During college when I studied abroad in London, one of the topics discussed in our British Life and Culture class was “culture shock.” We all found it pretty humorous considering we had moved from one English-speaking country to another. In my experience, the only adjustments I had to make were getting used to the pound, dry humor and using “pissed” correctly (it means drunk on the other side of the pond).
My time in Greece, though not shocking per se, brought to light some cultural norms I had grown accustomed to in America.
First, the smoking. The people in our town are chimneys! A study from 2009 found that 40 percent of Greeks smoke. And even though it is illegal for people to smoke inside restaurants, in our town you will see policemen puffing away next to "No Smoking" signs. I fear for my lungs as I sit in hazy cafes typing away every day.
The hardest thing for me to come to terms with has definitely been the number of stray animals here. While it is not uncommon for Greek people to let their pet dog roam free, I have seen dozens of stray dogs since I came to Greece. Though some appear to be a healthy weight, there are far too many emaciated, pregnant, crippled and flea-ridden dogs. Don't even get me started on the lone puppies.
Some people put out food for the strays and treat them kindly, but I've witnessed others try to kick them out of the way. To be fair, I also have heard several stories of people having their plastic car bumpers ripped off by an angry dog. The problem seems to be that most people who have pets can't afford to or just don't get around to having them neutered or spayed, and especially in a small town like ours, there is no animal shelter to take in the strays.
Unfortunately for Charlie, I continue to squeal “OH MY GOD, LOOK!” anytime we drive by a dog on the side of the road. You should hear his impression of me when one of them happens to come out into the road, and I panic about hitting it.
In such a small village, it was not surprising that I became known as the American who pets stray dogs and takes their pictures.
Though I never managed to snap any pictures, my favorite mental images of dogs in Greece are from my afternoon runs. My route took me out of the main town area and down dirt roads surrounded by fields. A few times a week, a man came through with his herd of goats and three dogs keeping them in line. It was a beautiful thing to see them move.
According to Charlie, a dog is not an acceptable souvenir to bring back with you from a trip, so I guess these pictures will have to do!