Smile and say hello. In Greek, if you’re greeting one person, phonetically, it’s pronounced yah-sou, a group, it’s yah-sis.
A great rule to follow no matter where or who you are.
In particular, though, I’ve found it very useful here in Itea and, its environs, as a solo female traveler of asian appearance. The men in Itea have generally been quicker to return a smile than the women. What starts off as such a serious look can immediately become a broad, warm, genial smile. It’s the polite thing to do, but it also reminds everyone involved that as strange as the other person may seem, we’re all just human beings trying to make sense of our world and navigate it as best we can.
People are curious and understandably so.
First, being alone is an unusual thing in the Greek culture: people like to meet, to converse, to enjoy each other’s company. I love that fact. It’s relatively rare to see anyone drinking, dining or relaxing, in any way, by him or herself. Even walking is an activity most popularly done in pairs.
Second, spending time out of the house has traditionally been a man’s game in Greece, with women meeting in the house. I see lots of men at cafes sitting and enjoying a drink, usually in pairs or groups, and less often, solo. This pattern is obviously changing with the younger generation, but to memory, I haven’t seen a female on her own in a cafe or restaurant so far. Having said that, dining unaccompanied, especially for females, is still uncommon enough anywhere in the world that people are still writing tips on how to be comfortable doing this. (Personally, I find it easier at lunch than at dinner; at a more casual restaurant than a formal one; and in a quieter establishment than a busy one unless it has a bar area for dining.)
So, throw the two things together and I get a lot of stares. My friends just left after spending a few days with me in Itea and I’m almost certain that the combination of 2 black women, 1 brown woman and 1 asian woman led to fewer confused looks than me on my own. And I realize now it’s because the locals can more easily understand why a diverse group of females would be together (vacation) than why a single female (of any persuasion) would be here alone.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t have the time to learn more Greek (truthfully, any Greek besides hello, good morning and thank you). This would be such a wonderful place to converse, to ask questions about culture, history and traditions: people seem to be as curious about me as I am about them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my travels… I’ve been so blessed to go so many places, but I find that some friends have a much more immersive experience. I think partly that’s because I travel alone and I am more cautious because of that, but it’s also part of my personality to be more careful than I know some others would be in the same situations. Another barrier, though is language. I find myself wondering what I could learn, who I could meet, the experiences I could have if I was only better able to communicate with the people who live in the places I visit.
How do you find the balance between safety and a ‘true’ experience? What are your secrets to a more immersive adventure?