Nea Smyrni, Greece Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Nea Smyrni, Greece

Nea Smyrni, Greece 08/29/06

Background:

1. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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2. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I am a social scientist married to a Greek man.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

I personally would recommend taking Lufthansa or any other carrier that goes through Germany. The flights are hardly ever delayed and the service is very efficient. It takes us 17 hours to go from Athens to California, but that is counting a few hours in transit in Germany.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most areas in Athens are completely built up with apartment buildings and very narrow streets with no easy parking. If you go to the outskirts of the city, things get better. I personally prefer the ones closer to the seaside like Nea Smirni or Moschato. They are not necessarily more upscale, but seem to have been built with more common sense and space in mind.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I would say it is average. Don't expect to save a whole lot if you are comparing it to back home. The laiki, or outdoor market, seems to be cheaper than the supermarket, and if you shop regularly at the same small shops, they will start giving you a discount without you even having to ask. Foreign products can be found more easily now. Carrefour and most supermarkets have started to carry a wide array. For more hard-to-find things you may have to dig a little deeper in specialty stores, but they are there: it's just a matter of finding them.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Multivitamins, most children's medicines really, canned soup, pickles, marshmallows, or any comfort food you really can't do without. Also, if you love spicy food, I would pack some of those ingredients.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Goody's has by far the best fast food I've ever tasted. There are loads of tavernas and restaurants of all kinds with a vast array of prices.

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Daily Life:

1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

About 5-7 euros an hour. Very easy to find someone to do it.

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

I use them quite often, and haven't had any trouble.

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3. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

I would say, it depends where you live. I lived in a working class area at first, outside the city center, and I couldn't even buy bread. Nobody spoke English unless they were under 15 years of age there. Now I live close to the seaside in a suburb of Athens, and I haven't used my Greek for anything unless I really want to practice.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Too many. The sidewalks are dismal, there are no ramps, most places have stairs, and when there is an elevator, it is too small to fit a wheelchair.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right. Although you may have to go onto the left lane in some areas due to double parked cars.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

I haven't had any trouble in any form of transportation other than the occasional flirting of the driver. It is very affordable and safe.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We bought a car here, so can't really say. I would think a small, maneuverable, sturdy car would be best. We bought a Honda Jazz that is very handy and maintenance is relatively cheap.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

I am very happy with my internet connection and the cost. I have ADSL. Sure, it is not as fast as in the States, but you have to make allowances when you are living abroad!

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I would start off with a prepaid card, if money management is your concern. It is really easy to run up a very large phone bill. Greeks love to talk , but if they know you are about to run out of your minutes, it is easier to say, I've got to let you go now, my card is about to run out. Also, you may want to note that when you call someone you get charged, not when they call you.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

There is a calling card you buy at peripteros that cost 3 euros; it is the best value for your money.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. Unless you want to teach a foreign language to children in a frotistirio, I would say no. You need to know Greek or have a very well connected friend to get anywhere.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

I would say hoochie mama for most women, and just rolled out of bed for the men.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate. It can be unhealthy when the wind is not blowing, but that hardly ever happens in Athens.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None really. You do have to be a bit careful where you walk in certain parts of the center like Omonia at night, but other than that I feel very safe here.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

This can be a toss up. Most Greeks, including doctors, believe there are no ill effects of taking antibiotics for the slightest sniffle. I've actually heard of children who take it as a matter of course right before the flu season. Doctors are luck-of-the-draw, since you really can't check out credentials beforehand, and they get offended if you question them.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Have been covered. I would add though that if you don't do well in the heat, make sure your home here is equipped with airconditioning. It is not standard.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are a number of private international schools that have already been mentioned so I won't sport with you there. There are also some public ones specially for immigrants, or rather for returning Greek immigrants, that are quite alright. They look like schools you would see on a Soviet bloc documentary, but the teachers are qualified, the classroom size is smaller, and they are specially designed for children that don't know Greek, so all the teachers must speak a foreign language. The lessons are geared to integrate the kids eventually into the Greek education system, so it is a good option, if you are planning to stay for the long run.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I've really not seen any. I've heard of special schools for special-needs kids, but I have never actually seen or been involved with one here. They are certainly not integrated with the other children.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Private pre-schools can be a toss-up. You really must check them out thoroughly before you commit your child to them. When I was looking for one, I heard raves about a couple, but was dismally disappointed when I visited them. They are not very keen on you asking a lot of questions, and especially if you want to stay and observe before you commit. But they will yield to your request if you make it a deal breaker. I would advise you also to try to speak to the teacher one-on-one and make it obvious that you will be involved. I got more honest responses once they realized I was not the type of mother who would just drop off the kids and not look in as often as I wanted to. Greeks are not too happy with having someone looking over their shoulders, so they will be more honest with you to save themselves the hassle later .

