In our “Chats With Expats” series, The Pappas Post catches up with expatriates living in Greece to find out what they love (and don’t love) about the country. This series aims to share insights about life in Greece from unique perspectives and allow our readers to examine Greek society through an alternate lens.
Name: Diane Boulanger
Where are you from originally: Boston, Massachusetts
How long have you been in Greece: On and off since the mid ‘90s when I lived and worked in Greece as a journalist and magazine editor for two years. At the end of 2020, though, I fully committed to my beloved Greece, having dreamed about it every day since I first left, and I rented an apartment in Paleo Faliro, Athens.
Social media profiles: N/A
Favorite street in Athens?
Athinas – it all springs out from here: Omonia Square; the Central Market; the cool little shops of Monastiraki, filled with miscellany (where you can get any odd thing, it seems); the seldom talked about “Chinatown” which has a couple of grocery stores that sell hard-to-find Asian ingredients; close to the Acropolis and Plaka; full of little tavernas and bars; it’s a packed day of entertainment!
Your best friend from back home has just landed in Greece, where is the first place you take them?
From where I live in Paleo Faliro, the first stop is Edem, a seaside taverna and a close walk away. It’s right on the beach (literally, the tables are in the sand) and it’s a great “Greek Food 101” for newbies. Plus, I get to familiarize them with the convenient tram that runs along Poseidonos.
Best souvlaki in the city?
To Kalamaki in Nea Smyrni. I order from them probably three times a week and have what might be considered an addiction to gyros and tzatziki, both of which they do extraordinarily well. (I have to also put in a plug for efood.gr — online ordering and delivery saved the pandemic for me, and To Kalamaki knows this all too well.)
One Greek food you will never eat again?
Kokoretsi – it looks and smells so good when it’s going around the rotisserie, but then… I guess it’s an acquired taste that I just haven’t gotten the hang of yet.
What’s your favorite Greek wine?
Nikos Douloufakis, Dafnios Vidiano — it’s a white wine from Crete (I believe) and it’s just so good, with a nice (but subtle) fruitiness that goes well with a great cheese platter. Honestly, I have no idea what the varietal is, as I’m not really an oenophile. This is coming from a beer drinker (I’m a New Englander, after all)! Fix and Alpha are my typical go-tos, to which my neighborhood periptero can well attest.
Where is the worst smelling place you’ve been in the city?
I can’t pinpoint the exact location, but occasionally one can experience the wafting smell of sewage in the air where I live. Probably time for a little upgrade to that sewer system!
Is the Athens transport network better than the one in your hometown?
Yes! I love the transportation system here in Greece. The tram, right outside my door, is the most convenient, economical and efficient method of transportation. Plus, you get to see the sights along the way.
Ferry or plane to your favorite island?
Absolutely ferry, or in my case, the Flying Cat (or Dolphin) to my beloved Hydra. To be fair, the only plane transportation to Hydra is a private plane and costs a ton (from what I understand). But, even so, if I’m going to another, further away island, I will always ferry it. Being on the sea is part of the adventure!
One thing you miss from home?
Grocery store variety. In the U.S., one can get ingredients from virtually any culture from our giant supermarkets. I love to cook and have a large catalogue of recipes, many of which call for spices and ingredients that just can’t be found in Greece. I cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a bunch of Greek friends (their first Thanksgiving dinner!) and had to do some mad improv on the recipes. When I travel to the States, I bring back an extra suitcase filled with hard-to-find items. Also… I really miss Amazon.com.
One thing you don’t?
Hard to narrow this down to just one thing, really. Coming from New England, I don’t miss the winter weather there (a couple inches of snow is Greece is catastrophic; try a few meters of snow, and then we’ll talk). Also, Greece is a relief from the pressure-filled life in the U.S., where we tend to “live to work,” as opposed to the Greek way: “work to live.” In the US, everything has a sense of urgency, no matter how trite. In Greece, it’s more “σιγά, σιγά,” (slowly, slowly) which can be both frustrating and soothing to an American. One realizes that the sense of urgency is often just something created in our own minds. Greeks like to make meaningful connections with people and take the time to know you. And to know a Greek at that level is to have a friend for life.
