This is a didactic story about the importance of speaking a local language.
Coming back to Cyprus after a week away was a real adventure. Having the residence permit card kind of makes you a local and I guess that’s why every official to address me was speaking Greek. Knowing very little of the beautiful ancient language of Plato and Socrates, I could boast neither my natural communicative skills nor sense of humour. It was obvious many of the locals would appreciate some small talk but I failed them here as well. That was the moment when I realised that although living in Cyprus can be pretty comfortable for confident English speakers, to really blend in, you will have to make an effort and get the hang of some basics of Greek at the very least. Then I pulled myself together, gathered all the bits and pieces of Greek in my memory and decided to do whatever it takes to impress the next Cypriot to talk to me. The lucky guy happened to be the border guard who was checking my docs. He was smiling and overall pleasant, which instilled even more confidence in me. I was concentrating awfully hard and what he was talking about did get across to me. Our nice conversation was about where I was coming from, which was easy because this is the question every Cypriot would ask a foreigner. Then he moved to a more difficult part concerning my employment. I have no idea where it was coming from but what I said was “νοικοκυρά”, which stands for “housewife”. The guy started laughing his head off. He switched to English, said a few nice things about my “fantastic Greek” and let me go. He was so impressed that forgot to scan my passport!
A few days later my poor (but very eager) Greek got me a discount in a local bakery. Perhaps, it was taking me too long to explain that I liked their bread and to save some time the owner simply gave it to me half-price!
Being encouraged by my so far successful linguistic experiences I decided to do my best wherever I go. So, I believed it was easy to order a coffee in a coffee-shop but it appeared to be slightly more difficult than I expected. Instead of “κυπριακος” (Cyprus coffee) I asked for “Kυριακος” (which hapenned to be a Greek male name) and confused the barista as he was sure I wanted to see somebody called Kυριακος.
This failure did not discourage me and I continued to practise those few words and expressions I picked up wherever I went. Going to a Greek class by taxi I started preparing myself for the class by talking to the taxi driver about the weather. The fact that I could pronounce the word “ηλιόλουστος “, which means “sunny”, persuaded the driver that I was really good and he switched to the full-Greek mode. Luckily for me, he talked most of the time and I only had to bow and repeat “ναι” (“yes”) and “εντάξει” (“okay”) not really understanding what exactly he was saying. Then he started asking questions but they were all predictable and by then I’d learnt all the standard replies by heart. I told him where I was from, how long I was staying on the island, where I live and then he asked me another simple question, whether I like it here in Cyprus. Yes, I do. However, instead of answering exactly that, which would be “Μου αρέσει.” I said “Σε αγαπώ.” It took the taxi-driver a few minutes to come to his senses and then he asked in English: “Do you really love me?..”
I still think I was lucky that the driver was an old guy with a big family, kids and grandchildren… We had a good laugh about that but he still advised me to study well and to never confuse the two phrases any more. I often go past their office and see the guy. He winks at me and giggles. I say this is the proof that a common language can bridge any gap.
Καλή εβδομάδα everyone!