Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Greek television execs are lazy

Recently I've noticed a new show on Greek television called Ugly Maria, which just happens to be the exact same premise as America's Ugly Betty. Now I'm sure they got permission to use the premise for the show, because such a blatant disregard of intellectual property would be typical for Greeks unheard of here. I realize that it isn't uncommon for shows to cross countries and cultures (The Office being one of the most famous of late), but Greece has had a whole spate of copy shows, from a Sex and the City type thing (don't know how well it did, haven't seen it around in awhile) to a Friends type show. Since I am generally disillusioned with most original Greek shows (NET can't even make a decent show out of one of the most popular Greek movies of all time), I should be happy that from time to time they copy American formats, but somehow it just doesn't seem to work. Sure, these shows end up popular with Greeks, but I'd prefer to see shows that highlight Greek culture and idiosyncrasies, not to mention shows capitalizing on Greece's famous history. Some shows make attempts, but they all seem forced and soap opera like.

Am I expecting too much from Greek television? Probably. But I think there is a whole lot here that could make truly great T.V. instead of mediocre serials. Come on Greek television execs, come up with a show that dazzles!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Duelling remotes

My husband and I splurge on NOVA, one of the satellite TV options available here in Greece. I say splurge in honor of my mother, who never thought we should pay for television and therefore never had cable TV. Sure, we don’t need satellite TV (cable isn’t a option here in Greece), but by Zeus we want satellite TV.

Anyway, because I never read that article about marriage that says “don’t have a TV in the bedroom” we have a TV in our bedroom. It is also hooked up to our satellite box, and out of sheer laziness (since the bedroom is right next to the TV room) we got one of those odd little devices that allows you to use a remote on equipment in a different room, because Zeus forbid I have to get out of bed to change the channel.

This little setup worked like a charm until a week or so ago, when our satellite box suddenly started turning on and off and switching channels of its own apparent will. I have heard of a ghost in the machine, but this was flippin’ ridiculous. At first it was a bit amusing, but then things got out of hand. We couldn’t watch anything without the channels suddenly changing at a breakneck speed. After a couple of days of this errant behavior, we decided it was because one of our neighbors must have recently got hooked up with NOVA and thus was able to change our channels through our odd little channel changing device.

Although we cannot tell what channels the neighbor is surfing, we are able to discern some things about him or her. For one, they must work an evening shift, because they always turn on their box around 2 or 3am and then turn it off around 6am (yes, I’m a night owl that watches too much TV sometimes). We also know that this person is some kind of freak of nature, because he or she changes channels so quickly there isn’t even time to read what is on the information display bar or see what is on, and if they are heading to a particular channel, obviously they are way too stupid to realize you can just put the channel number in the remote and go directly to your desired channel with a great deal of ease. This would also annoy us less, obviously, because it would be quicker for us to just change our channel back to what we were watching without having to go back five thousand times because the person is speed clicking through 100 channels.

Finally, we have resorted to unplugging the odd little device, because it just isn’t worth battling with the crazy channel changing neighbor anymore. I really can’t believe the damn signal works through apartments, as I would assume the walls between apartments are thicker than the walls within the apartments. Hell, sometimes even the damn device won’t even work for me through one little stupid wall. How is it working across apartments for surfer Giannis?

I’m glad that in the next year we will be moving to our own little house, up high on a mountain, far from the big city. Then I’ll be queen of my remote control once again.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

When in Greece

I am one of those individuals who regards other people dubiously and with great hesitation, sort of a misanthrope, I guess. It isn’t that I don’t care about people, I am greatly saddened by all the hatred and suffering in the world. It is just that I prefer to do my caring from a distance, with a checkbook, instead of up close and personal. I generally demand at least a five foot perimeter around me at all times and am quite distressed when people breach it. Honestly, I am barely able to be affectionate with my family and the best of my friends, let alone reaching out to other people.

