Monday, September 26, 2011

Calls from the Cyprus Traffic Police

Richard has just returned from attending a conference in Scandanavia. He flew in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. Since our street was blocked off, due to ongoing construction work, he could not park in our driveway, or even in front of our house.

So, as he has done for the past few weeks, he found a place to park in a nearby street, in front of someone else's house. Cypriots can be a bit possessive about the road space in front of their homes, but with so many road works going on everyone locally seems to have been fairly flexible recently. It was a street where construction work had finished, so we hoped it would be all right for five days.

Mid-morning Wednesday, the phone rang. I said 'kalimera', in response to the greeting, and the person at the other end launched into some rapid Greek. I was about to say that it must be a wrong number when I caught the words 'Mr Richard', with a query. Yes, I said slowly and in English, Mr Richard lives here, but he is not here now.

More rapid Greek ensued. I apologised (in English) and said that I did not understand. I have learned from experience that trying to apologise in Greek just leads to a response in Greek which I still won't understand.

So the person who had been speaking to me found someone who spoke English, at least somewhat. 'This is the traffic police', he announced. Then he read out the number plate of our car and asked if it belonged to Mr Richard. I acknowledged that it did, but that Mr Richard was currently out of Cyprus.

'You must move the car, it is blocking,' I was told. I did not, at that stage, know exactly where the car was, but was pretty sure it would not be blocking anywhere. More to the point, I don't drive. So I told the man.

'You have a key?' he asked. I said that we did.

'Then you must ask a friend to move the car. It is blocking.'

I said I would see what I could do. I knew that at least one other person was on the insurance, possibly more. I wrote a note on Facebook (to local friends only) explaining the dilemma. And saw one friend online, whose husband - I thought - was on the insurance. It turned out that he was, and he would be able to come over late morning, and would happily move the car to somewhere safe behind the building where he lives.

So far, so good.

I went for a brief walk to check exactly where our car was, and it wasn't far at all. Nor was it blocking anything. It was parked in front of a fairly wide house, with plenty of space, nowhere near the driveway.

I discovered that I could even see it from one of our bedrooms:

At lunch-time, our friend arrived. He started the car with the spare key... it turned over... and nothing happened. He repeated it. And again. Each time, the car sounded lively - the battery was evidently fine, and the petrol gauge showed plenty of fuel - but it simply would not go.

After several more attempts, our friend said that we must have some kind of immobiliser chip in our key, which rendered the spare one rather pointless (unless the main keys had been locked in, I suppose). So he walked home. There was evidently no way to move the car until Richard returned. I did find an email address for the police, and wrote to explain, but had little expectation of anyone reading it.

Having heard stories of cars being towed away and even crushed when they could not be moved for a few days, I felt quite anxious for the rest of the day.

On Thursday, late morning, I had another call from the traffic police. This time it was from a man who spoke excellent English. I explained about the apparently immobilised car, and he understood immediately. I gather it's quite common although it's not something we've had on any of our other cars. Probably they were all too old.

He sounded very worried until I said, 'So, I'm afraid there's really nothing we can do until Monday. I don't see the problem since the car is NOT blocking anyone in...'

.. and he said, 'Monday? Your husband returns then?'

'Yes,' I replied. 'Early Monday morning. He is only away for five days. '

He sighed with relief. 'Oh well, in that case, we can wait. There is no problem at all.'

So that was that. I still don't know why we were phoned. Did the people really complain that they were blocked in, or is there some further construction work to be done in that street? We will probably never know.... this is Cyprus!


DaisyCrazy said...

I think there's a great chance the house belong to a traffic policeman and that's why he contacted you. To my eyes this is abuse of his authority since he had no business contacting you so many times for a car that wasn't blocking any street or house.
And by the way there are no towing companies on the island that can tow a car for the traffic police so theoretically you can park anywhere and block anyone's parking space :)

Sue 2 said...

Interesting! I think you handled the situation with grace and wisdom, however. Good for me to learn.

Anonymous said...

You live in Cyprus for how long now and you still can't understand basic Greek? Shameful. Ever thought of integrating properly?

Sue said...

LOL, 'anonymous'! We did, as so many ex-pats, attempt to learn Greek on arrival, but were foiled by all our neighbours being delighted at the idea of practising their English. We have fair skin and hair, so everyone in shops automatically addresses us in English. All signs are in both languages. I still keep going - slowly - with learning, but unfortunately basic Greek doesn't cover concepts such as immobiliser keys - and if I do attempt to say something in Greek, Cypriots tend to launch into extremely rapid colloquial Greek where I catch a couple of words here and there... and then switch to (usually excellent) English.

lilegyptiangoddess said...

I had to admit to Lol'd a bit at Anon there. Because learning a language is SO easy isn't it? I know a bit of Cypriot-Greek, Japanese and Spanish (in addition to my native Canadian-English). I can't speak them frequently but I know enough to survive and I know few people have the ability to get that far.

At any rate I agree with you, Cypriots that I know seem to enjoy brushing up their English with my family. Which has not made learning Cypriot-Greek any easier for myself.

Anonymous said...

You've been learning awfully slowly for 14 years. It does not mean that if you are addressed in English that you cannot respond in Greek or that you cannot request that you are spoken to in Greek.

Stop trying to hide behind cheap excuses. It's not as if you are there for 1-2-3 years. You've been living in Cyprus for fourteen years.

To lilegyptiangoddess

Learning a language not spoken in your country of residence is challenging. But it should not take over 10 years to acquire some decent skills in it. I've learned English and German to a fluent level before I even set foot in countries in which the languages were official because I exposed myself extensively to audiovisual material in those languages. I also happen to speak another 5 languages from an intermediate to a high level.

