never left, was telling me it took her months to find a group of friends once she finally officially moved here.  The Greeks go out in packs of people and rarely mingle with strangers.  In Kristin’s case it took her months to find a group that would accept her into their routine.  Of course when we go out with four girls, there is always the occasional brave man (most with fantastic English, it’s amazing) who will talk to us, but in general we do not meet people when we go out and it doesn’t seem to even be because we are obviously foreign, it is just how it is.  The bar is a room full of tight, impenetrable circles.  This contrasts extremely with the American idea ‘oh we met at a bar.’  The last bar I was in the states I didn’t make it to order my first drink before someone had introduced themselves to my friends and me.  Maybe as time goes on WE will get more brave here and introduce ourselves to strangers. Haha who knows.

With these things in mind I realize it is unlikely that I will ever feel completely unlike an ξένο (foreigner) in this city.  Certainly I will understand the routines, I have learned the alphabet(!) and how to read, and I already have grown to love the customs and the FOOD, but there are things about me that are too different to really change in four months alone.

So Salonica, I am American  (ah and for once, with this President, I am not ashamed to admit it!).  I hope you don’t mind.

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