What’s your favorite time of year to be in Athens?
Absolutely September. When my American friends ask me the best time to visit, this is what I tell them. It’s not too hot, but it’s still beach weather. It’s a bit off-peak tourist season, so it’s often less expensive to get here. Places are not so crowded…it’s fantastic, and this spreads through October too.
What’s your least favorite part about Athens/something that could be better?
Getting things done is a challenge. Getting a bank account is a hassle; getting an AFM number is a hassle (necessary for signing a lease); getting electricity — you name it, navigating the bureaucracy seems insurmountable at times. That said, once you conquer it, you feel extremely empowered. It’s all doable. One must just shed their (American) expectations of online ease.
What’s your go-to beach in Attiki?
The entire “Athens Riviera” is awesome and filled with beach “clubs.” For a small entrance fee, you get a chaise lounge, and a beach server that will bring you food and drinks. There’s usually a bar and a restaurant, too, but why move off your perfectly good lounge chair? The sandy beaches are clean, and the water is crystal clear and warm. My favorite is “Nalu,” a short tram ride away.
Where is your favorite day-trip getaway (non-beach/island)?
There are a few, for which I rent a car (no need to own one… just rent when you need it). One great trip is just to follow the coast to Sounion and see Vouliagmeni along the way. Another is Lake Vouliagmeni, where you’ll find hot springs (and a great spa). I also like to take a jaunt up to Loutraki. Not only is there a great seaside strip filled with restaurants and shops, but there’s also a casino that’s a lot of fun.
Favorite coffee/hang-out spot?
It’s a tie between Edem and my balcony, which is a getaway spot unto itself.
Favorite museum in Athens?
There are SO many great museums in Athens, and I love how Athens embraces artists, both established and new. There’s a thriving art culture here that is palpable. That said, my favorite museum is the Acropolis Museum, and for tourists visiting the Acropolis, I recommend they visit the museum first. It’s a beautifully done reconstruction of the life and history of Athens, throughout its conquerors and victories, and it gives a great perspective going to see the actual structures “live.”
The graffiti — love it or hate it?
Graffiti, when done by an artist, can be masterful. That’s not the case with much (not all) of the graffiti in Athens, most of which seems to be attempting to go “gangsta.” Seeing the beautiful neoclassical buildings defaced horrifies me. And the random “tagging” all around the city and its surrounding areas is awful. Maybe Athens could create a separate graffiti art space? But, then again, that probably defeats the purpose of the graffiti-ist.
What’s your best Greek taxi driver story?
A driver who regaled the story of his wedding on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. I knew exactly where he was, where he went. I felt like I had attended the wedding myself! I have had so many great conversations with taxi drivers in Greece! It’s hard to measure. (For Americans: Uber works here, too!)
Have your Greek language skills improved (for non-native speakers)?
Yes! (I think.) Since I first came here in the ’90s, speaking absolutely no Greek, I made a concerted effort to speak the language. I have taken classes at The Athens Center and strive to learn a new word every day. It’s difficult to speak with anyone in a “deep conversation” kind of way, and it’s a hard language to learn. I speak fluent “butcher,” “grocer,” “laiki,” “periptero,” and can get around in taxis. Greeks are very kind when it comes to this and will patiently help you. Let’s put it this way: I speak a lot more Greek than a lot of the expats I know. And I keep trying, every day. It’s a sign of respect, even if imperfect, to my adopted country, and people appreciate the effort.
What’s your favorite Greek word or phrase?
Filotimo (φιλότιμο) – it’s not so much a word as it is an approach to people and to life. There is no literal translation for it, but it’s a word of hospitality, of kindness to strangers and others, of doing good, and of always being your best self when it comes to your treatment of others. More than a word, it’s a virtue. If there’s one export from Greece that should be imported across the globe, it should be φιλότιμο.
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