The power of a well-worn Greek phrase saves the day of a struggling traveler
1990 was an exciting year for the world. The polar opposite of 2020/1. If 1967 was the summer of love, the 1990s were the summer of optimism. The Berlin Wall had collapsed the previous winter and there was a feeling in Europe that anything was possible. It is therefore with this in mind that I embark on the following story.
In London where I lived at the time, it was one of those rare summers without rain – hot and humid enough to wish for some rain.
My friend and roommate Mike came to see me one day and said, “I’m going to Greece. I need you to tell me something that only a Greek would know that will stop a conversation.
“In case I find myself in a difficult situation,” he said.
Mike was a close friend, we grew up in Zimbabwe, went to college together and saw each other in London years later. It was the first time he had asked me something like that.
The reason he was going to Greece was not the heat of London but to find the girl of his dreams, Estelle.
He had met her a few weeks before and had fallen head over heels for her and her for him. But when the time came, she left him to go to Greece where she had arranged to meet a friend.
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Mike endured the disappointment for a few weeks until one day he announced he was traveling to Greece to look for her. There was no way to move it. He booked his flight and packed his bags. Then he came to me with his strange request.
It caught me off guard, but I thought about it for a long time and until it finally came to me and told him what to say and what to do. It was all about timing and presentation.
He flew to Rhodes because that’s where Estelle said she would go. What followed was an epic quest through the islands of the Aegean Sea – the wandering knight in pursuit of his damsel with a multitude of ferry tickets in his pocket.
The pursuit of Estelle revealed a lot about Mike that we took for granted – aside from that strong romantic streak, he proved to be a determined and resourceful pursuer. She had left no clue beyond the fact that she was heading to the Dodecanese Island.
Once in Rhodes, he was able to follow Estelle’s movements by patiently browsing the backpacker hostels. He left notes on bulletin boards.
He was able to establish that she had left the island for a short island hopping tour and he followed in the hope of seeing her on the next island only to miss her for a few hours.
Arriving on an island on the ferry, he saw her on the deck of another ferry exiting. She didn’t see him as he waved his hand frantically. Needless to say, he was on the next available ferry to resume the chase.
During his travels he met an American, Brad, who was on a similar quest for his wife. It was an annual game that they played to make sure the partner was careful during the year. 1990 was her travel year and Brad had gathered a series of clues as to where she was likely to be and was following them when he ran into Mike. For a while, the two pooled their resources and helped each other.
Eventually they parted ways and Mike resumed his lonely pursuit of Estelle.
The trail took him to Santorini. He rented a motorbike and handed over his passport as a deposit before crisscrossing the island in another futile pursuit.
Finally, he arrived at the top of one of the famous cliffs of the island. He sat down on the motorcycle in slow motion to take in the view and take stock.
As he sat watching the beautiful distance, the bike sort of snapped into place and pushed forward. Before he knew what was going on, he was sort of thrown back onto land as the bike tipped over the cliff and into the sea far below. To this day, he cannot say how he did not follow the same path as the faulty bicycle.
It was a long walk back to town and to the motorcycle rental store.
The owner was not impressed with the absence of his vehicle and made it clear in Greek and broken English that my friend was paying for the missing bike. Mike said in English: “Your bike was dangerous and you have insurance and I can’t pay. “
To which the store owner responded by pulling out his passport and shouting, “No salary, no passport.”
It was then that Mike applied the only Greek he knew and learned from me.
The delivery of the words had to be synchronized with the gesture. This involved extending both hands up in the air and bringing them together to converge on the area that determines our gender.
“When you start the gesture,” I remember telling him in London, “you catch the listener’s attention by looking him intently in the eye and bringing your hands to the lower parts. you invite your target in Greek to “eat them, you indulge yourself” (I’m paraphrasing politely). “
This is an easy phrase to remember for non-Greeks because it involves the use of a single vowel. alpha, which has more than five syllables.
It seems Mike’s delivery made me proud, his teacher. The rental store owner’s assistant gasped in surprise as the owner himself froze in shock as he held the passport still in the air. This was the space Mike needed to grab the passport and put it on the first ferry leaving Santorini.
His pursuit of Estelle came to an end and he returned to London a sadder and wiser man.