It’s all Greek to me
In the mid-1970s, I was living in England with my husband and two young children. An opportunity came up for him to move to Greece to help start up a company. It sounded exciting, we were young and off we set.
We drove across the Continent and arrived in Athens in a state of all-encompassing ignorance. We had no idea how to find our way around the city; how to decipher the road signs; how to find somewhere to live; where the schools were; where to shop. Most of all, we didn’t have a word of Greek.
There wasn’t much English spoken in those days, even in restaurants, and we hadn’t a clue what to order anyway, so at first we often ate in the coffee shop of a large international hotel, where hamburgers and chips were the staple with the mostly American patrons. It amused us that there were paper placemats printed with optimistic suggestions for pronouncing Greek pleasantries and common words. It was an entertaining touch: Greek for Dummies.
The word for “thank you’’ in Greek is tricky. My phrase book renders it as “efkhareesto’’ with the stress on the “sto’’. Apparently convinced that this would be too difficult for the tourists to pronounce, the language gurus had a flash of brilliance: make it sound like a name. A name with an American ring to it — F. Harry Stowe. Think about it. It sort of works. Not far from the hotel was the imposing American embassy. One senior diplomat was nearing the end of his tenure in Athens and a farewell function was arranged. He would have to make a speech and many of the guests would be Greek.
He had not mastered any of the language during his years in the country but he felt obliged, in the name of international relations, to make a last-ditch effort. His teaching manual was a placemat from the aforementioned hotel. He devoted himself assiduously to his study and on the day he was quietly confident.
He spoke in English of the unforgettable experience of living and working in the ancient city of democracy and his admiration for the Greek people. Finally he steeled himself for the climax. In ringing, fearless tones he announced: “And in conclusion, to my dear friends and colleagues in this wonderful country, I have just one thing to say: HARRY F. STOWE.” Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists receive a Paula’s Choice Resist Essential Kit with four skincare items, including cleanser and nourishing creams suitable for all skin types ($119.85). More: paulaschoice.com.au.