Whilst Athens is one of those cities everyone knows by name, I have the impression that it’s not one of the most popular destinations for most travellers. In fact, before I went, I hadn’t heard many rave reviews about the city. I’d mainly heard things like it’s dirty, there’s a lot of crime, or that […]
One evening, I accompanied my husband who went to have a chest x-ray. The general practice here is to go to a radiology lab with a doctor’s order in hand to have the x-rays taken. An appointment rarely needs to be made as most welcome walk-ins.
Once we arrived, there was only one person being seen, so we didn’t have long to wait. It only took a few minutes to have the x-ray taken and then another five minutes to wait until they were ready. The radiologist then read the findings and all was well with only a cost of 45.00 Euros. What was also very different, was the fact that we were able to take the x-rays with us, not that we would need them, but after all, we did pay for them!
Back home, this is unheard of, unless of course you are seen in an emergency room where you can have the x-rays taken and the results given on the same day. I always wondered why they make us wait to have routine x-rays done and then having to make an additional appointment weeks later to get the results. Forget about even touching the x-rays after the fact, much less taken them home with you!
This morning I went in to my doctor’s office to have some blood drawn. Usually, here in Greece, people tend to get the order from their doctor and then go into a lab where they don’t have to long as wait to have blood drawn. Since I didn’t get my lab order prior to, I decided to just have it done right then and there.
Luckily when I arrived to my doctor’s office, I was in shock to see that there were not 30 women waiting to be seen like last time, but only two. I was relieved as I had left my daughter with my husband at work and told him I would see them sometime within the next few hours. He planned an entire afternoon with her just in case I didn’t return early. After a few minutes, one of the ladies waiting went in to be seen when the other came out. The lady that was waiting called over the other patient to ask her the procedure for an exam. She basically wanted to know what clothes she could leave on…etc..etc. She was relieved to find out that she didn’t have to remove all her clothing and went on to discuss a bad experience she had with another doctor. Of course, I was only able to pick up bits and pieces of this conversation since I am not that fluent in the language. Once her informer left, she walked over to me and started talking away. All I could do was smile and act as though I understood all she was saying. She seemed quite relieved with the information gathered and was anxious to get her exam over with. She went on and on and for the life of me, I was not able to shut her up. I tried looking away, acting as if I were watching TV, but there was no end in site. Once the other patient came out, she went in still talking and continued with the doctor. Since they were behind closed doors, I couldn’t make out all she was telling him, even though her voice was as loud as a big rig truck coming towards you out on the freeway. Her voice grew louder and louder. From the doctor’s comments to her, I could tell he just wanted her out of there. After her exam, he kept telling her goodbye in a polite manner but she just kept on and on. He finally had to walk to her to the door but she still didn’t get it. At that point, I got up and walked around her straight in his office and it was at that point that she finally realized that her visit was over.
My doctor was relieved that the patient was gone. He was in a hurry as it was lunch time for him. As he gathered the items needed to draw my blood, he kept on bursting out laughing every so often and nodding his head in disbelief as to what the previous patient told him. I’m sure he would have told me what she said but we have somewhat of a language barrier problem. That, and the fact he was in a hurry to get out there before another woman with an even better story showed up.
Charges for routine medical tests here in Greece usually depend on the doctor you see and his reputation in the community. However, charges are cheaper when compared to that in the U.S., even if one does not have insurance (example: doctor visit 30.00 euros – teeth cleaning 40.00 euros). ER services and Ambulance rides to public hospitals are free. Of course, avoiding hospitals is the best plan anywhere. The tradition of nursing as a profession is not well developed and hospitals depend on families for much care. Doctors are highly trained – many in the U.S. Pharmacists can get whatever you need and most drugs do not require a prescription. Costs are, by U.S. standards, reasonable.
**Note: one thing that has amazed me since I moved here has been the hospital ER services. When going in for any kind of emergency, you don’t see a regular ER physician but instead you are sent to a doctor within the hospital who specializes on the illness or problem you have (example: when I fractured my finger, I was sent to an Orthopedic).
One of the biggest concerns for those who are planning on moving here is insurance, but there is no need to be, unless you have major medical problems. Most of us who have insurance do not use it the majority of the time. Doctors here have insurance day while other days are not. For the convenience of not having to wait in a room full of people on insurance day, we opt to go on non-insurance day and pay the 30.00 euros out of our pocket.
Emergency surgery here is not as expensive as in the U.S. either. I had an emergency c-section due to complications during labor, stayed in a birthing center for an entire week, in my own private room, with catered meals three times a day and two nurses of my own 24/7. The total bill for that was 1500.00 Euros. Very cheap, but then again, it was the location that mattered. In Athens a three day stay in a hospital after a regular delivery costs about 3000.00 euros.
