Monday, May 29, 2006 

A Gifted Teacher

In my last post, I wrote about my son's 6th grade teacher who I believed overstepped the boundaries of teaching and ventured into the shadowy area of instructing children according to his own personal beliefs.

Thankfully, not all teachers adopt the same methodology in classrooms and my son was also lucky enough to have one of the best teachers I've ever had the pleasure to know.

Her name is Kyria Olga and she was my son's 1st grade teacher.

Teaching 1st grade has to be one of the most difficult classes for a teacher to handle. I'm not discounting the efforts made by junior high or high school teachers who deal with dozens of adolescents because God knows they deserve recognition as well. But I still consider the first grade class to be more difficult on a teacher since they not only have to deal with small children who are leaving the safety of their homes for the first time, they're also dealing with mothers who have a hard time leaving their 'babies' to a stranger for several hours a day, every day for the first time.

And this was exactly the scenario in my son's first grade class. Children crying uncontrollably when their mothers left them,and even worse-the mothers who wouldn't leave their kids and constantly wanting to talk to Kyria Olga every chance they got about the eating habits of Stellitsa or how Giannaki's hand hurt from having to write the alphabet every day. They would stalk her during recess breaks, before and after school and even in the supermarket while she shopped. For mere mortals like myself, I would have probably banned the lot of them from the schoolground altogether and shopped in supermarkets two districts away from the school.

But not Kyria Olga. She handled them all with such tact and patience that within the first two weeks of school, the tears dried up, the tantrums were thrown outside the schoolgrounds and there weren't any parents left peering through the crack in the classroom door. Order was restored and there wasn't a child who would intentionally try to disappoint her because her praise meant so much to them and her disappointment in them was more than they could bear if they didn't take their jobs as students seriously enough.

She started off each child's day by giving them a hug and she ended it the same way. She knew the children so well by the end of the month that she even knew which coat and backpack belonged to whom.

On more than one occasion, she told me about other children whose families couldn't afford food for their children let alon all the school supplies required for the school year and asked if I could donate a couple of extra notebooks and pencils to help them out. I'm sure I wasn't the only parent she solicited help from because at Christmas and Easter, her office was filled with bags containing food, school supplies and the odd backpack or two. Her bulletin board was plastered with photos of her hugging pupils she had in her classroom spanning over two decades. My son was one of them.

Unfortunately, that year she retired and there wasn't a child or parent--myself included--who didn't beg her to stay. I have never met a teacher like her before and my son hasn't one who has even come close to exhibiting the kind of devotion and love she reserved for her students and her job. It's been 5 years and my son still misses her and wonders why kids aren't asked to choose their own teachers. I just tell him to keep showing up every year at school and maybe, just maybe, he might get lucky enough to have another teacher of her calibre. If all teachers were like her, then maybe there'd be a lot more kids finishing high school and entering university.

Thursday, May 25, 2006 

A Lesson on Homosexuality

When my son came home from school today, he was all fired up about what he had learned in school this morning. I was expecting him to tell me about the results of his geography test we studied for together this past week learning all the European capitals and country locations. But his excitement was for an altogether different reason.

It seems that his teacher inspired him to prevent children from becoming homosexuals! Apparently, during his Greek language lesson, the children read a story about a little boy who had a high fever and the rest of the child's family slept in his room until the fever passed. Now, most of you probably thought what I did...that this was a story about how a family's love can make children feel better and have the strength to fight difficulties. According to my son's teacher, this story was to show the children that 'overprotection' can cause children to become homosexuals!

After a shock which lasted about 5 seconds, I asked my son if he agreed with his teacher. He told me that of course, he agreed with his teacher and that it was society's obligation to prevent people from becoming homosexual so their lives 'could be better' and that he would be doing them a favour since they wouldn't be teased for being 'anomalies'.

I tried a different angle. I asked him if he thought that it might be better if people changed their own attitudes towards homosexuals and just stopped teasing them.

