To be or not to be an expat in Greece?
From the correspondence and conversations, we've had with quite a number of you in recent weeks, that seems to be the question du jour.
|Saturday night out on the town in our Greek village|
A number of folks we've chatted with are hitting the just-retired-and-ready-for-a-lifestyle-change phase of life. Other are simply thinking it is time to stretch themselves a bit and try something new.
|Life isn't always a beach for an expat|
And from what they've told us, it seems like I have managed to make expat life in Greece sound pretty inviting, invigorating, and downright enticing in my writing about life here.
And it is. . .IF you are serious about making lifestyle changes and experiencing a new way of living.
We chose expat life because we wanted to live differently; to turn off the auto pilot button of our retired lives in suburbia U.S.A. and plunge ourselves into a new world where nothing is done like it was 'back home'. Now, six years later, I can assure you that we got what we came for!
That is crazy!
|Can you face constant change and new ways of living?|
I was telling an American friend who is considering expat life a few of the nitty-gritty details of daily life here and at least a half dozen times he responded, 'That is crazy!'
Well, not crazy, I would caution, simply different. And if you can't deal with different, you may want to refocus those expat dreams.
While on the topic of crazy, a Canadian couple told us, 'Our friends think we are crazy to pursue this dream. . .'.'
|Six years later glad we listened to the heart and head|
How well we remember those looks from friends when we said we were going to move to Greece. They didn't need to ask, "Are you crazy?" their rolling eyeballs pretty much asked -- and answered -- that one for them. Some of those folks are still waiting for us 'to come to our senses' and return to the old lifestyle.
We do live differently here than we did in the States. And, as with all things 'different', that can be both good and bad.
|A horta (wild greens) hunting and harvesting we went|
A new country definitely means a new lifestyle. And a new way to function day-to-day. Shopping when all items from food to fashion labeled in Greek can be a challenge. New flavors and foods (which are a novelty on a vacation but can become a tad bit repetitive when an expat). New medical care systems, doctors, dentists. New language. New customs. New ways of measuring distances, weights, and temperatures (if you are an American). New everything can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
Learning is often times priceless. The photo above shows us horta (wild greens) hunting with our Greek friend, Maria. We'd have never learned the art of harvesting wild greens back in the suburbs of Seattle. The skills we've developed, the joys of participating in centuries-old traditions - all decidedly different - add a richness to the expat experience.
|Conversion charts like these become everyday guides|
We caution those we've talked to that no matter how green the grass looks to be in Greece, it will require mental adjustments to live here beyond getting used to the daily routine changes. Every country has its issues and those seeking the greener grass of this other side may find themselves in for a great disappointment when they realize that:
|Sunsets from our Greek home, an added bonus|
As North American expats, 'third country expats' as we are known, you can't vote, so you have no say in the big picture, politics and politicians. It is a curiously refreshing circumstance from my point of view, but it has been frustrating for others.
A point to clarify is that I am speaking of a residency-permit-holding expats of which most of us are. We are residents of Greece and not citizens of Greece. Those of Greek descent who move back here are able to obtain citizenship which does allow them to vote.
However, resident expats do pay taxes, just like citizens. If you buy a home, you will pay annual property taxes. Car owners pay annual road taxes. You will pay 24% tax on most goods and services, including gas for the car, 13% on others.
|More residents mean more garbage and less water|
The country's leaders talk about addressing issues of sustainability, conservation and the like, while our local officials struggle to strike a balance between an influx of expats and the infrastructure that was built to support a small fishing village of a few hundred residents. If water shortages, power outages, infrequent loss of wi-fi and overflowing garbage cans cause you stress -- all of which are realities here, -- you might rethink being an expat in Greece.
Several years ago, I wrote about the municipal water supply drying up in our slice of the rural Peloponnese in August when tourism peaks here. In has shown improvement, but we still have periods during which time no municipal water is coming to the house.
|A village homeless cat|
Actually, garbage collection, water supply and animal rescue have all vastly improved overall since we moved to the village but are far from what they could be and are certainly nothing like the systems we had 'back home'. Of course, we pay nowhere near the taxes we did back there, so you might say we get what we pay for.
We do recommend coming and living in an area of Greece for a few months to experience these day-to- day realities before packing up and relocating here.
It's Greek to Me!
Are you able to function in a country where many people speak English but where there will be situations in which you resort to pantomime, translation tools on the mobile device and having others translate for you to communicate your needs and desires?
|It is Greek to me!|
We are making strides in 'speaking Greek' but are still light years away from really 'speaking Greek'. But we have a cadre of Greek friends now who will correct us and cheer us on as we haltingly place an order or try a sentence or two of greeting.
It is frustrating when you buy an over-the-counter medication and then can't read the directions for use and laughable when trying to follow packaged mix directions using Google Translate or Google Lens. Functioning in a land where you don't speak the language is a fact of expat life that needs to be considered.
Expats not Missionaries.
|Road construction warning sign at the construction site|
You will be baffled by customs and practices, but you will remind yourself that you came to live differently, not to bring your way of life to a new region.
The road construction stop sign in the photo above, is a good example of 'different'. We are used to construction detour signs for miles in advance of the work. Here the sign is placed at the point of construction and in this project, it was up to you to figure out that you needed to drive through a parking lot to get around it.
We walk a fine line here in wanting to help better the area by suggesting other ways of doing things, like in this case, maybe more advance warning signs. We realize it isn't our role to impose imported behaviors on a Greek community that has gotten along just fine for centuries without us.
When it doesn't work out
Most of our expat friends have flourished in this new Greek world we've all chosen. A few haven't. They recognized that either it wasn't what they had anticipated, or the desire to be 'back home' overpowered their desire to live differently. They've moved back to their home countries.
|The Stone House on the Hill tucked behind bougainvillea|
And that is the nice thing about being an expat - it doesn't have to be a lifetime commitment to living differently. We tell expat wannabes about the escape clause we gave ourselves when we caught our daydream: we would give 'it' five years. If our Stone House on the Hill. If it wasn't what we wanted to continue, the 'for-sale' sign would go up.
|The Stone House on the Hill - a place called home|
And then we add with a wink, that next year marks a decade of home ownership here and we've no plans to change that anytime soon.
For those who'd like to talk more about expat life, please don't hesitate to contact us! And to all of you, thanks for being a part of our adventure. Until the next time, wishes for safe travels to you and yours ~