It's All Greek to Me

I almost didn’t see the little chapel.

I’d walked along the rim of Santorini, ever higher up through the maze of staircases that weave through the clifftop villages, and then across a narrow land bridge to Skaros, an uninhabited—or so we thought—rock jutting out to the sea. It wasn’t until climbing to the top of the outcropping that I saw the characteristic blue and white dome, peaking out over the water.

I climbed down and around the rock to get to the chapel’s tiny, whitewashed courtyard, where I met a similarly tiny nun. I think she must have lived in the chapel, there’s no way she made the hike every day. She was happy enough to see me, in any event; I couldn’t help but think that her wrinkled, toothless smile was something that you might see in National Geographic.

It isn’t often that I interact with orthodox nuns. I don’t have anything against them, of course—we just rarely cross paths. So I wouldn’t really know how to comport myself around one even if we did speak the same language. In what might be described as typical American fashion, though, I hadn’t bothered to learn any Greek beyond the words for ìhelloî and ìthank you,ì and, being a nun, I suppose she didn’t really have any reason to learn English.

Over the short course of our failed dialogue, I couldn’t help but think that this was the kind of meaningful interpersonal interaction I’d come abroad to experience, one of those pure moments of cross-cultural exchange. And I missed it.

The interaction with the nun pretty much sums up my time in Greece. I’ve seen a lifetime’s worth of ruins (seriously, please, no more) and stunning Aegean vistas, but in terms of cultural experiences I keep coming up short. To be fair, opportunities are few and far between when you don’t speak Greek, and then again I suppose I’m not the most open person.

A lack of cultural interaction hasn’t prevented a culture clash, though. Greece itself is something else entirely. For everything that seems at first familiar, there’s something under the surface that reminds me how very far I am from home. There’s a public gruffness to which I’ll never be accustomed (to say nothing of a nightlife scene in which my normal approach is useless at best). As international travel can sometimes do, I’m told, being away reminds you how much about home you take for granted. Shooters II has never looked so good.

Matt Barnett is a rising junior currently studying abroad with Duke in Greece. He swears he’ll die if he has to eat another gyro.


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