Oh no, don't understand what I'm saying. It's better to change a few people than the many. So there are fewer homosexuals and I'm going to make sure kids don't become homosexuals because it's easier to do that than to try to change all the people who aren't.

Brick wall.

"What makes you think homosexuals have to change? Are they evil? Do they hurt you?" I asked.

My son then told me that he didn't think they are evil or do anything really bad like murder anyone. (I breathed a sigh of relief least some things we've talked about in the past sank into his mind.) But he continued..."It's just that they will feel bad if they become homosexuals and I want to make sure they don't feel bad."

"If they don't do anything to you and they're happy, what makes you or your teacher think you have the right to even try to change them? It's not like they're criminals, right?"

"Mom, you're still not listening. I'm not saying they're criminals. I'm just going to make sure they don't end up sad and without friends."

Back to square one. I give it another shot.

"I think it's great that you want people to be happy but how would you like it if someone decided to take it upon themselves to 'fix' you because you're not what they think you should be? Wouldn't it be better if you just decided to like people if they were kind and good to you no matter what religion they were or who they decided to have for boyfriends or girlfriends?"

"Mom, of course I'd still be their friend if they were good to me but you just don't get it, do you? My teacher says that we can prevent some of them from even BEING homosexuals if we just tell parents to stop overprotecting kids." He became frustrated with me and said he wanted to change the subject because I wasn't listening.

"I am listening, I'm just telling you that I don't agree with you or your teacher. And I really don't think it's anyone's place to decide to change people if they haven't done anything wrong and especially if they're already good, kind people. I think the world needs more kind people and it's not our job to make everyone conform to what we think they should be. I'm not saying that you have to agree with everything everyone else believes in or how they behave. Just that you don't have to make them become exactly like you. Wars started that way. How do you think people justified the Crusades?"

"Oh, not the Crusades again Mom. Everyone knows they were wrong. I'm only trying to help people and you refuse to understand that and think I want to start a Crusade."

I must have tried a dozen different approaches with him to try to make him realize that it might just be better if we let good people stay good and focus on trying to change ourselves so that we don't dismiss good people just because they're different from us.

At least he promised me he'd think about what I said and he might talk to me tomorrow about it if I promise not to freak out. Fine by me. I think I'm more upset with his teacher for even having this one-sided sermon with a class full of impressionable young minds based on his own personal opinions and without having any concrete evidence to support it. I've had to deal with a teacher who told his class that Muslims have a gruesome, violent version of our bible. Another teacher told him that all Americans were killers because of the NATO bombing of Serbia. (He was only 5 then and he thought he was an American killer because he spoke English like Americans.) And now I have to contend with this latest 'lesson'. I just wish some teachers would stop trying to use the classroom as a breeding ground for discrimination or at the very least, to think about the repurcussions of their statements before they say them.

Monday, May 22, 2006 

What's In a Name?

The Saints: Constantinos and Eleni

Yesterday was a very busy day for my family and millions of other Greek families. May 21 is the Name Day for Constantinos and Eleni. Since my husband's name is Constantinos, we hosted a barbecue for friends and family to celebrate the occasion with us. Since 100% of all Greeks are either named Constantinos or Eleni or related to someone with those names, they were out celebrating as well. This was the reason my husband's aunt who lives in Penteli, spent nearly an hour in traffic getting to our house in south Athens. Despite the hassle, she managed to make it on time along with 20 other people for what proved to be a great feast.

I was run ragged preparing the food, the coffees, and just being the general information centre for our guests with all their requests. It soon becomes quite stressful when I'm trying to get the food upstairs for grilling and all the while I'm constantly being bombarded with requests for more ice cubes, extra cutlery for the kids who can't manage to keep their forks from becoming projectile missiles, sunscreen for the paranoid, baseball caps for the kids to prevent them from getting sunstroke, and so on. In between all these requests, I have to make sure each guest feels welcomed and no one gets left by themselves in a corner watching all the action but too shy to include themselves. Usually, this isn't a problem if it's just a regular party where the food is set out buffet style and all I have to do is mingle. But it's hard to cook, serve, and talk about one guest's dating problems, another's work problems, and another's business problems. I think I managed to give some good advice as long as Guest 1 isn't dating Guest 3's wife today and Guest 3 never hired Guest 2 at his company. If they're all returning my calls this week then I think it's safe to presume I really am the Hostess with the Mostess.

