If the way this culture spends its energies in coffee shops is any reflection of the Golden Age of Athens more than two thousand years ago, then it is no surprise to me that the beginning of the West started here. For it is my belief that the most brilliant of thinking requires time and coffee, both of which are available in abundance everywhere in Greece.
So yesterday I thought I’d try it out. You know, “Be a Greek.” After several days of roaming the city with newfound friends, and spending late nights at coffee-bars, I thought I’d try the most authentic looking place and give it my best shot alone. I entered a genuine, native coffee shop (See picture; note how innocent it appears) and quickly walked over to the food display. Awkwardly, I peered into the glass case packed with baked goods, wearing an expression of intense curiosity so that at least I could appear to know what I’m doing. Of course, though, I didn’t. So when the elderly man dressed in formal clothes greeted me and uttered something I didn’t understand, I responded in my best Greek, “Sorry, I do not speak Greek. Do you understand English or Spanish?” At this he gave me a look of frustration and incredulity; apparently I was a disappointment, so he referred me to a couple of baristas who, after exchanging numerous gestures and speaking broken Greek-English-Spanish-Italian with me, showed me my seat and brought to me a Kaphé Ellinikó” (Greek coffee).
I set my notebooks, textbooks, planner, and pen carefully on the table and took a sweeping glance of the coffee shop before me. Demographics of the room:
Number of Men: 50+
Number of Women: 3 (approx.)
Average Age: 57
Number of Lighted Cigarettes at any Given Moment: 40+
After just 15 minutes my lungs were on fire and my vision became cloudy. Never before had I been in the presence of so much tobacco in so small a space. This place blew out of the water every other smoking-filled venue I’ve ever seen in the United States, and this was normal for a Greek coffee shop. However, I did enjoy what I was then witnessing. The room was a crowded sea of old Greek men dressed in slacks, sweaters, ties, and dark coats. My light blue collared shirt was conspicuous against their very traditional, rather formal apparel. Every one of the 40 tables was occupied. At some were men who were reading their newspapers and sipping their beverages. At others were pairs, trios, or larger groups bickering, discussing, laughing, and gesticulating wildly in the air above them. The volume in the room was a permanent loud, and the second-hand smoke haze was a permanent fog. But this was what Greeks do: if they’re not at their jobs, if they’re not at school, they sit at the coffee shop passing the time. Though I was in attendance at my table for over three hours, others were there for perhaps twice as long.
Later that day I took a run in shorts and a t-shirt, and because of that I received stares. People here bundle up at an easy 50 degrees. After that, the rather late evening was spent at two more coffee shops with friends. The caffeination (a positive note at the very least) never seems to cease.
Other items of note: