Staying in Touch

Sunday Blog 50 – 21st August 2022

Phone box, Greece anywhere

The month was November, the year 1997, and in Thessaloniki, Greece’s biggest city where I lived at the time, it was already getting bleak and cold. Many people find it hard to picture a cold Greece but believe me it was – and November was the beginning of months and months of winter. I was struggling with the technology – a phone card and a stubborn phone box – to ring my eldest sister for her 40th birthday. So often I would traipse down to the phone box and find it wasn’t working. Or that my phone card would run out of money just when the conversation was warming up. Or the phone card I had just bought didn’t work.

I was well into my second year living in Thessaloniki, and this was one of the many moments I wondered at the wisdom of returning for a second year. I Missed My Family. I missed the milestones, the get-togethers, the regular birthdays that would mean a family meal, hugger-mugger in my parent’s house, a cake, candles and a harmonious warbling of the Happy Birthday anthem from my many relatives.

It is now almost inconceivable to imagine life without a mobile phone, but that was largely the norm in the 1990s. So for those living abroad in the sort of places like Greece where a home phone connection was not feasible on an English teacher’s salary, there was only one option – The Phone Box. The birthday call to my sister was limited in time to the amount my wretched phone card allowed for. It was too far away, too short a time, too poor a substitute for being there to mark her birthday. I hung up the phone and sobbed.

I look back on the dark times of Greek phone boxes and telephone cards and am weak with gratitude that I have so many ways to connect instantly with people anywhere in the world. By video if I want! As we speak another sister is currently holidaying in France. She can call me as I wander around Bibra Lake for my evening constitutional and I can share the evening’s beauty with her and she can show me the charm of lunchtime Rouen.

For all the dreadful faults of social media and mobile phones, this gift of communication is, well, a gift.

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