As for the gifts, my husband now has two of everything--two bottles of cologne, two cakes, two shirts, two cd's, two business card holders, two wallets and two pens. Combined with the birthday gifts he received in February, he has 4 of everything which means that, by Christmas, he will have enough inventory to open his own gift shop.

I'm just surprised at myself for having the restraint all these years to keep my given non-Christian name and not trading it in for a Greek Orthodox sanctioned name just to have the excuse to throw a Name Day party for myself. I wonder how many people would show up if I changed my name to Eleni Dimitra Maria Evangelia Vassiliki Seawitchakou. I wonder how long it would take for people to figure out what I was up to? Maybe they'll accuse me of being a Name Fraud but I think it's definitely a case of the ends justifying the means.

Saturday, May 20, 2006 

One Size Does Not Fit All

There are standards of measurement around the globe. A kilometre in Canada is the same length as a kilometre in Greece. A litre of milk is the same size in Germany as it is in Greece. A kilo of cheese in France is the same size as a kilo of cheese in Greece. So, why is it that the clothing industry can't standardize their sizes? In North America, the size labels are pretty much standardized but in Europe, the size labels are huge since the size is listed with its equivalent in each country.

Every time I buy clothes, I can't rely on the size printed on the label. Sizes seem to be dependent upon many variables which only serves to triple the time I spend in stores choosing what to buy.

Manufacturing country
Often, if the label says "Made in China", extra large (XL) is really only a Small (S) in Greece. XXL in Greece is just Large (L) in Canada. When my parents sent my husband some t-shirts from Canada for the first time, they asked him his size so he said XXL. They sent him XXL. The t-shirts were big enough for the both of us to fit in at the same time!

Clothing brand
You'd think that brand names would have standard sizes in their stores but that's not the case. On Thursday, I bought 3 Small size t-shirts from Reebok for my son since the day earlier I had bought 3 Small size from Fila and they fit him perfectly. But when I got him to try them on, they were too small and I had to go back and exchange them for Medium. And even then all their Mediums were different sizes. It's so frustrating because I'm wasting too much time exchanging them.

Type of fabric used
Once I get the size narrowed down to just one or two, then I've got to look at the fabric. If it's 100% cotton, I will shrink it just a little when I put them in the dryer. Or if there's a bit of spandex in the fabric, then I don't need to buy a larger size since the material will stretch. Even the waste bands are important when deciding size. Elastic ones will stretch.

Men's and Women's clothing
I think companies who design clothes for women purposely misstate the size on the label so that women who are size 12 will be more apt to buy a dress if it says size 10 on the label. It's a psychological thing. And it works. What size 12 woman wouldn't love to have clothes with labels that say size 8 or 10? I think men don't really care about what the label says, so the manufacturers don't have a reason to lie about it when they print the size tags.

With all these things to consider before buying clothes, the only way to save time and avoid extra trips to exchange ill-fitting clothes, I have learned to do two things. I ignore the label sizes altogether and bring a tape measure with me to ensure they will fit the person when I give the clothes to them. But this means I have to always have updated measurements written down and I can't impulse buy. I suppose that's a good thing for my wallet.

The other way is to take the person I'm buying for with me. If it's my son, we'll be at each other's throats in the store. He'll accuse me of making him wear 'girl colours' which, right now, are anything other than navy blue, black or beige. Or he'll just be bored within 5 minutes, refuse to try on the clothes and that puts me back to square one. If it's my husband, we won't be able to walk out with less than 20 things because he hates shopping so he always wants to make it worth his while to go so he won't have to come back for another 6 months. Even though he rarely ever needs all the stuff he buys anyway. And that's definitely a bad thing for my wallet.