Shopping in Greece is a very different experience compared to that in the U.S. For starters, stores here are not open 24 hours and are closed on Sundays.The first and most obvious difference while shopping at the supermarket is when you have to insert a 50 euro coin piece to unlock a cart for use. The cart wheels swivel, making it difficult to get around especially if your cart is full. As you go through the check out line, you put your purchases on the counter and as they are checked through, you bag your own groceries. You then return the cart by locking it to the others and that’s when your 50 euro cent piece is returned to you.
Besides the supermarkets, there are specialty shops such as the butcher, bakery, produce and fish. The bread and desserts, are by far, the most enjoyable products in Greece along with the cheese of course. The breads are baked daily and you can smell that fresh bakery fragrance once you begin your approach. The desserts and pastries are also baked daily and they are very proud of these products, as they should be. Prices in specialty shops are usually cheaper then in a supermarket.
As for prices, if you attempt to live solely as you might in the U.S., prices are high. Fresh fruits and vegetables come from nearby and are usually great. The range of foods available used to be narrow but have widened over the last few years and it includes many American items or their equivalents. Of course you can’t get everything, but as time goes by, you learn to live without. Generally, food is fresher because it is seasonal and doesn’t travel as far than in the U.S. Location plays a big factor as can the season.
Shopping for clothing is another thing all together. There is not a great variety of products – what you find in one store, you are sure to find in another. Location plays a very important part on how much you will pay for an item. In one part of the city, an item might be a few Euros higher while in another, it is a few Euros lower. The same goes throughout the country.
Greeks are very fashion-conscious and buying more expensive appeals much more to the consumer. In the U.S., we prefer comfort over style, while here in Greece, it is the total opposite. Fashion is very important here and there is a large consumption in brand name clothing. Popular styles go in and out very quickly (one to two months). Clothing for babies are not made for comfort either (where are the snappy crotches?).
Crime in Greece is one of the lowest in Europe and is one of the safest countries in the world. This is not to say that crime does not exist. It certainly does. However, the majority are petty crimes as armed violence and random assaults are fairly uncommon. Gun control is strictly enforced and possession of firearms of any type, except those licensed for hunting, is forbidden. This may play a large part as to why crime is not as high as in other countries where owning a gun is legal.
You don’t see police often in the streets, nor do you see them on freeways or roads much while traveling. The only time they may be out in full force is during a holiday when traffic is congested due to Greeks traveling the roads.
This afternoon I went to purchase a new mattress for our bed. My husband refused to come along, since last week, I was indecisive as to whether we should get a new bed or just a new mattress. Well, after seeing the beds offered at Media Strom and the costs for them, I decided on just a mattress.
The bed we have is about fifteen years old and is made the old fashion European way. The frame is made of wood and on the bottom, there are 2 x 4’s that lay across to complete the bed frame. You then lay your mattress on top of the boards and that completes the bed. It doesn’t feel very comfortable but that’s where a good mattress comes in.
Once I arrived, I was greeted by the sales person who walked me through the store showing me the most expensive items in the place. Funny how some things are International. When I told her I was only looking for a mattress, she walked me over to the best mattresses they had. There were two samples side by side and she told me to lay on them to test them out. I examined the mattresses carefully and even unzipped them only to find that they were filled with a foam-like material. They were very comfortable but they were not very durable. At that point, I quickly moved away and proceeded to the “real” mattresses that were not only less costly but more durable. They had about 15 samples and I tested about five of them while the sales lady watched giving me her opinion on what she thought was best for me. After testing the first three, they all starting feeling the same. So I picked the one I wanted and an order was written out.
The sales lady did not speak any English and with my minimal Greek and some sign language, we understood each other quite well. But like with every Greek person I encounter, the question of “why don’t you speak Greek fluently” always comes up. When it did, I told her it was a very long story and I just left it at that.
This brings me back to the earlier days. When I first moved here, I had no idea where to shop for cosmetics or personal hygiene items. Having no one to guide me, I had to go out and search alone. Supermarkets carried minimal cosmetics and commercials on TV of products were non existent. This lead me to believe that the cosmetics I used back home were no where to be found here. During my trips back and forth to the states, I would load my suitcase with items to bring back, items I needed that I could not find here.
One day, I heard of Hondos center the largest cosmetic chain in the country. When I first passed by the place, I noticed that they had a huge make-up department of just about every maker out there but I had no idea they had a second and third floor. It took me a total of two years before I realized they had the other floors, one of which was a personal hygiene department of things I had been searching for for so long.
