“Are you Greek?” I shake my head. “is your husband Greek?” Again I shake my head. “Your parents?” “Όχι” (no) I respond. “How do you know how to speak Greek?” asks the man working behind the coffee cart. He is making me a φραπέ, an iced coffee drink with condensed milk and Nescafe. “I learned Greek for this vacation. It is a hobby of mine.” He whistles through his teeth and adds a complementary cookie to my order. He winks at me as he hands me my change.
Learning a language and then going on a vacation to a place where that language is spoken has been my hobby for the past eight years. I am not a linguist, just a geek. I love to talk, so adding more languages just seemed to be a natural extension of my gregarious nature. In June of 2009, on the day that the Euro hit an all time low and Greece was in the midst of beginning of the debt crisis, my family traveled to Greece. For twelve months prior to our departure, I taught myself Greek.
Crack the Code with Rosetta Stone
My first experience with Rosetta Stone began when I decided to learn Greek. I first bought Teach Yourself Greek from Amazon. This book comes with an audio companion. I started practicing the Greek alphabet. For Christmas my husband gave me Rosetta Stone Greek Level 2. I loved it. Immediately I became a Rosetta Stone junkie. This was 7 years ago and Rosetta Stone has evolved significantly since them.
Rosetta Stone is a great way to learn to read and write in Greek because all of the lessons are written in Greek. Today you can buy an online subscription which gives you access to all levels. The online subscription also gives you access to what I think is the best part of the program, the studio sessions. These studio sessions are thirty minute on-line sessions lead by a native speaker. The studio sessions really help reinforce the vocabulary.
I also like Rosetta Stone because it teaches you whole phrases to use in various situations you will likely find yourself in while traveling. Unlike memorizing a stack of flash cards, with a catalog of sentences committed to memory, I can walk up to a stranger and say “Με συγχωρείτε. Υπάρχει ένα εστιατόριο κοντά; (Excuse me? Is there a restaurant nearby?) Rosetta Stone also great for perfecting your pronunciation by giving you feedback during the speaking exercises.
Learning to read Greek is probably my favorite accomplishment. At first, words written in Greek would look strange and unpronounceable. However, once I learned the secret code it was easy to figure out the pronunciation because Greek is a phonetic language.
Take the word μπαρ for example. To an English speaker, you may want to pronounce this word as map, not quite sure what to do with the extra strange looking letter. However, let’s crack the code. The letter combination “μπ” is pronounced like a “b,” and “ρ” is pronounced like the English “r.” So “μπαρ” is pronounced “bar” which is exactly was it is in English. Learning to read Greek is like getting the ultimate decoder ring in a Cracker Jack box.
It’s All Greek to Me
After a five hour ferry ride from Santorini, we arrive at Piraeus, the port of Athens. It is the largest port in Europe servicing 20 million passengers annually. Greece has 6,000 Islands and boats from these islands arrive everyday at Piraeus. Needless to say, Piraeus is a gigantic, hugely busy place. Once we land in Piraeus, we must find our way to the airport where we are going to spend the night at the Sofitel Hotel before flying home the next day.
Athens has a Metro that connects Piraeus to the airport. However, depending on which dock your ferry deposit you, you may have a very long trek ahead of you weighed down by luggage and weary legs.
As we walk off the ferry I look up and I see a sign written in Greek “αεροδρόμιο στάση λεωφορείουbus” (bus stop to airport) with an arrow pointing straight ahead to what looks like a truck stop. All I can see are giant 18-wheelers parked about 8 trucks deep and no bus stop. “This way,” I say confidently. “There is a bus stop to the airport bus this way.” A few of the other Western travelers hear me and follow us as well. We weave through the giant, slumbering trucks. Just on the other side of the sea of cargo on wheels is a bus stop with an empty bus happily waiting at the stop. For only 3 euros a piece we are on our way to the airport. Forty minutes later without any stops in between the bus deposits us in front of the Sofitel Hotel directly across the street from the airport.
Εντάξει Means Okay
Εντάξει is a great Greek word to know. It means “okay. ” It is a word that means “I’m good,” “I agree,” or “go ahead.” It is a word of encouragement. “Do you want to go with us?” “Εντάξει.” This word makes hotel workers and restaurant servers smile at you when you use it.
Another good word to know is “Υγεία σας.” This literally means “health to you.” It is a very common greeting in Greece. Max soon discovers the benefit of greeting the shop keepers with Υγεία σας. His little two-year old body waddles into a shop. He looks up at the lady shop keeper, his big blue eyes melting her immediately. He coos “Υγεία σας” in his cute little baby talk way. The lady shop keeper cannot resist his charm. She showers him with free καραμέλα (candy) and παγωτό (ice cream). “Ευχαριστώ πολύ (thank you very much)” responds Max enthusiastically, his face smeared with chocolate ice cream.
My daughter Claudia memorizes a few Greek phrases which she utters at breakneck speed with no pauses in between. “Τοόνομάμου είναιClaudiaΑπόπουείσαι.” ( MynameisClaudiaWhereareyoufrom?)
This phrase serves her well when we spend the day at a beach in Hydra. She makes friends with a group of local teenagers who do not speak any English at all. However, with her memorized phrase, they all quickly learn her name. Soon she is sunbathing in the middle of the cove on top of a floating dock. One girl dives into the water and brings up a golf ball sized sea urchin; a deep red globe of spines. Much to Claudia’s dismay, the girl begins smashing the sea urchin onto the hard surface of the dock. Claudia cries out, but the girl smiles and opens the urchin to reveal the shiny neon orange meat inside. The girl places of piece in her mouth and hands Claudia a piece. Claudia smiles with understanding and eats it. Θαυμάσιος (wonderful); Greek sushi.