I suppose I could always learn how to sew and make clothes. Right. Just like I could learn how to make a Ferrari and build it. Who am I kidding?

Or I could stop buying clothes for my family and make them fend for themselves. But the world is not prepared for a 12 year old wearing pyjamas 24-7 or a 37 year-old wearing a linen suit to get his car washed.

There's a lot to be said for permanent body painting.
Imagine that.
No more shopping required and it really does fit all.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 


It's only May but already people are talking to me about diakopes (vacations) for the summer. As always in these conversations, it seems mandatory that everyone will share at least one vacation horror story in the effort to dissuade another person from visiting a particular location to prevent them from wasting their money and time while another person who claims to be an authority on the locale will refute that person's claims of bad service, overpriced lodging and substandard substandard local cuisine. It's a rare thing when everyone in the discussion will agree on a particular place as worthy of a visit.

For instance, a friend of ours had always tried to convince people to visit the island of Kefalonia since his family was from there and therefore, not a year goes by that he doesn't spend at least a week on the island in the family's summer home. 4 years ago, we decided to see what all the fuss was about especially since I had read the book Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Although it's a beautiful island, and bougainvillea decorated just about every stone wall and terrace, I can't say I enjoyed myself. No matter where we ate or what time it was, when it came time to order, half of what the menu offered was not available so we would spend at least a half an hour trying to find substitutes that we could eat. After the third day, we became so accustomed to not getting what we ordered that we just told them to keep the menus and tell us what they actually had in the kitchen which, didn't amount to much more than a couple of pork chops, tzatziki, french fries and Greek horiatiki salads...all overpriced. A glass of milk cost me 5€ in the main square!

We had rented a nice little apartment with a great view of Argostoli but in the 10 days I was there, not once did they change the sheets or clean it. Twice I had asked the owners to change give us clean sheets and towels, and twice they dumped the linens in my hands and told me to do it myself. We complained to the Tourist Police and they told us that the owners could be fined for not adhering to the standards set out by the tourist board. When it came time to pay the bill, the owners were told to give us a discount or be fined by the Tourist Police.

The only thing that saved our vacation from being a total waste of time was the beautiful beaches and the Melissani Caves.

At least we didn't experience an earthquake there like we did while on vacation in Zakynthos and it wasn't so overrun by tourism that we could still order Greek food and buy Greek magazines which was next to impossible on Zakynthos.

My favourite island so far is Milos. It's still very Greek and has the best beaches I've ever seen. Santorini is also well worth the trip. It's everything you're lead to believe from travel brochures even if ordering seafood does cost you an arm and a leg.

Every island has its own character but if you can't find a decent place to sleep and are constantly being disturbed by noisy and drunken tourists on low-cost vacation deals, then your vacation can soon become a horror story.

When booking your dream vacation it's always best to do a bit of research and request some photos of the rooms of your prospective hotel from your travel agent. I can't tell you how many times we've paid for A class lodging only to find out that once we arrive, the A class designation was given to the hotel in decades ago by EOT (Greek Tourist Board) according to the standards of that time and was never reclassified because EOT never got around to it. So we ended up paying A class prices for a room without modern amenities like air conditioning or a fridge and the decor of a 1950s rural farmhouse.

Since most Greeks vacation in August, you can get better room rates if you go in June, July or September not to mention vacant beach chairs with a bit of space between you and the next person.

If only it were July now, I'd be on a beautiful Greek island beach instead of at my laptop blogging.

Friday, May 12, 2006 


Life in a small town looks pretty good right about now.

This week just flew by like a bat out of Hades. I barely had time to read the news let alone blog it. The sad thing is, I can't say I was productive. Most of my 'free' time was devoted to waiting...
-waiting to find parking spots
-waiting in the bank line up to pay bills
-waiting in the supermarket line up for groceries
-waiting in doctor's offices

I spent yesterday morning and last evening trying to get my son's medical permission slip signed by a doctor to allow him to play in a soccer tournament next week. That alone ate up 4 hours of my time and the cardiology exam itself only took 5 minutes to do.

