The embassy book club

This is by far the busiest fall on record for us. Liam joined just about every club at his school, plus he’s learning guitar, so I’m racing to pick him up every night at 5 o’clock and squeezing in dinner before homework and bedtime. Violet started back at Gymboree and I’m hosting play dates for her once a week. I started back up volunteering to teach English to refugees once a week. I’m trying to get in shape with a regular Pilates and aerial yoga classes, and I’m meeting friends once a week for a lengthy bike ride. And then, just for grins, I decided to join the embassy book club.


It might have been too much to bear. But what a book club! This month they were reading A Gentleman in Moscow and meeting for dinner and cocktails at the Hotel Grand Bretagne. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of the book (says the mother of two who still can’t get through the stack of National Geographics that have been piling up on her nightstand) but it sounded like a lot of fun. I haven’t been in a book club in years…since before kids, actually. And I love, love, love reading. So with the meetup a week away, I borrowed the book from a fellow member and read feverishly for seven days straight. Actually, before kids I could have easily finished the 462 pages in a weekend, but squeezing it in at nap times and after the kids’ 9 PM bedtime, it was a little more challenging.

So, yeah, I finished the last 20 pages on the train on the way to the dinner. But, hey, it was all fresh in my mind. I could actually remember the character names and most of the plot. Especially the last 100 pages or so.

And this book club rocks. They looked up information on the author to share, we had intelligent conversations about different themes and plot points, and we killed a few (or more, ahem) bottles of wine. What a perfect setting for this novel about a Russian aristocrat under decades of house arrest at a fancy hotel in Moscow during the Cold War.

Plus, there was the view.


One of our members who showed up on time (which was pretty much everyone else but me) took this lovely photo at sunset. Nice shot, Renee!

This hotel meet up was a special treat — most of the book club meetings are hosted by the members at their homes either in the morning or in the evening. But I suspect this lovely group of ladies will come up with some fun, thematic venues again at some point.

Next month we’re reading The Confusion of Languages by Siobon Fallon, who is incidentally the spouse of an embassy employee living abroad just like us! How inspiring! Who knows…maybe I’ll get around to writing that comedy/motherhood novel about living overseas that I’ve got knocking around in my head. Right after I get through these National Geographics.

A Fruitful Friday

So…I hit a motorcycle. Calm down, everyone is fine. He didn’t even lose his balance. It was more like a grazing. I stopped to see if he was ok — not actually getting out of the car, because what could I possibly do to help with two kids in the back? But he checked himself over briefly, gave me a wave, and went on his way. I was making a left into the Embassy on a one-way street, blinker on at least 50 feet before I turned, so I don’t feel like I was in the wrong here. These motorcyclists zip around cars without abandon. Traffic anarchy.

So, let’s see…I’ve hit a parked car, been rear-ended, hit a pedestrian, and now hit a motorcycle.

Wait…is that…do I have a Bingo?

So, after my near brush with, um, Bingo, I made it to the Embassy for a little play date at the pool. Except as I was walking to the pool gate, I heard a clap of thunder. Fantastic. Undeterred, we took shelter under an awning, hoping this would be a quick summer gale. It was not. We had to quickly usher the kids back inside the building as the rain came down in buckets. Not your typical Athenian June weather, for sure. We killed a little time in daddy’s office, then tried again later in the afternoon. The clouds cleared, the sun came out, and the kids had a lovely time. Violet didn’t get to nap, but we planned to have a sitter that evening, so I figured I’d let her deal with the aftermath.

A friend recommended we buy our movie tickets at Germanos…the Radio-Shack-if Radio-Shack-was-still-a-thing of Athens. Apparently you can pay cash, so no need to have a Greek credit card billing address. Huzzah! James almost didn’t make it home in time — seems the luck I had that day was rubbing off on him. His bus randomly rerouted miles out of the way, with little or no explanation that he could decipher. Even the native Greek speakers were perplexed. I had just enough time to run to Germanos to buy our tickets after he got home, and I discovered the problem…a broken down trolley bus was blocking the road. Several Greek guys were standing around in the rain as steam and noises came out of the engine block. Who knows how long it sat there until they managed to tow it.

