Χαίρω πολύ! Nice to meet you.
[This article was written by CYA Spring 2021 alumna Molly Herring during her semester in Greece, which coincided with the breakout of the covid-19 pandemic.]
Me: “Συγνώμη, καταλαβαίνεις αγγλικα;”
Man selling cotton candy: “Ehh…οχι. No english.”
Me: “Okay, ευχαριστώ! Γεια!”
It was my first rejection. I kicked myself for not yet memorizing some of my questions in Greek. The issue is that I tend to stray from the template based on who I am talking to, and our Greek class has only studied up to first person, present tense. Try asking strangers meaningful questions about their lives with that vocabulary.
If you have an Instagram account, you may be familiar with @humansofny, a concept born in New York City by a photographer who made it his mission to capture the abbreviated life stories of strangers on the street. The mini-features are little windows into the souls of people you might typically pass without a second glance. The project humanizes the city by letting those that live in it speak for themselves.
We all live in our own worlds, filtering out information that is relevant to us and living our lives with each of us at the center. But what does the world look like through the lens of another? What is the woman on the bench thinking about? What is running through the mind of the man on the motorcycle?
Because of all the amazing people I have been fortunate enough to meet around the world, I have developed a bit of a habit of talking to strangers and asking them about their stories. I believe there is a way for us to connect with every single person we meet. I love the challenge of knowing someone, of connecting with them, of making their eyes light up as they share with me their passions.
When I started interning with Athens Insider Magazine, I was given almost complete freedom in deciding on a project. To me, Humans of Athens was a no-brainer.
So far, I have met George, the man who lowers the flags at the Panathenaic stadium after big events. I spoke with Katerina, the local bakery owner, about the store that she loves like a child. I met Martina, an Argentinian traveler selling alfajores on the street, and we talked about passion, the world, and Workaway.info
I spotted Arkadiusz, an amateur street photographer, kneeling on the steps of the Parliament building, and he told me about the freedom he feels with a camera in his hand. Kostas, the owner of a nearby artisan chess store, admitted that he prefers backgammon. I found Aziza, a Syrian refugee that had been in the city for one day, sitting on a park bench surrounded by her loved ones. She speaks no english, but her daughter introduced me to the whole family. I was surrounded by hope and mutual curiosity, laughing loud and holding hands with strangers while everyone around us stared.
I ran into Christos playing music in the square, and he told me about the time he placed second on The Voice Greece, and now plays for everyone because he doesn’t ever want to feel too famous, too important, to play in the square. Maria stopped me to ask me about my running shoes, and we spoke in English, Spanish, and Greek about her work as an Athenian tour guide and her travels all over the world. Diana, a Russian student who has been in Athens for three years, admitted she much prefers cold and rainy cities to this one, and she is looking forward to heading to the UK. I guess not everyone can be as in love with Greece as I am.
It has become part of my daily walks to keep an eye out for new friends. I have learned never to interrupt people while they are clocked in, people sitting alone are much more likely to speak with you than those in pairs and groups, and kind eye contact is the beginning of every good conversation. Next step, learn more Greek.