This is why I like small towns. I can do a dozen things there in the time it takes me to do one thing in Athens. When I was younger, I always thought that living in a small town was synonomous with mental destruction. Now, that I live in a large city like Athens, I see that I had it all backwards.

It reminds me of an anecdote I heard awhile back about an GreekAmerican asking a Greek fisherman why he never did anything in his life but fish in a small town since there was so much more to life. The fisherman patiently waited for the Greek-American while he pontificated about the importance of a university education which enabled him to land a job involving long hours but good pay working for a multinational company. The fisherman asked him why he went through all that trouble. The Greek-American looked at him incredulously and told him that's what he needed to do in order to achieve his lifelong retire to a small island town in Greece and spend his days on the azure blue waters in his boat.

"Like me?" asked the fisherman.

Monday, May 08, 2006 

Gulbeyaz Karahasan

Because of Greece's 400 year occupation by the Turks, some Greeks still harbour distrust and/or resentment towards the Turkish muslim population inside Greece today.

So, when Gulbeyaz Karahasan, a 28 year-old lawyer from northern Greece was chosen as PASOK's candidate for the upcoming prefect elections to represent Drama-Kavala-Xanthi, the decision sparked criticism from both the Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki and the Macedonia-Thrace minister, Giorgos Kalantzis.

Unfortunately, their criticism of PASOK's choice has nothing to do with her qualifications as a politician but rather, with her religion. Mr. Kalantzis questioned her loyalty to her country by asking her if "she would stand next to him during the March 25 celebrations"--the day chosen to commemorate Greece's independence from Turkish rule. This challenge prompted Ms. Karahasan to respond "I am Greek and Muslim in faith. I was born and brought up in Greece and I attended a Greek University. I believe in a modern society that stands no discriminations. A society that appreciates and respects everyone’s opinions."

Even though Mr. Kalantzis states he never questioned her nationality, he has questioned her loyalty to Greece on the basis of her religion which shouldn't have been an issue either since the Greek Constitution specifically states...

Article 4
1. All Greeks are equal before the law.
2. Greek men and women have equal rights and equal obligations.
4. Only Greek citizens shall be eligible for public service, except as
otherwise provided by special laws.

If anyone has any criticism about Ms. Karahasan, then it should be restricted to the scope of her abilities and qualifications as they pertain to her capabilities as a politician. I wish her well in the upcoming elections because Greece certainly needs more elected women officials and hope that voters' opinions won't be clouded by religious intolerance and past prejudice.

Thursday, May 04, 2006 

What Fodor's Didn't Tell You About Greece

If you want to hail a cab, you must first know where you're going since you have to stand on the side of the road in the direction you intend to go. Cabs don't stop for you on opposite sides of the street.

The gesture that most westerners use for "Stop" (open palm facing outwards) is a supreme insult when used in Greece. It's called the moutza and if you don't want to hear obscenities shouted at you, then you best figure out a better gesture for it.

You don't have to take your shoes off when entering someone's house. I was told off once by someone I visited for doing this. She asked me "You don't think my floors are clean enough for your shoes?" Several times I was told that this isn't Japan and you don't have to leave your shoes at the door.

When you give out your phone number, separate the digits differently from North America. So if your phone number is 555-1234, in Greece, you have to say 55-51-234. I still have to think twice when saying my phone number here and it's been 8 years.

When you go out to eat at a taverna, many dishes are shared by everyone present. Especially salads. It took awhile for me to get accustomed to not being insulted every time I gave my order to the waiter and to have it literally disappear in front of my eyes once everyone at the table took a bite.

To be called 'baby', 'darling', 'sweetie' by both Greek men and women doesn't automatically mean people are condescending towards you. Most of the time it just means that they like you and truly do mean it as a term of endearment.

