Culture Shock AGAIN: Next time, I’ll take the electric eel.

December 22, 2010: First day back in Bozeman, Montana

In the interest of keeping me moving and therefore less susceptible to jet lag, my dad and I headed to Heeb’s, a small grocery store, to get the roast for Christmas dinner. Heeb’s typifies small-town Western America. It’s a local joint, with avidly loyal patrons, a friendly attitude, and people I went to high school with on the cash registers.

We walked up to the butcher’s counter, and the man behind it said, “Hey there! How are ya? Merry Christmas to ya!”

WOAH, I thought. Woah man. Uh… do I know this guy? …Does he want something from me?

After getting our roast, we headed to the cashier, who rambled, “Do you folks have all your Christmas shopping done? I’m almost done, but boy, do I have a lot of wrapping to do…”

Why don’t you just tell us your whole freakin’ life story?! I thought reflexively. I managed to answer politely, but the whole experience left me reeling. I love the Western American attitude–the casual, open friendliness is, after having grown up in Montana, a huge part of who I am. But suddenly, it seemed like the strangest thing I had ever seen!

It’s not that people in Greece aren’t friendly–far from it. But you would never be this personal with a stranger in Greece, or much of Europe, actually. You might chit-chat with the taxi driver or check-out clerk about, say, the weather, or where you are from and what your job is, but you’d never talk about how either of you were doing.

January 7, 2011: First day back in Thessaloniki

I got dressed and headed out to the bus stop, to catch the bus into Thessaloniki for lunch and grocery shopping. Having just spent two weeks in Montana, I naturally put on a sweater, my down coat and my mittens without a second thought. By the time I got to the bus stop, sweat was pouring down the back of my neck. I took off the coat, the mittens, and the sweater, put them in my backpack, and carried them around with me for the rest of the day.

I was just getting annoyed with how long the bus was taking to arrive (and starting to miss my car) when it rolled up, absolutely packed with Greek teenagers. Now, I love Greek teenagers. I spend really a lot of my time with them these days. But I don’t think it’s any great secret that Greeks are, in general, louder than Americans… which means that Greek teenagers are incredibly noisy to American ears!

I had my headphones in, and as the bus rumbled along, I could barely hear my music for all the racket the teens were making. One of them even had a portable music player, which is quite common, and was blasting some sort of pop music.

That’s when we stopped at the cemetery, and a whole gaggle of elderly Greek ladies boarded the bus.

I have learned from months of riding the bus in Greece that if you don’t move out of the way for an elderly woman on the bus, many of them will quite literally push you aside. This has happened to me numerous times, and it was no less true today. Already smushed up against pack of teenagers, there was nowhere I could move; and I still got shoved! The bus was jam-packed, and while this situation is uncomfortable enough, it is a million times more uncomfortable when the people with whom you are jam-packed on a bus don’t share your cultural conceptions of personal space.

And that’s when the old ladies and the teenagers began to fight.

I’m not kidding. I almost wish I was. It was so horrifying and fabulous at the same time. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were fighting about, but suddenly one of the old women began yelling. When I turned to look, she was pointing at one of the teenagers, one of the loudest who appeared to be a sort of leader of the group. Judging by the reaction of his buddies, the next thing he said was some sort of wisecrack, and one of the other old women hit him in the leg with her bag of groceries!

The shouting went on and on, and there I was, with my headphones in, a bewildered look on my face and all my cold-weather gear stuffed into my backpack.

Since that day, I’ve pretty much settled back into my life here. I had my first day back in the classroom yesterday and it felt great. I started training for my half-marathon, and couldn’t be more excited! And even though I’ve flown thousands of miles in the meantime, it’s like nothing changed at all. I’m already planning more trips around the country (though the training will make it difficult, as my long runs are on Sundays), digging back into my research and getting back into the groove.

Here’s to the next six months!



About wrap me in phyllo dough

travel addict. greece-obsessed. grad student. bottomless pit.
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