For the last week and a half, I have been in bed suffering from a hormonal in balance. I finished a cycle of hormone replacement and it has done wonders for me. Let me tell ya, being off balance has gotta be the worst feeling! It is very difficult to walk straight, makes your head feel very heavy while with other days, it feels like a floating balloon and as far as any long term concentration, forget it! Needless to say that the majority of my time in bed was not very productive <—- never thought I’d ever say that!
When I first moved to Greece, I suffered from a hormonal in balance that was due to the climate, although at the time, I did not know it. The bitter cold we have here during December was just too much for me to bare as I have always been used to warmer weather. Since I had no idea what I was suffering from, I went ahead and told my husband that we needed to see a gynocolgist being that the symptoms appeared to be female. He got information of a doctor from someone he knew and we decided to go.
When we arrived to the doctor’s office that evening, her waiting room was completely full of women standing everywhere, as there were no places left to sit. Once the doctor showed up, all the women began following her as if they were a herd of cattle crowding in for the slaughter. Since this doctor only takes walks ins, each person had to remember who was there prior to their arrival. So the women all sat around discussing the order in which they would be seen. When our turn came, we walked into the doctor’s office and she asked what the problem was. We gave her the symptoms and her quick diagnose was a possible pregnancy. She asked me to go into the examining room, undress and wait for her to examine me. After doing so, I noticed there were no gowns to put on and that in itself made the experience all that more difficult. The room was very tiny and had a thin wall separating it from the waiting room which didn’t give a person much privacy at all. To the left of the examining table was a large glass bowl with what appeared to be medical instruments of some kind being sterilized in fluid. At that point, what ran through my mind were those old movies you see where a woman goes in to have an abortion in a cold, small room with the surgical instruments in a bowl beside the bed. I couldn’t help but wonder what decade this doctor was living in.
In the years that followed, we heard horror stories from others on the way she practiced medicine and felt that her medical license should have been revoked long ago. Sadly, to this day, she still has her practice.
Greek women, that’s who. The theory among women here has always been less is more, but then again, that has only been when it comes to clothing. As of the summer, shorts are finally being worn out in public and it is acceptable attire. As the years have gone by, each summer, I have watched how clothing such as pants have started becoming shorter and shorter. I was very surprised when cropped pants hit the market and never thought I would see a Greek woman wear them. From there, came shorts, but those were only purchased to wear at home and never in public.
Who would have thought that it would have taken so many years. In the past, those wearing shorts out in the streets were only tourists. But don’t be fooled into thinking that we cannot figure out who is a tourist and who is actually Greek.
The other day we went out to the opening of a new restaurant that a friend owns. I had been gone from Greece for so long that I had forgotten just how smoked filled these places can be. Just about everyone smokes but that isn’t a bad thing if they would just open a few windows and doors. What came to mind was some smoking areas at airports. You know the ones where you see smokers in a closed in smoking area standing in the midst of thick fog? Well this restaurant was similar. For the first time, I made the mistake of taking our daughter with us. In the past, I never have taken her to any type of outing for this very reason but I had been gone from the country for so long, that I had forgotten all about the way of life here.
I am a smoker myself but have always had the common sense to smoke outside away from our daughter and have never smoked around children or small babies. I didn’t smoke tonight while in the restaurant. There was more then enough smoke as it was. By the time we got out of there, I had a huge head rush and I can only imagine how our daughter felt. I just don’t understand how Greeks can take out their children to these places, smoke right beside them with no worries about their health.
Smoking is allowed just about everywhere here, even in children’s indoor play areas. I doubt this will change any time soon. People just won’t listen and enforcing laws doesn’t seem to work either.
If it weren’t for Greece hosting the 2004 Olympics, smoking and non-smoking sections would have never been adopted. Back then, I remember there would be one non-smoking table in an establishment, while the rest of the tables were all smoking ones. It was impossible for a non-smoker to eat without breathing in cigarette smoke. Now, in most place, things have changed to the point where they have more non-smoking tables and have even stated separating the areas into two sections.
The good news is that Greeks are slowly starting to understand the problems of second hand smoke. Okay, maybe not in all parts of the country or even in smaller restaurants, but they are making an effort to understand. Public service announcements have started here in the country in early 2007 regarding the dangers of second hand smoke. It might take a while, but they will eventually get it.
During the last two weeks that I’ve been back, there has been one day each week of rolling blackouts that last for about an hour each day. We were told it was to save on electricity throughout the country. The most aggravating part of the situation is the fact that we are not told when this will occur. So you might have your air conditioner, washer or TV on and all of a sudden everything goes off. Then you have to find something to do during that time. I have learned to keep my battery charged on my laptop for this very reason. At least I will have something to do during that one dark hour.