There is no such thing as a No Questions Asked Refund Policy at stores. There is no such thing as a refund. I don't know anyone who's ever gotten their money back from a faulty product they've bought. The most a store will do is offer an exchange or they will tell you to return the non-functioning item to the distributor which will often takes weeks for them to repair and that's if they don't have to send it out of the country. I devoted a blog to this entire issue a few months ago.

An engagement ring is not a requirement when getting married. You wear wedding ring on your LEFT ring finger when you're engaged and on your RIGHT ring finger when you get married.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006 

The Men in Blue

Women Need Not Apply
On April 28, Greece's highest court (Council of State) told the Greek Police Force NOT to hire any more women after ruling "that men were better are fulfilling the force’s tasks."

Are they? Are men better equipped to handle female victims of sexual assaults and sex trafficking, or wife abuse? I sincerely doubt it. I'm sure most women will agree that female victims would much rather to have their cases dealt with by a female police officer. Considering that the majority of all the disgraceful charges brought against the Greek police force recently (rape, torture, corruption, gambling and prostitution), the perpetrators were male, not female.

The Council of State said that only 15 percent of recruits going through the police academy should be women. Some 2,800 women currently serve in the police force — out of a total of 42,848 officers (6.5 percent) — and the court said this figure was high enough.

What leads them to believe it's high enough? Did they do any research on it or did they decide all by themselves that 6.5% is the magic maximum number and that's the end of it? What are their criteria for making this percentage the ceiling of female police officers on staff?

Explaining its ruling, the court said that the limit was justified because of the nature of police work. According to the court, this demands “a high level of physical fitness and muscular strength, speed, endurance, a large degree of courage and composure — qualities in which men are superior to women.”

We may not be as strong or as fast as men in every case but when it comes to endurance, courage and composure I beg to differ. Throughout history, women have endured as much if not more than men. Is there a quantifiable method to ascertain the level of courage anyone has let alone females? Bouboulina would roll over in her grave if she heard this one. As for composure, it's quite obvious the good Court has not read the Policewomen on Patrol study where it states that "women patrol officers tended to be more effective than their male counterparts in avoiding violence and defusing potentially violent situations."

The court said that policemen are often called on to confront violent situations and catch dangerous criminals, and that women could not be asked to do this “because of the well-known biological differences.”

Because we're not physically as strong as men, we can't catch criminals? Is that what this statement implies? With all the new technology available to police departments in the 21st century, surely there are positions inside the force which don't require women to apprehend the most violent criminals by themselves in dark street alleys.

I checked the calendar and I'm still in the year 2006. I can't speak for the persons who were behind this ruling though, I'm sure the calendars on their desks read 1806.

Mobile Police Vans
By the end of this year, Athens will be getting some hi-tech mobile police vans in a bid to help Athenians feel safer while hopefully reducing some of the workload on the traditional bricks and mortar police stations. Just how many we're getting, they don't say. What their actual capabilities are remains to be seen. They might turn out to be ice cream trucks with a plastic fold-up desk, frappe maker and a fan for all I know. How much they'll cost is not mentioned either...and I'm too afraid to find out.

The Public Order Ministry plans to park them in densely populated areas like Kypseli to assist citizens in reporting crimes as well as getting signatures validated for the endless amount of paperwork demanded by nearly every single government office and financial institution in order to process their own paperwork. Having spent hours in the past searching for parking and then waiting in slow-moving line-ups to get this done, I'm really hoping against all odds that these vehicles may save Athenians a lot of time.

Considering that the vans are supposed to be equipped with the same technological equipment (ie., one dilapidated computer and 4 inept operators) already in police stations, reality dictates that we will still be waiting outside the vans while the equipment goes on the blink.

Apparently, they'll also be 'examining the crime scenes in their areas'. Whether this means they'll be packing CCTV equipment or just observing activity in recognized crime areas could be anybody's guess. Who knows? Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised and find out that sidewalk parking could be eliminated, crime will decrease and efficiency increased all for a reasonable price. And maybe pigs (no pun intended...honestly) really can fly.