Thursday, September 17, 2009

Introversion: A Handicap

I posted the following on one of the expat forums for people living in Crete:

Something has been bothering me a little bit on a personal level, and I'm wondering if anyone would like to share their thoughts or experiences with me regarding the subject of integration with the local population.

I've spoken with or read about a number of expats who live here now who interact regularly with their Greek neighbors. Before coming here, I had assumed (hoped) that eventually I would do the same. However, I've been here for a little over three months and have yet to have any meaningful interaction with my Greek neighbors.

Now, I will admit that I can be a bit shy...I'm not the type to walk up to a complete stranger and start up a conversation...but I don't consider myself unfriendly, and I do say "Yia sas" and smile whenever my path crosses that of the folks in my neighborhood. I've always been led to believe that when one is new to a community, one waits for those who already live there to make overtures if any social "bond" is going to be forged. Hence the fact that I haven't just walked up to anyone and invited them to dinner:-)

I don't know if being a single woman would have any bearing on the issue, but I'm beginning to think that maybe I'm just doing something wrong or putting off the wrong vibes.

Any advice?

I received the following replies:

1) Try to overcome the shyness, at least a bit. It is traditional here for the stranger to be first to speak.

Next time you're passing a neighbour, in their garden or wherever, try a bit more than "Yia sas". Introduce yourself, tell them where you come from, how old you are, etc. As time goes on you'll find different people with the same family names so ask if they're related. Another great ploy is to go "gaga" over babies and young children. What's his/her name? [We were a bit taken aback a few weeks ago. We asked grandma the name of her just-started-to-walk grandaughter and the response was, "She doesn't have one. We will know when she is baptised at Easter."]

As a single woman it'll probably be best to confine this to other women. You don't want to get a reputation for "chatting up" married men when their wives aren't around.

Obviously I don't know your ability with the language but don't worry even if your Greek is awful. People really do appreciate the attempt, however garbled and a bit of sign language will help, too. Most are very helpful and will gently correct you by repeating something but correctly pronounced. I've found it useful to learn parrot fashion a few phrases; "Please speak more slowly." "I am trying to learn but Cretan people speak so fast." "Sorry, I don't understand." One of my personal favourites is "The problem is, I am old and can't remember the words." 'Er Indoors insists I only use this because, whatever the reply it always starts with, "Eh, Philippe, you are not old ....."

Ask one of the women, preferrably one of the 40+ ladies, where you might collect horta and how you should prepare it. You might well find yourself dragged off for a bit of roadside harvesting. One of our Greek friends regularly goes horta collecting with two or three of her friends. If there's any similar little group amongst your neighbours you may be invited to join them. You may hate horta and surreptitiously bin it but you'll get to know people. Doesn't have to be horta - "How should I make pastry with olive oil?" "How do I make kleftiko?" or whatever.

Most important thing is just to keep trying and speak to just about everyone, anytime. Good luck.

First off I have to say I have Greek family and I have Cretan/Greek family living next door so I am not 100% in the same circumstance. Two examples though of how I have got into "groups" of locals without the assistance of family.

Bike ride most mornings throughout the year and most times I see and say good morning to a local guy watching his sheep. Then I go into a local taverna to watch a particular football match and he is there and we say a little bit more than hello so now it has got to the stage where I am known, not a stranger to him or his friends and there are limited conversations usually around the football which is on the tv. Second case is a cafe I go to where they play chess. Sit and watch and there are others watching and someone asks you if you play so you do and then start going there regularly and you find there are a whole load of people go on a Saturday afternoon throughout the winter and play chess. Many different nationalities as well as Greek and so you are all working hard at understanding and getting points across and you don't feel like the only one. Go regularly and people recognise you, know you play and boards are out and set up with no intro needed.

Ok those are not particularly useful in your case but I think the thing to do is to be somewhere regularly at the same time so that people get used to seeing you and you get drawn in purely by being there.

If you see some old boy working in his garden ask what he is growing and does it grow well there. Not only will he probably be pleased to tell you but he'll probably say to his friends that the new Xenos asked him about plants this morning so then his friends know you do talk to people and you are interested in plants/growing stuff and they will feel easier about approaching you

Not easy but if you are not in a tourist environment then it probably requires you to make first contact however small.

My situaution is slightly different to yours as I haven't made the permanent move to Crete yet. I bought my house in a traditional, agricultural village (population around 230) 3 years ago & I visit as often as I can (5-6 times a year). I'm also a single female, although several times a year friends also come out with me for part of my stay. My village only has one Kafenion, which has a small shop attached.
There are no non-Cretan families living permanently here, there are several houses owned by returnees (from America, Germany & Australia) who spend 6-9 months in the village. 3 houses are owned by Brits & Irish, who have them as holiday homes.
The majority of the villagers, both permanent & returnees, have made me very, very welcome & I have constant invitations to coffee, meals, parties etc. On occassion I thought I'd been invited for dinner only to be taken to friends or families houses in other villages to eat, or for a party. In fact I've been told off for not taking up as many invitations as I've been offered!!! I've been told "you must walk around the village more & visit more people".
I tend not to visit the kafenion very often, as it is the domain of the men, but I do pop in from time to time. I've never yet been allowed to pay, some one else always insists. Whenever I come out my suitcase is laden with boxes of chocolates & biscuits, which I take to my neighbours when I first visit them. I also make a point of dropping a box into the kafenion.
The villagers always speak to me, even if we can't always understand each other! And I'm constantly being given fruit & vegatables, (which they've just picked) bottles of wine, raki & olive oil.
I have 2 female friends who've been staying in my house for just over a week, returning to the UK tonight. They say they've had a fantastic time & have visited the kafenion several times & been made very welcome by everyone in the village.
The next village 1km away has shops, tavernas, bank etc, and again I'm slowly getting to know some of the people there as well, mainly from eating in the taverna.
I'm quite confident that by the time I do finally get to make the move permanently that I won't feel too isolated as I will know many of the local families. I also already have several friends from the UK, Switzeland & Holland that live on Crete within a 40-50 minute drive.

Good luck, I hope everything works out for you.

Back home in the DC there are a number of "meet-up" type organizations that make it much easier for people like me, who are somewhat socially anxious/awkward, to get out and meet new people. It appears that I'm just going to have to step WAY outside of my comfort zone here if I don't want to spend the next 8 1/2 months as a reclusive shut-in. I want to be showered with gifts of veggies, sweets and home-made olive oil too, damn it!

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