It’s All English To Me

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, August 31, 2006 was originally posted on September 02, 2006.

DAY 7:  One of my pet peeves is when a traveler goes to a foreign country and doesn’t attempt to learn the local language.  It’s one thing to not grasp it, but it’s another to not even have the intent to learn and assume everyone will speak English.  There’s something about that that just puts you in the “asshole” category in my book.

In Greece, it’s a little different because many people do speak some English, after Greek of course.  Like Tagalog in the Philippines, the Greek language is slowly dying; it has become less-popular with future generations to embrace since it isn’t really practical outside the country.  However, I was told that a local Greek would still be impressed if you tried to keep the language alive, which is why I invested in a phrasebook and language CD this past summer.  In addition, I was lucky to meet Lia, a Greek-American friend who had transferred to my work office for the summer, who had schooled me on some basic phrases:

ne = yes
ohi = no
yia su = hello
tekanis = hi, how are you?
efkhariso = thank you
parakalo = you’re welcome / please
signo me = excuse me / sorry

and most importantly:

milas anglika? = do you speak English?

FLYING TO GREECE from Valencia via Milan was an 8-hour affair, but by afternoon I had landed in Athens, ready to try out some of my Greek.  Like I had been told, all the Greek signage was subtitled in English, so much that I managed to get to the train without looking lost at all.  However, I was a bit confused on which train to take.

“Yia su,” I greeted the woman at the information desk.  “Milas anglika?”

“Yes,” she answered, with a hint of sarcasm as to say, “Of course I do.”  She gave me directions to the Syntagma stop with the 3:00 train — an easy affair.  More and more locals got on the train the closer we got to the city, and I used my “Signo me”s to get by with my big bag.

“Hello,” said the woman at the HI hostel in an Australian accent that caught me off guard.  No Greek was necessary, and I got my room in English.  After an internet session, the woman at the desk had been replaced by Dimitri, a man looking a little more Greek.

“Yia su,” I greeted, trying to get a reaction.  Nothing.  “So are you the only Greek that works here?”

“I am half-Greek, half Chinese,” he told me with a questionable smile.  He showed me a picture of some random Asian kid on his cell-phone.  “You don’t believe me?”

“Sure,” I said, not believing him at all.  We went into a bit of small talk — in English — and he gloated about the big news of the day that every proud Greek knew about:  the national Greek basketball team had just beaten the USA national team in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.

“Maybe I should call you Mr. Loser,” Dimitri joked.  I wasn’t amused.

PLAKA AND MONASTIRAKI are two trendy albeit touristy neighborhoods in the shadows of the Acropolis, where sidewalk cafes and tourist boutiques adorned the narrow streets in proximity to many ancient ruins and Greek Orthodox churches.  Friends of mine who had been to Athens before told me the city was dirty, but from the looks of things, it had all been cleaned up for the 2004 Olympic Games and was actually quite pleasant.  Wandering around to get my bearing, I saw the Changing of the Guard at Parliament, and stopped in at Savva’s, the most recommended souvalki (picture above) restaurant by many locals (so my guidebook says).  Lost, I stumbled upon an adventure tour company called Scoutway, which boasted having done the bungee jump seen on The Amazing Race.

“Yia su.  Milas anglika?” I asked the Greek Scoutway guy.

“Ne, mila,” he replied.  “Where are you from?”

“New York.  I’m American.  Uh, americanos.”

“Then how do you know Greek?”

I flashed my Lonely Planet Greek phrasebook.

“Ah, very good!”

That was about the extent of my Greek — it was a good attempt — so he continued the conversation in English.  “You know Greece beat the USA in basketball…” he started.

DESPITE ITS GENERIC hostel backpacker vibe, the Student & Traveller’s Inn was a good place to go since a) it was cheap; and b) it was a good place to meet other solo travelers.  Originally I was going to stay at a Greek family-run hotel with a rooftop terrace overlooking the Acropolis, but they were booked solid.  So I reverted to my backpacker roots, and within two minutes of lounging out in the central courtyard, an Aussie gave me some of his vodka.  (Score!)  Other travelers came in an out of the common area, sharing tips and travel stories — I wasn’t the only one who had come from Tomatina.  There were Aussies, Hungarians, Germans, Mexicans, Spanish, and Japanese, but the one I really hit it off with was Tracy, a fellow American traveling solo on her way to Italy.  “Where are you from?” she asked.