At any rate, I managed to get our tickets, and we rushed to the theater. We had to scan our receipt at the kiosk to get our tickets, then walk to the other side of the mall to the Gold Class theater. It wasn’t cheap — 22 Euros per ticket — but we got free champagne at the front door and plush recliners so we could put our feet up while we enjoyed Wonder Woman. Of course, we were the first ones there…because, Greece. Seriously, why do I bother rushing to get places on time here?

The food we ordered wasn’t that great, but also not terribly overpriced, at least by our standards. We got two appetizers, two entrees, and two beers for under 45 Euros. Next time I think we’ll just stick to appetizers and drinks.

I am Wonder Woman, hear me ROAR!

As I’ve previously mentioned, the movie is shown in English with Greek subtitles. We had a little issue when we saw The Magnificent Seven — all of the native American dialogue was subtitled in Greek, so we never figured out what they were saying. I thought surely we wouldn’t have that problem with a super hero flick. Except, turns out Wonder Woman speaks, like, 100 different languages, and she proceeds to do that in a few scenes. Guess we’ll just have to catch that on the Blu-ray, lol.

I enjoyed seeing ladies kicking butt on screen — the scenes in the Amazon were simply amazing, making me kind of tear up a little. I couldn’t really explain why. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, except later I read this was a common reaction. I doubt James was crying into his mozzarella sticks… in fact, I’m sure his reaction was more, “Look, boobies!” than, “Look at how far feminism has come!” But aside from what I call CGI video game fighting fatigue, and a bit of a ridiculous ending fight scene, we both totally dug the movie.

Learning to say, “I’m sorry.”

It’s amazing how much Greek I’m starting to pick up with minimal effort on my part. I have my Pilates instructor to thank. It turns out Greek Pilates is a perfect immersion learning class. I know the words for up and down, I know that “Daxi” means ok (as in, do you understand what I just told you to do?), and I can count to about seven before I run into problems. Oh, and I know the word for butt. Ha! My wonderfully agreeable and chatty teacher tells stories in class, and I can follow them about 0% of the time. But I was delighted that I understood “big ball” and “all fours” all on my own.

After every class I have a little chat with her, asking her how to say certain words, or asking what certain words that I heard her say in class mean. I know most of the pleasantries– please, thank you — but what should I say if I accidentally bump into a stranger?

Sygnomi. That means “sorry.” SIG-NO-MEE. Got it.

On Thursday, I asked her again because I didn’t quite have it right. My teacher smiled. “Amanda, what do you need to say ‘sorry’ for?”

“TRUMP!” I replied. Everyone in the room laughed.

Thursday was November 17, a day in which protesters march from Polytechnic University to the American Embassy every year to commemorate a violent uprising against the oppressive Junta regime in 1973. Many protesters were injured and killed that day, and while American involvement is a bit sketchy, anti-American sentiment runs high on this day every year. Liam’s school closed early, and the US Embassy closed and sent everyone home by 2 PM. Streets around the embassy were barricaded off, and police stood by to intervene if things got out of hand, which has happened in the past. As an added twist, this year Obama’s visit just days before the event apparently kicked off the riots early. We were advised by the Embassy to stay home for the rest of the afternoon on the 17th.

I guess I’ll have to add this to my list of signomis.

I asked my Pilates instructor if she thought all this political business with Trump would exacerbate the riots this year. She said from her perspective, the real issue for Greeks is their dissatisfaction with their own prime minister, and the embarrassment he’s brought with his handling of the economy. This article seemed to support her view. Here I am, lamenting the whole Trump phenomenon on Facebook, but here it’s barely a blip on the radar. And for good reason. The Greeks have enough of their own problems to worry about.

I found myself at the Embassy that day at two o’clock, and as we departed, I could see the police setting up their barricades. Motorcyclists argued with police at one intersection, choosing to drive on the sidewalk to get around. Business as usual! James received updates on the riot via text message. Nothing out of the ordinary, apparently. Another day, another protest in Athens.