My peculiarities with other people extend to food consumption, sharing, and disposal. I never could share food or drink with another person, even as a child, except under the most extreme circumstances. I couldn’t even stand to clear the table of the remains of other people’s food without gagging a few times. My food is my food – no one else gets to touch it, taste it, or even smell it. Obviously I belong in the animal kingdom, I seem barely human with my inability to deal with other people.

Yet, I’ve found myself changing since I moved to Greece. Bit by bit things that were previously way unacceptable have become tolerated and even habit. Obviously, having a husband requires a modicum of affection now and then, and I don’t shirk from him at all. That is actually how I knew he was the right man for me. What I wasn’t prepared for was the open affection shared between family and friends – even acquaintances – here in Greece. That European hug and two cheek kiss greeting is impossible to dodge. I’ve probably affectionately greeted more people in the four years I’ve been in Greece than in the thirty-three years before my arrival.

As far as food goes, I was absolutely shocked by the Greek way of sharing meals at tavernas. Sure, it is one thing to share a bunch of dishes between family members at the dinner table, but sharing a bunch of food with friends and acquaintances is downright uncivilized. I began to wonder what sort of heathen hinterland I had ventured in to here. It was like my worst nightmare coming true.

Four years later, I find myself surprised by my own actions. I go out to tavernas with friends, my husband’s colleagues, whoever, and find myself readily sharing a plethora of dishes with them without a second thought. I have accepted the physical greeting with my in-laws and expect it. Admittedly, I still grimace a bit with people outside my husband’s immediate family, and for god’s sake, on New Year’s Eve I could totally do without kissing thirty some odd extended family members and friends. Seriously, you can get bad rashes from doing that.

At least I still continue to keep my distance from the general public, I haven’t totally lost all my misanthropic ways. But who knows, some day I might squeeze in and push and shove with the best of them. Apparently the phrase “when in Rome, do as the Romans” applies not only consciously but subconsciously. I am constantly amazed at how expat life changes me – but hopefully, I won’t change so much I won’t recognize myself.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Cretan conspiracy

Last night I went out with my husband and five of his colleagues. I was a bit leery of going since the wives of the others bowed out, but it isn't like I can't be social unless other doctor's wives are there. I'm not going to be one of those women.

Aside from a McCarthian fear of losing my American citizenship by fraternizing with two Communists and a general trepidation of eating at a Cretan restaurant filled with people who were all obviously part of the "family", passing along secret messages in some sort of freakish Cretan sign language that must have been something along the lines of "we must kill the American!"* I had a good time. The only real problem was the fact that these five psychiatric residents can hold their liquor (and apparently, so can my husband). So when the Cretan of the group asked me if I wanted to try some ρακή (raki - a Cretan liquor that resembles moonshine but in its marketed form is only about 50% alcohol) I said sure. Because we all know you can't say no to a Cretan any more than you can say no to a Sicilian. Considering I almost never drink alcohol of any kind anymore - no wine, no beer, no nothing - this was a bit of a stretch for me. I managed two and a half shots of the stuff before I was two sheets to the wind and feeling pretty damn proud of myself.

That is, I felt proud of myself until about 5am, when my stomach and my head conspired against me, surely punishing me for a night spent with Cretans and Communists.

Now I remember why I don't drink anymore. Ah, to be young again, when it took at least five very strong Long Island Iced Teas before I puked off the front porch right in front of the pizza delivery guy. And now I can't even handle two and a half shots of ρακή. Poor me.

*Seriously, I'm just joking about Cretans. Sure, they have a reputation of being the mob bosses of Greece and yea, so they do scare me just a bit. But they are also interesting people with fiery spirits, great food, and wonderful music.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oscar who?

For the first time in my life I can say I have not seen one movie that has been nominated for an Academy Award. There are movies on the list that we intended to see, but movies can come and go here so fast we usually miss out. Not to mention that anything filmed in a language other than English is out for me because I don't have a large enough Greek vocabulary.

I had been waiting forever for An Inconvenient Truth to be released here - if it was, it came and went in a week and I totally missed it. Oh well. At least we have a DVD rental place right around the corner and a movie channel that is pretty good about showing award winning movies as soon as they can get their hot little hands on them.

Still, it is pretty weird not being able to have any opinion at all about Oscar nominees. Definitely a first for me, even though I'd been growing increasingly lukewarm about them in the last few years.
Oscar definitely ain't what he used to be.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog for Choice

A single woman in her late 30’s starts to feel the pressure of her ticking biological clock. The woman is raped, and finds herself pregnant. Despite her desire to have a baby, after days of anguished thought she realizes she can’t bear to have a rapist’s child. We are grateful she had a choice.

A happily married couple is overjoyed to be expecting their first child. But the woman has a chronic illness, and despite all the careful medical care and preparation for the pregnancy, her health quickly begins to fail. The couple must make a hard decision. Thank goodness they have a choice.

A 12-year-old girl becomes pregnant after years molestation by her father. Luckily, she lives in a state that does not require parental consent for an abortion. It is fortunate she has a choice.

A woman learns she is pregnant with her second child. Her husband has been abusing her and their first child for years. She has tried to leave him repeatedly, but he manages to find her and woo her back every time. She is too afraid to file charges against him, and too afraid to bring another child into the situation. Spousal notification on abortion is not required in her state. At least she has a choice.

These are just a few situations thousands of women across the U.S. face when trying to make a decision regarding having an abortion. These women must continue to have a choice.

I know that it is difficult to accept a pro-choice position if you are a Christian. Abortion is considered murder to many Christians, and murder is immoral. Yet I have to wonder, in light of everything Jesus says in the New Testament, if it is not more immoral to keep these women from having a choice when faced with a difficult pregnancy under harsh circumstances. Is it not immoral to force desperate women to maul themselves with coat hangers or other, equally dangerous methods of ending their pregnancies?

There is one thing that many pro-lifers don’t seem to know or understand: rarely is it easy for any woman to make a decision to have an abortion. It isn’t a game. It isn’t a source of joy. It doesn’t bring pleasure. If you could release the collective grief of all the women in the world who have had abortions, the sadness would be more than the world could bear. It is a choice rarely made lightly. But at least there is a choice.

We must keep abortion safe and legal.

We must always allow women the choice.

Thanks to the folks at BushvsChoice for the blogging effort.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A story in six words

DeviousDiva posted this fun little meme she got from Vegankid and I thought I'd give it a whirl. A story in six words? Well, it came a bit too easily...

Ah, crap. I've lost my way.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Speak no evil

Teachers censored for speaking their mind.

A filmmaker assassinated.

A Russian journalist murdered.

And now, a Turkish-Armenian journalist has been shot dead.

These are but a few incidents in a world of increasing intolerance for freedom of speech and expression.

Their viewpoints may have been incendiary. Their words may have induced hatred among some. Even so, do we really want to live in a world where artists can’t speak their mind without the threat of violence?

Whether the Armenian slaughter was genocide or not, a man should be able to walk the streets of his country without being gunned down for his words.

Hrant Dink has become another martyr for freedom of speech. We don’t need anymore.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Article 16

Greece is a country that loves to strike and protest anything and everything, no matter how big or small. While I applaud the verve of Greeks to stand up for what they believe in, there are a few issues – some of the most incendiary, in fact – that my big, fat American belief system calls into question.

Since summer, one of the hot button issues in Greece has been the potential revision of Article 16 of the Greek Constitution, which guarantees a free education at all levels for Greek citizens, along with a cost-of-living subsidy for those in need. One of the revisions calls for the allowance of private universities, which many students and teachers in Greece seem to think would be detrimental competition to the free education Greek students get at public universities. One argument, I suppose, is that economically challenged students wouldn’t have the advantage of paying for a fancy private university, and so they would be at a disadvantage when it comes to job placement because a public university education won’t match that of a private one.

