We knew there’d be things we needed to get used to living in Europe, the pace of life and the mañana attitude would be just the start. (Yes, I know that’s Spanish but come on keep up with the stereotyping!!)
We’ve bought a villa on the north-west coast of the beautiful island of Crete, but we haven’t really had an opportunity to live there for more than a few weeks before we rented it out for the summer. (Yes I know I won’t get any sympathy!) In the time that we had there we spent all of our days cleaning, scrubbing, painting and cutting back hedges, rose bushes, shrubs and trees, weeding and moving gravel (to list but a few of the labours of love to get the house to look how we wanted it) and of course we had to shop for furniture and all the bits n bobs you need when you set up house.
The house was advertised as being sold ‘with some furniture’ – that was our first mistake, we didn’t clarify before they’d accepted our offer what constituted ‘some furniture’. When we arrived at our new house at just after midnight one dark Tuesday night we found that the previous owners had indeed left ‘some furniture’.
Two green plastic garden chairs and a wobbly outdoor glass topped table in the lounge / kitchen.
Two garden chairs on the balcony
and a sofa bed. Not quite what we expected!!
I suppose it could have been worse, they’d taken all the curtain rails and shelves and anything which had been screwed into the walls but at least they left the bathroom fittings and a toilet roll (phew).
Our estate agent was an angel and lent us a kettle, mugs, plates, glasses and some cutlery, and she’d also left some bread, coffee, water, etc in the fridge for when we arrived. She was also able to give us some suggestions of shops to visit to buy everything we needed to make the house habitable.
One of the things she stressed was the shop opening times (my first insight into why there could be an issue with the Greek economy).
All shops are closed for half a day on 3 days each week (Mon, Wed and Sat) and obviously nowhere opens on a Sunday but, I hear you say, that leaves Tues and Thurs when they are open all day ……. only it’s not really all day, as they close for lunch between 1 and 3pm, then of course after lunch, they need a 2-hour siesta to recover, so the shops don’t open until 5 or 6 pm for maybe up to a couple of hours, or maybe not. I do remember back to when I was a child in the ‘70’s when our local shops closed for a half day on Wed and the Post Office closed at midday on Saturdays, but since 1994 we’ve become used to Sunday trading followed quickly by 24hr trading in supermarkets. So, this was the first cultural difference we had to get our heads around. Thankfully we are close to a couple of large supermarkets which do open all day.
Our first visit to the local hardware shop was interesting, we both managed to do a very good mime to explain we wanted to paint – with an imaginary roller and an imaginary paint brush only to find that Vasili spoke very good English. Why did he leave us to finish our mime before he said anything!!??
After an hour or so, we left the shop loaded down with huge tubs of paint, a couple of rollers (large and small), paint brushes, a set of screwdrivers, sand paper, step ladder, garden implements, etc, etc,. The most difficult conversation was trying to explain that I wanted Polyfilla. After a while (and a lot more miming) Vasili understood what I wanted and managed to find an alternative, which worked really well thank goodness, as we had so many holes to fill the place looked like it had been used as a practice ground for the local shooting club!! (From what we see the shooting club practices extensively in the middle of the countryside and prefers to focus on road signs written in English!)
The next cultural difference was the realisation that each village has a range of shops for example, hardware stores but each one specialises in slightly different type of stock, the one nearest to us has a bathroom showroom but also lots of electrical gadgets, the one in the next village is more of a paint specialist but you can only buy white paint, any other colours have to be mixed on site in a machine which looks like it’s made of bits of and old tractor and a kitchen cupboard. After a few weeks we found a really big hardware store about 20 mins drive away in Kissamos which sells everything, we were like a couple of kids in a chocolate factory the day we found that shop!! We filled our arms with all sorts of goodies and staggered to the counter (managed to spend getting on for €500 that day).
Not only does every village along the coast have their own hardware store, but also their own mini market, bakers, butcher, hairdresser, etc, etc. It seems people tend to shop as close to home as they can, that way keeping their own village economy buoyant. Something I haven’t considered living in a city.
We reflected on our first two weeks of shopping trips, and calculated that we hadn’t managed to leave any of the shops without spending over €100, needless to say we didn’t keep to our overall budget.
Although it had been frustrating having to find specialist shops for each item instead of just finding everything you want in one place, like B&Q or Ikea. For example, if you want a telephone extension cable you have to drive all the way into Chania to the local telephone company shop rather than buy them from a local hardware store.
On the other hand one of the nicest things we found was that if furniture shops didn’t have exactly what we wanted they would make it for us (at no extra cost). OK so we could only buy beds in the bed shop and sofas in a different shop but as they were family run businesses they bent over backwards to help.
We fell in love with a sofa but I wanted one with a large footstool to go with it, so after explaining and drawing a picture they said yes, father could make us one in his workshop above the shop. We also liked a set of shelves on display but didn’t like the wood so they made us one from oak, similarly the TV unit we liked was a foot too long for the room and yes, father made us one from scratch to my specifications. All the time the daughter / assistant kept on saying to us if we had it made from plywood rather than oak it would be much cheaper. That’s the first time I’ve ever been to a shop where they tried to sell me something cheaper!
In the bedroom shop I wanted two single beds which could be pushed together to make a large double but all the bed frames were ones where the mattress sits inside, which would make for a very large gap in the middle of the ‘double bed’. So again, once I’d explained what we wanted they said, “No, problem, we make it how you want.” When the beds arrived they explained they would be at least an hour doing the delivery, when I questioned why it would take so long it seems that the norm is for the delivery men to also act as carpenters and put the beds and bedside cabinets together on site, checking all the way along that we were happy with the finished product.
So not all cultural differences are negative. I’m sure we’ll find many more differences as time goes by but that’s part of the joy of living somewhere new.