Former Ashburtonians Tony and Leanne Argyle have abandoned their comfortable life on the Gold Coast to trek through Europe. Tony Argyle continues his tale.
With the first stop on our adventure being Greece I decided it would be a good idea to learn a little of the language before I went.
I had survived there previously there with a smattering of “hello”, “good morning” and “where do I find the bathroom?” all delivered so badly that the locals immediately reverted to English to avoid five thousand years of their linguistic heritage sounding like it had been processed by a shredder on high speed.
My logic was two-fold.
Firstly, we were hosting a tour so in the interests of impressing our small group I wanted to convey the impression that I could hold my own in convivial conversation with every Tom, Dick and Yanni we would meet.
Secondly, it would better equip me to deal with some of the roguish behaviour we might encounter from those less than scrupulous people we might cross the path of during our journey.
I had previous experience of this to draw on.
Last year, while in Athens, I made the rookie mistake of falling for one of the taxi scams that run from the airport, despite being well aware of their existence.
The old saying – If it looks like a dog and barks like a dog it must be a dog – doesn’t apply to large yellow cars with meters that are driven by convivial leathery Greeks that look as though they’ve just gotten in from a hard day trawling for mackerel.
Shortly after getting on board there were several dead giveaways – his insistence on lighting several cigarettes during the journey, his less than religious adherence to keeping within his driving lane, (or even acknowledging its existence), and the fact that his taxi meter spun like an arrivals board at an airport lounge, all had my suspicions aroused.
Despite my constant pointing out of landmarks I’d already seen to my fellow travellers, and the fact I could indicate the exact house we were stopping at as I’d stayed there before, he still insisted on trying to charge twice the normal fare for the journey.
Although I was a good six inches taller than him and he looked 105 in the shade I’ve been blessed with a physique of skinny arms and small pot belly best reserved for a World Vision famine billboard, so we both knew I was unlikely to cause him any physical harm.
I instead resorted to the internationally recognised expression of indignation and despite our lack of a common language we were able to communicate quite clearly with words like “taxi license”, “regulatory authority”, and “I’m taking your number plate” all appearing to sink in.
He left me with half his asking price and a much wider understanding of the Queen’s vocabulary, much of which he wouldn’t want to share within the vicinity of young children.
So, with plenty of motivation, I’ve recently jumped on my phone and downloaded an app that promises to equip me with enough Greek to get my face slapped, something I considered progress over getting a blank look before.
I’d had little exposure to Greek language or culture during my early years in Ashburton, other than ordering dinner from George Proto’s fish and chip shop and fielding next to Basil Moskovis in the slip cordon for the Star second grade cricket team.
Basil used to mutter something that must have been Greek whenever the ball went past the wicketkeeper and he had to chase it, but I doubted it was anything I would want to use in a public place.
The first thing you should know about Greek is that they don’t always use the same alphabet as us.
Their native language is in a Cyrillic script (much like Russian) which means that their m looks like a small h written upside down, their r looks like a p, and their i can look like an n that’s been drawn by a five-year- old whose writing hand has just suffered a bee sting.
I decided I would stick to the version using our alphabet to make my job easier.
I had done two years of French at Ashburton College under Dr Benefield which had left me with a vague memory of about 40 words, none of which I could make into a sentence other than “Can I rest my golf club on your toilet roll?”
Despite this, I was feeling confident that Greek could be mastered. After all, I would have several hundred Greeks to correct me during the next few weeks if they could just stop laughing long enough to do so.
So far progress has been good. I have learned around one hundred words although struggle to recall them unless an image is presented at the same time.
Unless Athenians carry around flashcards with pictures of a church, a policeman or a ‘flat white, half strength, soy milk, one sugar’ (the wife’s order not mine), then I may struggle a little with the recall.
As long as I have “taxi”, “you’re wanting to charge me how much?” and the Greek word for extortion on the tip of my tongue, I will feel well equipped for the journey ahead.