It’s all Greek to me

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JACKIE WALSH

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: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. 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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.