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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Athens, Greece

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Athens

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

I had been living abroad already in the UK and in Belgium, so my cross-cultural training before moving to Greece was frankly living and working in those countries.

After we arrived in Greece, I had some cross-cultural training, but it wasn't very helpful. I had to do most of it on my own with my Greek husband.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I had 10 years of Greek before moving to Greece, although that didn't mean I was anywhere near fluent. I continued lessons for 5 months after arriving before the lessons were cut off. I am planning on learning the language - probably with our children who go to public schools here in Athens.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Yes. Greece is one of the most mono-cultural countries in Europe. Despite speaking a bit of Greek and having a Greek husband, I was concerned about how I'd get on living and working in Athens.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

It was significant and as I've only been here for 7 months, I suppose I'm still facing it and will face it for years to come. This is a very bizarre country and the general attitude of many, many locals against anything foreign is truly disappointing.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I suppose the honeymoon phase was the first week when we got the kids into school, moved into the house and things looked like they were moving smoothly. Irritation-to-anger stage hit me as I had interactions with locals. Rejection of the culture stage, well you can't really reject Greek culture, but you can find frustrating the Greek propensity for easy money, laziness, corruption, lack of civil society & responsibility. Cultural adjustment phase, I suppose I'll be in that now for the rest of my life. We keep telling the kids what things should be like v what things are really like and that's why they should be extra careful and extra nice. We're trying to raise good citizens.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I got angry easily at sometimes thoughtless comments of the locals (education, health, level of service, corruption, etc). I felt some anxiety about driving as Athenians are known for flaunting all driving rules. For example, they park on the sidewalk, they walk in the streets, often putting their young children straight in the way of oncoming traffic. For the first time in years, I felt homesick just because I wanted to leave Athens for 10 days. It all worked itself out though in a matter of weeks.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Friends and family are not casual relationships here. They will bend over backward to help and support you in whatever way they can. One just has to learn to ask and accept that help.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Realizing that the sense of humor and level of tolerance for foreign ideas of many of the locals is very different from mine.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Practically everyday. I "accidentally" offered to help a postal worker with a stapler and nearly had it thrown in my face. I "accidentally" laughed sarcastically when my daughter's teacher said they were going to have a "party" relating to the H1N1 virus.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Always ask the reasons behind things. For example, if a bank asks you for your father's name - it may not be because they will go to him if you can't pay. It might be because before computers, that was the only way they could differentiate you from your 5 cousins with the same name.

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