Sunday Blog 80 – 16th April 2023
I still remember when I was just about to leave London for Greece in 1996. So lucky to get a five year contract at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in 1990, I had seen that out and had started on the next.
But something wasn’t right. I didn’t love objects so why on earth was I working in the museum sector? I had an itch to go, and I threw in the job to become an English Language teacher.
My farewell party at the Museum was held in the Queen’s House – perks of the job – and I remember sharing my fears about what it would be like to lose my super power of words, of being articulate. I was reassured that I would prevail. But in truth, I floundered.
I still remember my very first morning in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second biggest city, wandering around the streets feeling very unsure of myself. Looking up at the Greek street signs, puzzling out the names stirred up some old memory in me. A past life?
It was clear the headmistress of the school I was teaching at spoke very little English, and had a very poor opinion of English Language teachers. She asked what my name was, but found the diminutive “Pip” not to her taste. She asked through a cloud of smoke if I had a real name, and deemed I would be called Philippa from then on. Too frightened to argue, I went by my full name. In turn, I called her the Gorgon, but not to her face, obviously. It turns out that Pip is Greek for Blow Jo b so she was doing me a favour
Perhaps it was having to focus on English all day every day and pick it apart in a way I’d never had to before. Learning Greek was a slow and dilatory process. My time living in Greece – two years as an independent professional woman, and eight months as a dependant mother of a half-Greek infant – were not enough to ensure fluency.
My Greek has remained stubbornly elementary to this day. To non-speakers I can sound quite good, navigating around in a taxi and ordering food on the menu. But anything more than that and it all unravels quite rapidly.
I have just confirmed my decision to travel to Greece again this year, and have become quite determined to brush up on my Greek between now and then. It’s never too late to go for fluency, I have decided. I have become obsessed with my new language app. I have started Greek at Elementary. Sigh. However it assures me I have a better accent that 90% of the people on the app. I’m going with that…