“Eighty-first street,” I replied.

“No way, I just got an apartment on 81st!”

A new neighbor perhaps, found in Athens of all places, although she gave me shit for being on the east side.  (Even 5,000 miles away I get it.)  We chat through the night with other inside New York-centric jokes.  “You know [my home town] Teaneck [New Jersey]?” I asked.

“Uh, I’m Jewish.”  (That means “yes.”)  “How do you feel about going out for some ice cream?”

With a chestnut, walnut and honey ice cream cone in hand, we wandered the dimly-lit streets of Plaka, talking about this, that, and “I didn’t even know there was a World Cup of Basketball.”  I questioned if one of the darker alleys was safe, and she assured me it was; there were still lots of people out and about, including this big group of what looked like old German tourists walking in front of us.

“[I guess] they’ll rob these guys first,” I joked.  “Actually, I thinking about robbing them myself right now.”  An old woman flinched and walked a little faster.  Tracy laughed.

“You know it just occurred to me that these guys speak English.”

AND SO, my first day in Greece and I didn’t use much Greek — at least it was the thought that counts.  However, the next morning when I bought a ticket for the Acropolis, I caught the ticket lady off guard with an “efkharisto.”

“Ah, parakalo!”

It was about friggin’ time.

Next entry: Ruined

Previous entry: Stuff In Me

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “It's All English To Me”

  • GREETINGS FROM CRETE! Currently I’m in a cyber-cafe in Iraklion blasting
    Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer.”

    Here’s two more entries for you…

    Comments welcomed.

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • OMG… only about 15 minutes have gone by since that last post, and the
    radio station is playing Living On A Prayer again…

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • fixed the tomatina link..

    where’s the white sauce at? extra hot and white please…

    Posted by markyt  on  09/02  at  03:43 PM

  • Hi…tried leaving a post yesterday…but it didn’t go through. Great
    Tomatina photos…enjoying all the new entries. Thanks! Aviva

    Posted by Aviva  on  09/02  at  07:09 PM

  • MARKYT: It doesnt come with it standard; tzatiki is more of a side dish
    —but I got it on the Giro that followed.

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • Mr. Loser - I think that’s pretty amusing.
    I was in Iraklion for a while - I remember it being a good place to get
    plain dry biscuits. Though, I guess that’s everywhere, if you’re
    looking. But then, why would you be? But, if you want real Greek grease,
    I recommend picking up some traditional ‘rusks’ and cretan olive oil -
    very delicious.
    from Montreal,

    Posted by sebastian

  • Yia su Erik! Enjoy Greece! Wish I could have made it!

    Posted by Michelle  on  09/03  at  12:40 AM

  • Erik,
    Sounds like a great trip so far! That food all looked delicious! I
    thought for sure you would have a pic of the topless woman on the beach!
    After the pee pic start of your trip, I am expecting anything! Rose

    Posted by Anonymous  on  09/03  at  03:43 AM

  • Yia su erik!

    It’s always too funny that you travel half way around the world only to
    bump into someone from the same street, albeit, on the other side of the

    Looks like the weather is amazing.

    Kale tukhe on the rest of Greece!

    Posted by oogy  on  09/03  at  04:13 AM

  • ahhh Greece….

    Posted by Dan 3  on  09/03  at  05:02 AM

  • So now you can say you’ve been polite in how many languages?

    Posted by Janice  on  09/03  at  06:28 AM

  • finally got to catch up..glad to see theres a lot less toilet humor so far.

    Posted by travelgirltiff  on  09/03  at  11:16 AM

  • “Whoaaa - o, we’re livin on a praaa-yer!” Even in Greece… Looks like
    you’re off to a great start in Greece. Good for you for trying to speak
    Greek! It’ll pay off…people are more friendly in the islands. smile LOAP, LV

    Posted by Anonymous  on  09/04  at  05:55 PM

  • should have run around saying “Opah, Opah, or maybe, Oprah Oprah!!

    Posted by bil Chamberlin

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This blog post is one of twenty-five travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Tomatoes, Grease & Beer" (originally hosted by, which chronicled a trip to Spain's wild Tomatina festival, Greece's awe-inspiring islands, and Munich's world-renowned Oktoberfest in August/September 2006.

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Stuff In Me


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