Time to meet Obama

One of the many perks of working for a US Embassy is the opportunity to hobnob with the President when he (or she!) comes to your host country for a visit. This was my first time, and I was completely star-struck.

Did I say, “Hobnob?” That might have been a teeny embellishment. I’m just a spouse of an embassy employee, so our family was invited with all of the others to stand around in the cold for a chance to see Mr. Obama give some remarks and shake as many hands as he could get to in 10 minutes. But still! I was…nearly adjacent to Barack Obama!

This was no easy feat. We all got up at 5:30 AM — even some of us who didn’t have to (ahem, Violet) — in order to make it to the embassy for the shuttle bus. Initially I was going to bring Violet along, but when James said he couldn’t make it because of work, I decided it was best she spend the day with the babysitter. Wise choice. It suddenly got very cold today, and I knew the event was going to be outside.

The venue was a hotel down by Gylfada, a lovely area near the beach. No swimming today, though! We went through a security screening — bags checked, bodies “wanded” — and then on inside. Then we passed another security checkpoint right near the bathrooms, with instructions that we’d have to pass back through security if we needed to use the restroom and come back. And the only food and water allowed in were for children. Some adults actually had to give up their apples because they didn’t have children with them. Secret service don’t mess around!

Then it was time to wait. And wait. We still had two hours before the President was due to speak. Thankfully, a bunch of Liam’s school chums came along, and they had a hearty game of tag on the lawn. And they could take in the view.


We had to keep the kids from rolling around in the grass — not only was it wet, but numerous poop bombs littered the premises. I was told the hotel wasn’t actually open for guests, so this was presumably from stray dogs. Because…Greece! One would hope they at least picked up a bit around the podium. Sheesh.

Finally, it was time! They ushered the children onto a platform they had constructed for the occasion. Many of the adults had been standing by the ropes for the entire two hours, hopeful they would get to shake the President’s hand, but I had to keep on eye on my roving child who has a tendency to need attention and flips out when he can’t find me. Some of the children waited patiently on the platform for two hours, mostly the older girls. Were that I had a patient child!

Then we waited another half an hour for the President to arrive. Thirty children confined on a platform for thirty minutes…yeah, it was starting to turn into bedlam. But then the President walked in and everyone stood up! Yeah! Except, I had been standing behind the children (which included some teenagers), and I suddenly lost my clear view. Dammit!

Ambassador Pyatt introduced the President, and then Obama gave a short speech about his gratitude for US embassy employees and all the work they do representing our country abroad. Then he walked over to the kids’ platform, posed for a photo, and started shaking hands. Poor Liam did his best to get near the front, but there was a lot of pushing and shoving, and Liam doesn’t do too well with pushing and shoving. I’m not even sure he made it in the President’s photo. 😦

Meanwhile, I angled my way back to the where the adults were standing.  I heard people ooing and ahhing. Obama was holding babies! I only know this because one of my friends was standing in the front and filled me in later. She got some great photos, like the ones above, and a handshake. I was in the back row holding my Nikon up like a moron, wildly snapping in the President’s general direction.


I tried to snake my hand in there for shake, but Liam came up behind me in tears. He was all upset about the pushing and shoving, he hadn’t gotten to shake the President’s hand, and the crowd was getting to be too much for him. In hindsight, I wish I could have popped him up on my shoulders for one last look, and maybe he could have gotten that handshake. I didn’t get one, either, which was a little disappointing for me, as well.

But maybe, just maybe, if we move back to DC after this…and maybe, just maybe, Obama is still living there…then maybe, just maybe we’ll run into him at Ben’s Chili Bowl or something. Just like my Grandpa Marvin used to run into ex-president Truman back in Kansas City. One can dream, right?

Election Day in Greece

I cast my absentee ballot weeks ago. Before I went to bed on election night, I read news of long lines at polling stations, scuffles between Trump supporters and Hillary supports, a secret Facebook fan page called Pantsuit Nation which I instantly “liked.” Election results started pouring in as I slept. Liam awoke at 4 AM screaming about a headache. I checked the news before I went to back to bed.