There are a couple of things wrong with this argument. For one, it is basically admitting that public universities here in Greece are crap. They might be, but who is at fault? The students who never attend their classes? The professors, knee deep in a comfortable tenure, that don’t give a damn? If university students want to protest holy hell in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki, why didn’t they start a long time ago by demanding that their public education was better? More challenging? More competitive in the international job market? I’m all for the gusto of the student protests, but why the hell haven’t they been protesting for what really matters, instead of waiting until the zero hour to protest something that wouldn’t be a problem had they been on top of securing the best university education for themselves at the beginning?

Secondly, and along the same lines, it doesn’t have to be fact that private universities are better than public ones. I know plenty of private institutions in America that aren’t that great, and plenty of state schools that are considered among the best in certain fields. Again, this is something that the students and teachers can change. Students can demand more of their professors, and professors can demand more of their students. Together they can make state education highly competitive and desirable. But you have to really want it to make it work. You have to want a competitive education. You have to attend classes. You have to study hard. You have to rise above a standard of mediocrity. For all the passion the students show in their protests against revisions to Article 16, I don’t know if I believe they really want a competitive education. I think they want the status quo to remain the status quo. And that does no one any good.

The educational system in Greece (as well as most of the rest of the world, including America) needs a major rewrite from top to bottom. Blocking private universities isn’t going to solve any problems. If you want your public education to be better, make it better. But don’t pretend that swimming in the mediocrity is going to achieve anything. Students here deserve better. They just have to want it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The hidden dangers of global warming

We've been enjoying some moderate temperatures here in Northern Greece the past few days, but it seems that some female ostriches are not finding the warmer weather a welcoming sign. Apparently, male ostriches are getting a bit randy due to the warmer weather and trying to hump the females against their will - two months before their normal mating cycle begins. While some females are successfully staving off the advances, some have actually produced eggs. 2007 might just be a bumper year for baby ostriches.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Homemade terrorism

My need to sleep off the remaining sickness has really impaired my ability to keep up with the news here and abroad, including the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Athens this morning. In the Greek press at least, there still seems to be some speculation on whether the attack was of a domestic or foreign variety, as apparently the claims of responsibility by 17th November wannabe group Revolutionary Struggle are still in question.

Targeting American interests is nothing new in Greece, although in the past couple of years it seemed to be regulated more to pipe bombing a McDonald's here and there and protests - not "act of war" activities like shooting missiles at a U.S. Embassy from across the street. Considering that the street the U.S. Embassy is on is littered with embassies of many nations, you gotta wonder how someone could have pulled this off.

I realize that embassies make good targets because it sends a message, but in the end I don't think much is accomplished by such activities aside from a lot of diplomatic and political posturing. For the most part, injuries are done to people who have absolutely no control over U.S. policy, and nothing changes aside from stepped up security and a general sense of fear. As if such a thing would make the U.S. government would stop doing what they are doing. And I think terrorists who do such things already know that. Kill for the love of kill - if terrorists would just start admitting that is why they do what they do instead of some blathering bs about virtue or religion or whatever the hell they like to pretend they are fighting for it might be easier to figure them all out.

On the upside, it is nice to know there is a steady supply of ancient Russian rocket launchers and god knows what else out there floating around. Terrorists might be homegrown, but the industry seems to get support from the world.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Nothing is more fun than being holed up for three days with a high fever only to have your spouse start with the same thing midway through your own suffering. Yes, things have been pretty sickly in this household for the past few days and they aren’t much better yet, although my fever has finally broken.

By far the best thing you can do when you find yourself in this situation is to watch a show on the Discovery Channel about virii, bacterium, and parasites. During the hour-long program I managed to successfully diagnose myself with most of the diseases they discussed, no matter how rare or unlikely.