Now, being in Cyprus for 14 years and not speaking Greek to at least a level equivalent to A-Level is simply unacceptable. Any excuses would be cheap excuses.

Anonymous said...

My oh my. Look at what I found here:

"Part of me feels that I should be fluent in Greek now. Occasionally someone makes a comment to that effect, and I feel a little abashed. But most Cypriots have such remarkably good English that it's difficult to have any opportunity to speak Greek.

However, this morning I found myself wishing I'd worked a little harder at the language. The phone rang, and someone spoke to me rapidly in Greek. I assumed it was a wrong number, and said so in English, slowly. The person kept speaking, rapidly. I said, 'Sorry' and rang off. Five minutes later, the same person phoned. Part of my problem is that I find it remarkably difficult to think on the spur of the moment. I could not even remember how to say, 'I don't speak Greek' in Greek. I had forgotten - tempoorarily - the word for 'English' in Greek. Everything I had learned - all those thirty or more lessons - completely vanished from my mind, when someone was finally speaking Greek to me."

And a comment for this post gave information on how to register for the government organized classes for Greek that cost peanuts. Did you ever register for that?

Obviously, you have made no effort to integrate in a country you've been living in for fourteen years. Absolutely disgraceful.

Sue said...

Anonymous, I wonder if you have lived in Cyprus? Evidently you have a gift for languages, but not everyone is so talented. There is a huge ex-pat community here, and while Cypriots are usually very friendly, they don't actually want to integrate with foreigners, no matter how well they might speak Greek. There's still a deep family-orientated culture here, but people we have met really have no wish to see ex-pats integrated.

As for the government-run language classes - I know of three or four people who have attended them, but have not found them all that useful. They either focus on Athenian, formal Greek (quite different from Cypriot Greek) or primarily on grammar. I have no problem with Greek grammar. I did Ancient Greek as an A-level over thirty years ago and it hasn't changed THAT much.

As I'm sure you're aware, having a GCSE or even an A-level in a subject does not necessarily enable one to communicate in it. We knew someone who gained an A* in A-level French a few years back, but was still unable even to order a meal in a restaurant in France.

Anyway, interesting to hear your opinion. What puzzles me most is why it worries you so much that I (along with the majority of ex-pats in Cyprus) have no fluency in Greek? Evidently it pushes one of your buttons... but even if you are yourself a Cypriot or Greek national, what possible difference can it make to you whether or not I speak Greek?!

Sheila said...

I always find it interesting that negative comments tend to be anonymous. Occasionally I can't figure out how to post with my name, not being very computer literate, but then I at least make a point of saying IN my comment who I am, not being a coward.

A few comments to Mr./Ms. Anonymous:

First, I grew up mono-lingually, as many people in English-speaking countries unfortuantely do. I learned Spanish in school, was the top of my class, all A grades. Then I moved to Mexico, and could barely communicate. Because I had a good grounding in grammar, AND I was interested, AND **most importantly** I was totally immersed in Spanish, with no possibility of speaking English with anyone, I did finally learn Spanish. Even now, more than 20 years later and being out of practice, people from other Spanish-speaking countries immediately know that I learned my Spanish in Mexico, Mexicans even know in what part of Mexico I lived.

While in Mexico, I started learning German. Returned to the U.S., tried learning German again. A year later, moved to Germany. I took classes twice a week for two years, and could get by in German, but only just. The main reason that I was able to learn German at all was that I was able to find Germans who didn't speak English. But I lived with an English-speaking family and didn't learn German REALLY well until I started working in a German pre-school, in my third year. Again, it was the immersion experience that made it all "click" for me.

We moved to Cyprus almost three years ago, and I was eager and interested to learn Greek. I'd prepared some with a free on-line course and started attending a mothers-and-tots group that was supposedly in Greek. There was one mother there (fully bilingual, English-Greek) who would help me with my Greek, but most of the people who came regularly were trying to learn Greek themselves. Still, I learned as much as I could, although frustrated with how little progress I made in six months, because NOBODY else would speak Greek with me.

After nine months in Cyprus, I started the government class. Nice of you to recommend it, but have you ever seen it? I was as easily at the top of the class, but didn't actually learn anything more than I had in the six months of playgroup. (Which, incidentally, had eventually closed for lack of interest.) It ran from October to May (no chance of starting any other time, which was why I couldn't start until I'd been here for nine months), then supposedly took a four-month break. But thanks to the incredibly efficient organization in this country, the next class didn't start until APRIL. So after ten months of not being able to take a Greek class because there WEREN'T ANY, I finally got to start again. The teacher expects I will pass my exam in a few weeks for the second level--but you know what? I still can't communicate much better than I could three months after we arrived.

I am very interested in learning languages in general, and Greek in particular. I'm possibly not too bad with languages. At the age of 15 I spent one month in Japan, and at the age of 35 I spent two months in Thailand. Both times I learned as much of the local language as I learned of Greek in the first three months here. (Have since forgotten virtually all of it, having no reason or possibility to maintain it.) I really want to learn Greek. Maybe it's not a high enough priority to me, since I'm not willing to pay 20 Euros or more an hour for private lessons (we did do that for one month, but I didn't learn as much as I did at the playgroup), nor am I willing to leave my family (husband and six children) to totally immerse myself in Greek.

I'll go ahead and complete the third (and final) level of the government Greek class, but I don't really expect to learn Cypriot Greek much better than I know it now. Four months or four years or 14 years aren't going to make any difference, when the Cypriots refuse to speak Greek to me just because I have blue eyes...