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

I believe it is quite large. There are lots of communities and if you look you will find your niche. Most embassies have their own social groups, as well as a few expat organizations like the Meet in Athens, Hash something or other, and even churches have groups after the English services.

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2. Morale among expats:

It depends on how long they have been here and how much daily interaction they have with Greeks. I think it is a reverse bell curve really, according to time here and contact with Greeks. The worst stage is about 3 months into your stay, when the newness of the experience has passed and you are not so starry-eyed anymore. You start to realize this is not the land of Socrates anymore, and that rudeness and ethnocentrism seem to be the rule. Also, the more contact you have with any form of Greek bureaucracy negatively correlates to your satisfaction with this country.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Off the board. Greeks are extraordinarily social animals. They will go out six nights a week if they can, and will complain about the one night they didn't get to see their friends. The catch to this is that it is quite difficult to make it into this circle of friends, but once you are in, you are in all the way. They are truly loving and caring once they like you.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think this is a good city for couples or singles if you have an adventurous streak, you are extremely easy-going, and you have a reservoir of patience. As for families, it is not bad either, but you have to take into account that your children will be exposed to prejudice that isn't even recognized as that, that most of your parental skills will be questioned by every Greek mother, and that you will be viewed as the gestapo whenever you try to hold even a semblance of discipline.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I think this is a very good city for gays and lesbians, if you don't mind not being in everyone's face about it. There are a number of gay bars and nightclubs all over Athens, and nobody is bothered there. Most Greeks can't be bothered to care really about what strangers do. It's a live and let live kind of situation. They don't agree with it, they don't think it's normal, but then again, they believe that it's your problem, not theirs. That is as long as you don't involve them or their children. I would not recommend kissing in public, unless you are on a party island. In Athens, or most of the mainland really, low key is best. Also, don't expect even the gay Greek men to be out of the closet. They may be gay, and they may be proud, but they really don't want their parents or friends to deal with it.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I think there are quite a few. The Greek doesn't think in a manner like most of the western world does. It is not prejudice here, but more like objective observation to them. (Although in reality it is very subjective).

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Well, all the archeological sites, if you are into that sort of thing. There is also the National Gardens, the beaches, nightclubs, and coffee shops abound. There are concerts, plays, weddings and baptisms that most of the time prove to be more entertaining than any play. Even just people-watching is a sport in and of itself with such an amusing people.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Travel, it is close enough to Europe to make weekend getaways possible, and then there are all these places within Greece that are really lovely to see.

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9. Can you save money?

If you never go out.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

I would, but I would not have the expectations I did.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Roller blades, bikes, anything you would actually need a path to do. But most importantly, you need to leave behind any preconceptions of Greece as the cradle of civilization. I think that is what sets us up for failure when we first come here. Specially me, I came with this rosy idea that Greece was full of culture, logic, and charm. It is not. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can start enjoying what it really is. A chaotic, emotional roller coaster that will always keep you guessing, but will never be boring.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Haunted Greece. It is very enlightening and easy read and gives you a glimpse at why the Greeks are the way they are. Xenophobe's Guide to the Greeks. Greek It! and a good Greek-to-your-own-language dictionary!

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Haunted Greece. It is very enlightening and easy read and gives you a glimpse at why the Greeks are the way they are. Xenophobe's Guide to the Greeks. Greek It! and a good Greek-to-your-own-language dictionary!

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Zorba The Greek. But especially My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

This is a country that is truly at the crossroads of two great civilizations. It is the craddle of Western thought and yet is extraordinarily Eastern in it's mentality and heart. If you enjoy paradox, adventure, like to have a good laugh and take moments to just say hum, wow! you will not be disappointed. This is the land where emotions are more important than logic, there is no need for anything rational as in a Western train of thought. You are what you feel at that moment, and that is enough. Right and wrong are not markers for conduct, and the way you feel, as ilogical as that may be, is accepted and understood. Saying sorry for having a tantrum is not needed. No matter what age you are. Your emotions have free range, and they are not censured. People seem to not take things personally at all. It is safe, there is hardly any physical danger, under even the most heated circumstances. They vent, and then it is done. As if nothing happened, or was said at all. If, on the other hand, you crave structure, logic and decorum, this is not the place for you.

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