“Yes, I probably do have the plague! I’m sure of it, an infected rat could have crawled into our pipe system and died and the fleas came out and infected me. Look right there, that’s a black spot on my leg! Oh wait, no, that’s a bruise.”

“I don’t have strep throat but I’m certain I’ve got flesh eating bacteria! Look at that rash on my leg! Oh, wait, no, I was just scratching there, that’s why it is red.”

“Ebola, oh, I definitely have that. I realize I don’t have any symptoms aside from the fever but I have it.”

After that I was so sure I was dying from about twelve different diseases I exhausted myself and fell asleep. When I awoke, the fever had broken and I had no symptoms aside from a terrible cough and dizziness. Hmm, it could be tuberculosis…

Friday, January 05, 2007

Finding my way

For expatriates the notion of home seems transitive and uncertain. I’ve seen many expats expound upon this idea of home and what it means to them – and we all seem to be torn between wanting to call our former lives home and considering our new existence to be home. I’ve referred to home generally – if I talk about visiting the U.S. I call it home, but I find it difficult to define it further.

Home can’t really be with my parents, since they live in a place where I have never lived, and while I am of course welcome there, I don’t feel like it is home except in the sense of being with my family. Is home with relatives in Maryland who have lived in the same places as long as I can remember? I certainly always felt at home there, but I never actually lived there. Is Nashville my home? It is the place where I lived for 21 years until I moved to Greece. But I don’t have any property there, only a spate of friends. I suppose the U.S. government might consider Nashville my home, since I still vote in my district there. It still feels like home, in some ways, although technically I don’t belong there anymore. Is home where I live now? I’ve lived in four different cities/villages since I’ve been in Greece, so that has made the question even more difficult. Thessaloniki is my husband’s home, filled with friends and family. I certainly like it here. Not to mention, this is where all my stuff is, and we all know how important stuff can be. My three cats definitely seem to consider it home. But in a sense I don’t feel like I own this place, that it is my city, my home. It feels more like a borrowed place. A temporary place. But it isn’t. Is Greece my home?

There are stretches of road along the Ethniki Odos (National Highway) that are ensconced by rows and rows of cornfields, which is reminiscent of the rural roads I’ve traveled often in Maryland. Heading towards Mt. Olympus, as the long road winds its way up the mountain, the air begins to change and there is greenery all around, which reminds me of being in Beersheba. Walking along the Thessaloniki harbor with the smell of the sea blanketing my senses, I experience a brief flashback of being in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. One of the main roads through Thessaloniki reminds me so vividly of Briley Parkway I sometimes expect Opryland (or rather, Opry Mills) to appear suddenly before me – a giant beacon of misdirected capitalism and stagnant consumerism. Once I come to my senses there is always a sadness of what I miss, but there is also a sense of completion – a binder that weaves my past with my present, joining all these places together in my head and my heart. And it is at that moment I realize that home is not any one thing, it has become the sum of my experiences, my memories, all the places I have lived and hold dear.

I am home.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ethical questions

Is it wrong to use the zoom on your digital camera to get a better look at what game the neighbor across the street is playing on his computer?

I thought so.

When all is lost

Monday, January 01, 2007

While we all waited for St. Vassilis...

St. Vassilis is the Greek version of Santa Claus, and technically speaking, he doesn't come until January 1st, which happens to be his name day. We gathered with family to enjoy the festive night in anticipation of the new year, and generally we ate, drank, and were merry.

A few of us staged a fierce economic battle over strategic cities in Europe by playing Euro Monopoly.

Finally 2007 arrived, and in short order the vassilopita was cut, with great excitement over who would be rewarded with the coin. My mother-in-law was the lucky one, which I am sure means good fortune to those she gave birth to, which means my husband and I should do well this year, despite spending enormous amounts of wealth on new kitchens.

A glorious time was had by all, although everyone over the age of 30 was tired by 2am.