Small Talk

“Wow. Two months to the day!” That is what Elias said at dinner tonight when he asked me the date.  And then he followed that comment up with, “And only 10 more to go!”  I’ve been well aware that our two month “anniversary” was coming up.  And aware that it’s been over four weeks that we’ve been here on our own.  We’ve done a great job, and I can say that there has only been an occasional moment of sadness here or there.  For the most part we smile daily.

There are plenty of moments, though, that are tough–not sad, just tough.  Mostly when I realize I miss things.  But I’m surprised at what I miss.  It’s easy to think that I’d miss material things…like my bed and my pillow.  Or that I’d miss parts of my daily life, like the gym or volunteering at the school.  And it goes without saying I miss Chris–I do–almost hourly.  But really, with the exception of “people,” I could really live without the things I was so familiar with and accustomed to at home.  What I miss the most, more than anything, is language.

You probably don’t realize how much small talk you do on a daily basis, but since living here, I’ve realized that it is everywhere…at the bank, the grocery store, the school, the gym, walking past someone on the street, or checking out at a store.  Now there’s just an awkward silence when I’m standing at a cash register.  I want to be able to ask the cashier, “Busy day?”  or “Are you glad it’s quiet on the island now?”   I hear the customers in front of me doing it, and there’s usually a little laughter.  And I just stand there and stare.  I wish I knew what they said so I could interject or add to the conversation.  There’s no small talk when I am in the platia or around other adults.  People can ask me how it’s going, and I can ask them the same, but that’s where the conversation ends.  There’s no discussion about the weather, their kids, or the Steelers.  The other day I saw a toddler wandering off, and her father kept having to jump up and chase her to make sure she was safe.  All I wanted to say was, “Gosh, I remember those days!  You can never sit for more than a minute and having a conversation is next to impossible.”  But all I could do was watch him and smile.  I’m silent a lot now.  I’ve learned that “small talk” isn’t that small after all!

I also miss absent-mindedly listening and know what is going on.  Do you realize how much eavesdropping you do when you are out and about?  Without thinking about it, you hear (and understand) all of the conversations that go on around you.  Maybe you are taking a walk and someone has their windows open.  You can hear their television and know they are watching a rerun of Friends, or you hear their conversation about work and can tell they had a bad day.  At the playground you know that the kids are playing hide-and-go-seek without having to stop and watch what they are doing.  You know what someone thinks about the dress they are trying on in the changing room next to you.  In none of those situations are you trying to be nosey.  It all just registers in that amazing brain of yours.

At home, I didn’t watch a lot of television, but I usually put the television on in the morning when I was making breakfast and packing lunches.  I’d go about my business, and I’d hear the “news.”  Even if I was having a conversation with one of the kids, I could “multi-task” and know if there was a story of interest coming up so that I could give it my attention.  It also happens when the radio is on in the car.  No one really “listens” to the commercials, but somehow, your brain understands what is being said and sorts it into the “useless information” part of the brain.  Now, when background noise is on, it just gives me a headache.  My brain doesn’t know what to do with the quick speaking foreign language that is being rattled off.  Most of the time I drive in silence, and we never just turn on the tv.

And sight-reading.  Gosh I miss sight-reading! After you are done reading this blog and you go about your day, pay attention to how much of the written word you actually take in without actually “reading” or thinking of it as “reading.”  You’ll glance at a billboard and know what it says.  You’ll look at the cereal box and know how many vitamins and minerals it has or if it’s made from whole grains.  You’ll walk past a newspaper and take in the headlines without a second thought.  You read people’s’ shirts and laugh if they are funny.   There’s a notice posted on the bathroom door at the gym or on the door to the lunch room and as you walk by you’ll know what is being announced.  That’s sight-reading.  And every time I see the written word here, I think of the of the saying, “It’s all Greek to me!”

After two months, that’s what I miss.  I feel like I am walking around inside of a giant bubble, and I feel very isolated.  I know that there are people out there.  I can see them, and  I can hear them.  But I can’t touch them.

The good news is that I still have 10 months to improve my Greek.  Maybe before I leave, I will be able to have a simple conversation with the teachers at the school!

16 comments on “Small Talk

  1. Panorea Bouris says:

    and once again, you have made Mom sad!!!!

    • jandcfox says:

      Not meant to be sad Mom. Just a reality and a motivator to help me learn my Greek better! Never thought that what I would miss the most would be so abstract. And soon you’ll be here and there will be lots of small talk.

  2. Susan Mikolajczyk says:

    =) !

  3. Holly Steger says:

    I spent many quiet hours in Costa Rica while improving my Spanish. I knew I had finally mastered Spanish when I was dreaming in Spanish. Of course I cherished going to the movies when I was able to listen and not have to read the subtitles like everyone else…You’ll come back to the US and we’ll all say what a new accent you have and you’ll use Greek words without thinking about it. What a marvelous gift – a new language- that you are giving your children.

