Monday, April 4, 2016

Cultural Observations in Thessaloniki

The night before the race, I made a cultural observation about Greece. Children here, like children in Turkey, take center stage. Even the naughtiest kids, displaying the most reprehensible behavior, are coddled and handled with kid gloves. I had seen kids throw explosive temper tantrums and defiantly push all the elevator buttons, only to be gazed upon with adoration and patient acceptance by their parents, but the night before the race, as I lay in bed, I heard a whole pack of feral children in the hallway. I heard doors slamming repeatedly and playful screams and when I stepped outside to inform these kids that people are trying to sleep and to ask where their parents were, the answer I got from a girl who looked to be about ten, was “I don’t know.” The whole scene looked as if a bunch of elementary school students went on a field trip and the chaperones were abducted by aliens. I had to make the most unusual call to the front desk. “Hi, I’m on the third floor and there are LOTS of children in the hallway making A LOT of noise.”

Another cultural observation is that Thessaloniki never sleeps. With more cafes and bars per capita than anywhere in Europe, the motto of Thessaloniki seems to be “Drink and be merry.” It’s a beautiful city full of friendly people and now that I’ve finished the 10k and earned my Alexander the Great medal, I can go out and join the party. Revelers can choose between a wide variety of venues. I am drawn to the romantically lit caverns with straight-ahead jazz playing on the stereo, but I’m also drawn to the traditional Greek restaurants with Turkish-influenced cobblestone side streets and mezze style dining.

One more cultural observation is that the people of Thessaloniki stare with more directness than I am accustomed. I never once felt uncomfortable by any of the stares, but it was during a hair appointment, when I was hoping a hairdresser would rescue me from red overload, that I noticed and felt the deep stare of another hairdresser. He sat to one side of me and told me how much I looked like his childhood friend. “We grew up together. You look so much like her. She’s a psychologist now, so she’s a little . . . . .” I didn’t see the hand gesture he made, but I’m guessing it was a sign to indicate “crazy.”

This brings me to another important observation: Greek men are handsome. Kissing in public is about as Greek an activity as smashing plates. I had been walking around Thessaloniki thinking about how I might like to have a Greek boyfriend. If teen movies have anything to teach me, then I know from watching The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants that the key to finding a Greek boyfriend is to first find a pair of magical jeans and then take turns wearing them with my girlfriends.

I also fell in love with Greek women, especially older, energetic and assertive ones. A simple visit to a jewelry store resulted in my being patted and pampered by an enthusiastic woman who promptly nicknamed me “Baby face.” She gave me a crystal necklace and pantomimed wildly in an impromptu game of charades that this necklace was good luck. Pretending to swim and repeating, “No problem no problem,” was her way of telling me this necklace could help me overcome all obstacles. At least that was my interpretation. 

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