I thought I had seen and heard it all in the social maze that is London with regards to the dating dance of life, but no – try running the marathon that is dating Greek men in Athens…
Most of my Greek friends are men and all of them seem to have at least 2 women on the go and at least two mobile phone numbers – one for work, one for social and some have a third ‘for the women’. It is fairly standard for Athenian men to have one girlfriend for behind closed doors and another that they wheel out for family events and special occasions.
Greek men are very open about the fact that they might want to date you, but will then never follow up on the initial meeting or enthusiam until their wife or long-term girlfriend is out of town, which means you don’t hear from them and assume that they are not interested. And then you get called out of the blue and end up having three dates with them in a week. After which you might not hear from them again…
Hilariously, there is also no subterfuge about whether or not they are married – one guy told me he was ‘a little bit’ married, while another said to me that he loved his wife, but still wanted to take me out. I was more than a bit bewildered by all of this, until I made friends with a very wise single woman, who plays the men soundly at their own game. Said lady has a young lover, two daters – one married and one divorced – with an intellectual on/off partner for all the other times.
Then one of my best mates, who is very much single at the moment but has had good relationships with some truly stunning women, told me that it is often better to have a number of entertaining summer flirts, ideally out of Athens in the country or the islands, as most people in the apparently civilised society of Athens are busy being married and messing around – so the locals’ tip is have fun, but don’t get involved.
Athens is a calmer, quieter place in August, as most people shut up shop and disappear for the month. It’s insanely hot at this time of the year, so you can understand why everyone wants to go to the islands, but the city itself is on the beach and with less traffic and people in town, those who have to stay for the holiday month, take back the city for themselves. It is in fact a very cool city: it has a low crime rate, an excellent cultural scene and miles of beach. There’s some of Europe’s top shopping, fabulous food and ancient history to soak up everywhere. There are also masses of leafy squares where you can sit in the shade of a cafe and put the world to rights in that most Mediterranean of ways – over coffee.
Most Athenians would argue that it is way too hot in August to work too hard and so much of the sultry day is spent resting and then the place comes alive at night when the temperature drops a little. Cinemas are busiest for their late shows from 11pm, bars don’t get going until well after midnight and walking home at 3 in the morning is a bit like catching the last train in London: there are plenty of other people doing the same.
Athenians are, however, very parochial. When I decided to embark on a journey across town to an inner city suburb, where a cinema was playing a particular film I wanted to watch, I couldn’t find anyone to give me directions, as none of my friends knew the area. In general, people know where they live, where they work, where their folks live and that’s all they need to know. So I set off with a street map that was to a titchy scale, into the dusk, to an area that was residential and so not terribly well lit. It was too dark for me to read my map and it and all the street signs were in Greek anyway, so I was struggling from the outset. After several Greek versions of a wild goose chase – Athenians are hopeless at giving directions and I was getting them in very difficult to understand Greek English – I finally found the open air cinema I was after and settled down to watch a Swedish film with Greek subtitles, which was a further linguistic challenge. Somehow I managed to enjoy the movie.
Then I was in the country for the weekend and got invited to a beach party, which most people didn’t know how to get to, or how to get back to Athens from afterwards. In a ludricrous comedy of errors on the day after, in the middle of a heat wave and a fuel crisis and with thumping hangovers, we managed to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere and had to flag down a lift to my car, which was also low on petrol, but was parked at a marina where we knew we could get some. Crazy days of summer – Greek style.