Hold the phone. These results can’t be right, I thought. And then I literally held my phone for an hour as I read commentaries, scrolled through posts on Facebook, and watched as Trump’s lead steadily grew. Eventually I grew weary and decided to sleep. Surely when I woke up Hillary would be back on top, just as the polls had predicted.

Except she wasn’t.

From afar I watched events unfold. I got Liam ready for school and Violet her breakfast, feeling too sick myself to eat much of anything. President Trump? Seriously, America?

Hoping for a miracle, I went about my morning and purposely ignored the news. But as I left the supermarket, I saw a message from my friend in England. Sheesh. Now I know how she felt during the whole Brexit debacle. And the two events seem to go hand-in-hand. An out-of-control refugee crisis has made way for a nationalist movement in the first world, one that I don’t understand or support.

By mid-morning it was decided. The unthinkable has come true. We have an inexperienced, sexist, bigoted, lying reality TV star in the White House. Bravo. Well done.

Look, I get it. People don’t like Hillary. There’s a complete disconnect between politicians in power and a part of the population that is fed up with Wall Street elitism. An outsider sounded appealing. But the Donald?! Again, seriously?!!

Before I got too worked up, I stopped to see my husband at the Embassy. The whole place was abuzz with election coverage. And of course it was the first thing out of my mouth when I saw him. “Can you believe this shit show?”

Now, one of the things I love (and love to hate) about my better half is his opposing political views. I’m a liberal through and through, but he’s a fiscal conservative. And as I sat in his office lamenting the end of civility and democracy as we know it, he calmly reassured me that everything would be ok. We didn’t elect a Supreme Dictator. We elected a President, one with limited power and a bureaucracy to work around. The party would keep him in line, and while I might not agree with his ideas, nothing too radical would get accomplished.

I’m not so sure. Time will tell, I guess.

So, what does this all mean for an expat? Well, I’ve got about 80 requests to live in our spare room, for starters. Election news reached all the FM stations here in Greece. It was all, “Greek, greek, greek, America, greek, greek, greek, Donald Trump.” The Greeks I talked to thought the whole thing was ludicrous. Do you hear that? The Greeks thing we’re crazy! Honestly, I’m thankful to be living abroad right now, but we eventually have to go back. What sort of country will we be coming back to?

Once the dust settles and the shock subsides, the thing I dread most is the implications of a Trump presidency for Americans abroad. Am I going to be constantly embarrassed by his lambasting of foreigners, his disregard for women, his insensitive and downright insulting comments? Will his coziness with Russia mean trouble for us? Will there be an even bigger target on our backs because of the things he says and the policies he enacts? Will his message of isolationism and hate fuel an international backlash against Americans? Or will his unpredictability spell disaster in some way I cannot even fathom?


Ok. Time for bed. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.” And as George Carlin aptly put, “In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.”




The Greek post office

All of our mail is handled through the US Embassy, so I didn’t think I’d have occasion to visit the Greek post office. But it appears now I’m going to be going there every month so our housekeeper can have health insurance.

Yes, I know. That makes no sense. Again. Because…Greece.

Let me start from the beginning because this information may actually come in handy for anyone needing to hire household help. Until recently another employer was handling our housekeeper’s health insurance. But now that family is gone and we’re her primary employer. It took a few weeks to sort out the details. First I had to fill out some paperwork with the Customs department at the embassy in order to get a Greek tax ID number. I had to get it notarized at a KEP location (You’ll remember I had some adventures in parking there…), and then once I had the tax number, I had to take it back to the KEP with my passport and MFA ID to get an AMKA number. Then I had to take all of that to a post office along with my housekeeper’s salary for that month, fill out another form, and bring her a receipt.

That last part I was a bit fuzzy on. My housekeeper explained it all to me but, bless her heart, she’s a little hard for me to understand, so I just had to sort of wing it. I found a post office just a few blocks from my house. (On a side note, you’re welcome to the people of Halandri for getting such good practice with your English. After stopping to ask someone exactly where this post office is, and reminding her the words for “left” and “right”, I finally found the place. I am eternally grateful for all these English speakers.) It didn’t look much like a post office from the outside. More like a bank, with an ATM machine in the front and what looked like teller windows inside. There were rows of chairs, and you had to take a number, like at the DMV. And the wait was just about as long.

Finally it was my turn. My housekeeper had coached me on the Greek word to say when I got to the counter. I wrote it down phonetically: Erkosimo. The woman at the counter pointed to the guy sitting next to her. Apparently he handled the Er-kos-eemo thingies.

But, it turned out, he didn’t speak much English. I told him “Erkosimo.” He sort of scratched his head, looked in a file drawer, then walked in the back. He was gone for awhile. Presumably to get a coffee. When he came back he had a form in his hand. He was trying to explain to me how to fill it out, as it was all written in Greek. As we fumbled back and forth, he kept getting more and more agitated, until finally he stopped talking to me and started talking irately to the lady next to him. I’d like to imagine the conversation went like this:

HIM: Crimony, she doesn’t speak any Greek. How am I supposed to explain this to her? Even I can barely understand why we do it this way.

HER: I speak English. How about you let me handle this?

HIM: But no! I’m supposed to do the Erkosimos! Why doesn’t this lady know Greek?! Fine, if you know English so well, you explain it to her!

Then he thrust the form angrily in her direction. She gave me a sort of knowing look, then motioned me over and helped me…in ENGLISH…fill out the form. Then I had to wait until he finished up with another person so he could finish doing…whatever we were doing. As I waited I watched a woman put 23 stamps on a small package. I shit you not.


Turns out I needed to bring my passport with me for this little transaction, which of course I’d forgotten. Thankfully I could run home in less than five minutes and grab it. So, having done that, and filled out the form, and handed over the money, I finally got the receipt. Yes! Now I have to do this again every month. Ooooh-hee!

Next time should be easier, I should think. I’ve got some blank forms I can fill out ahead of time, and now I know to bring my passport along with my other documents. And as long as I don’t wait until the last few days of the month, the line shouldn’t be that long at the post office. I’m sure like everything else here that seemed like a pain in the ass when I first started doing it (ahem, like the toilet paper situation), it’ll become a fairly easy habit.


Feeling like a freshman

Someone we met at the Embassy once likened us to Freshman in college — we arrive all doey-eyed and new, and in four years we’ll be running the place like Seniors. And the atmosphere is a bit collegiate: there are numerous events to get people together, excursions for large groups, a monthly newsletter, and a special office dedicated to helping families connect and get settled in. I remember those first few months of college just getting inundated with new people, new places, new clubs to join and parties to attend. There’s a lot less alcohol involved this go around — I mean, I do have two children to look after now — but I feel like I’m making friends faster here than anywhere else we’ve ever moved to, almost to an overwhelming degree. Which is great for my socialite personality, but also comes with its own challenges. Particularly for my introverted hubby. While I’m thriving in the go-go-go atmosphere of this place, I can tell he needs some time to himself. In fact, now that I think of it, his Freshman college experience was very different from my own: he lived at home, commuted to school and worked 40 hours a week at the bookstore. I lived in the dorms, joined student government and the ACLU (briefly), and went to parties every SINGLE weekend. Another thing I remember: I was usually EXHAUSTED. There was so much to do and see that many times I’d overdo it.

So that’s why I’m counting on the yin-yang aspect of our marriage to kick in here. I encourage James to get out and about, and he reminds me that we need some time to rest. He has agreed to attend the Ambassador’s Easter party and the Marine’s Trivia Night with me, but on the weekday evenings we always relax at home. We try our best to do sight-seeing on the weekends, but we also recognize when the kids need a break. Although Liam has surprised me — he’s introverted like his daddy, but he loves getting out to sight-see in the city. Especially when there’s a Metro train involved. He and James are having a special father-son outing today: Liam gets to ride the train and see the National Gardens while James hunts for another English-language bookstore. This one is a like a bloodhound with bookstores. I have no doubt he’ll find it….and buy way too many books.