10 metro stops and 10 bus stops away from where I’m living in Greece, there is a little restaurant on Vouliagmeni beach. It sits right on the water, overlooking the sea and the mountains that surround it. It serves great food, while also serving as the perfect opportunity to sit and really get to know what the local people are all about. Sometimes, we are constantly in a rush. Everything needs to be done and seen urgently. We provide no time to just take in the moment to truly recognize what is going on in the world around us. At times, we never stop until the moments are over and we sit there wondering what we missed while we were consumed in finding out where we were going next. Days spent sitting still are just as important as the days we spend seeing everything we can fit in while the sun is shining. I spent today simply taking everything in.
Studying abroad means that you are trying to learn about a new culture. Inevitably, you will be a little shocked in the beginning. This isn’t a bad thing; it just means that you are expanding your ideas about different ways life transpires. You find that certain things you think you know are entirely different from what another country thinks are right. They will talk about their holidays and you will wonder what the significance is in flying a kite and eating seafood really is. You learn about hidden signals and the differences between how you nod to say yes and the different signal they give for it (in Greece they tilt their head to the side). You are figuring out how they eat, when they eat, what they eat, how they drink and what is culturally acceptable at a dinner table. These little cultural differences are what make every single country and its people unique.
There are so many things you can figure out just by watching people carry out their daily routines. You get to know a lot about people living in a country by exploring a local beach during its off-season. When you become the minority, it forces you to realize things you never even wondered about.
Greeks are funny people. They will swear to you that any weather below 50 degrees Fahrenheit is comparable to the Arctic, yet simultaneously they will be out swimming in water that I can barely keep my feet in for over five seconds. The same people, who bundle up in their heaviest winter jackets on a day I would simply choose a sweater, can be spotted in the ocean sans a wetsuit. It’s terrifying and incredible.
Watching people carry on with their life, without a clue that anyone is paying attention, is remarkable. It teaches you so much about who they are.
A person’s personality is not exclusive to what they say and whenever you can’t understand their words, you begin to find new ways of getting to know them.
Of all of the people I paid attention to today, the one I want to bring the most attention to would be my waiter. This generous man made my day, while hardly having to say a word to me. The language barrier was very evident between us, but it wasn’t so much of a struggle as it was an advantage. Not that I wasn’t dying to understand him, but without being able to speak the same language, we had to communicate with actions, which gives you a whole new perspective on the person you are interacting with. You get to know their easy smile, the patience that radiates off of them, and what the gestures they make mean. Instead of relying on words, you pick up on things you would otherwise pay no attention to.
As we would try to communicate, we would laugh. When he filled up my empty water glass, I said one of the only Greek words I know (thank you) and he smiled happily as if he was just glad to see me trying. He never once looked frustrated or annoyed by the two American girls at one of his tables. He took to us as if all he wanted to do was help. It’s an amazing feeling to communicate with someone without words.