    • jandcfox says:

      I remember you sharing your stories of Costa Rica, and believe it or not they’ve crossed my mind. I know the kids will learn the language, and that was one of the main reasons we’ve come to live here! I only hope my old brain can wrap itself around a new language too! Thank you Holly!

  4. L and the 3Bs says:

    Oh Jackie…don’t let it get you down. You will be able to speak Greek with the best of them soon. I love you and think of you so often. I am glad that you will have some company soon. BTW I saw a book about how to raise goats and thought of you!

  5. roula cochran (pavlou) says:

    yes Jackie, you are doing a great job, and i can tell you you are admired by all of us here in Karavostamo. my mum called you ‘atsida’ =fox. xaideftiko name for someone who is clever,smart,able,determined. But you are many more things, you have taken a big challenge to do something big,which can only enrich,yours and your children’s lifes. i wish now that i had done that for my children.
    i think i know what you mean about feeling ‘alone and lonely’ at times and missing the familiar language. Did i mention that when i went to U.K age 18yrs, i could only say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and although i was learning the language ,it took me a whole year before i said anything.I remember going to the cinema on my own and wishing i had a friend who spoke my language to chat about the film. looking back it was hard, but i am glad now i took the challenge.You already speak well enough to hold a conversation and it won’t be too long before you become an accompliced ‘Ikarian’ speaker! well done!

    • jandcfox says:

      Ah Roula, you have been a beacon of light for me on this adventure. You are an inspiration, and I think daily of how you didn’t speak for a year! I wish I could be silent for a year, to build my confidence, but I must talk! Thank you for teaching me so much, and there will be a void when you return to England!

      • roula cochran (pavlou) says:

        glad you are not going to wait for a year before you ‘talk’!
        you had a head start with your Greek compared to me,during my early days in U.K
        your Greek is progressing well and i will be looking foward to see you all again at my next trip to Ikaria sometime in the winter.

  6. Alexandra Schramm says:

    Great story! I miss seeing and talking to you at the gym and church. Think about where you were last spring, where you are now, and where you’ll be with your language skills. What a special gift! When you get back, let’s share a cafe with Despi and I’ll be the one needing subtitles!

    • jandcfox says:

      I dream that someday I’ll be able to have that conversation with Despina! I am going to have to learn because my kids are learning at rapid rates, and I want to be able to keep up with them! Thanks for the words of encouragement! Miss you too. Hope the school year has started out well for the kids and hope you are still taking CX!

  7. Despina Proithis says:

    Yia Sou Zaharoula!!!! I can’t wait to share that cafe with both you and Alex as well as some great laughs!!! I am so proud of you for turning your dream into reality. Look how much both you and your beautiful children have already accomplished! From homemade fig jams (I am so jealous) to
    new discoveries of ancient ruins, your family is thriving by leaps and bounds !!! My husband is ready to hop on the next plane to Mytilene after seeing your pictures and reading your blog!

    Right now you may be feeling as if your in the bubble of language learning or a cocoon. However, just like a caterpillar must spend time in its cocoon before becoming a beautiful butterfly, you too my wonderful filinada, will be in this stage for just a little more until you will be impressing your fellow Ikarians with some awesome Greek zingers! I understand a little Metaxa or Ouzo goes a long way in speeding up this process!!! My Mom actually loves mixing ginger ale with a splash of Ouzo!

    Loipon, next time you want to impress your Ikarian neighbors and if perhaps you are not having a particularly wonderful day…here’s your Greek zinger. When they ask you how you are, “Pos eisai” you can reply “Mia hara kai theeo tromares. ” This literally means one happiness and two frights or more simply put…crummy.

    There you go!!!!
    Me agape,

    • jandcfox says:

      I told my cousin about “Mia hara kai theeo tromares” and we figured I shouldn’t try that out yet! If I say that, then the people will REALLY think I know Greek, ask me what’s wrong and expect me to explain! For now I’ll stick with, “Kala!”
      Thanks for your encouragement..and your help before I left. I know you thought I was crazy to live on an island, but I must say, it’s exactly what I wanted! A completely different way of life. It’s like stepping back in time and I love it. The kids love it too…no rush rush rush!
      I hope that soon I emerge from my cocoon…but I guess that’s something you just can’t rush!

  8. lbc123 says:

    Jackie – love you posts! over the last year in my journey in earning my degree and “looking” into the world of those more enlightened than me in quiteness and meditation, I have learned that sometimes it is good for us to step back and be on the outside, have quiet time, keep the TV off, and really having to work at understanding others. You are living what I have been learning. You are one of the most determined people that I know, I have no doubt that you will be having greek small talk long before you leave Greece, and all the yia yia’s at Annunciation will benefit from that when you return to Lancaster! love to all of you! Colleen

    • jandcfox says:

      Thank you for your words of encouragement. This is an amazing journey. From what I hear, I will have plenty of time in the winter to practice quietness and self reflection! LOL! Missing you, the family, and our little “para.” Stay in touch!

  9. […] has with those back home.  Once again, it’s the language barrier, just like I described in Small Talk.  What Elias doesn’t realize is how close he is to reaching out to these friends and […]

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