My interactions with people when I first came to Greece when something like this:
The Man at the Gyro Restaurant: Yassas.
I chirped the word at the same time as him but then realized with a sinking feeling that I had failed to use the one Greek word I knew!
The Man at the Gyro Restaurant: Hello.
I think he was amused, but I was terrible discouraged!
I am now trying hard to think of how to order in Greek but am terrified that my pronunciation will be more insulting than endearing.
The Man at the Gyro Restaurant: Would you perhaps like this menu?
He hands me an English menu which seems like a miracle. I was planning on just pointing to something and hoping for the best. The first encounter did not go as planned but since I will be here for two months, I console myself with the knowledge that there will be time to order another chicken Gyro.
I study my receipt like I’m going to be graded on it. The greek alphabet is just similar enough to English to mess with my head. P’s are r’s. X’s are EE’s. But I think I got it. I head boldly back to the same Gyro place and the same Gyro man is there.
Gyro Man: Yassas! (He is definitely amused at this point.)
Me: May I have φετα ζετε?
Haha! A moment of triumph!
Gyro Man: Feta…?
Hmmm. My attempts to listen and repeat to those Youtube videos must not have been quite as successful as I had thought.
Gyro Man: Feta…?
Me: Feta Zeeetee?
Gyro Man (very slowly): Feta
And I realize that he is trying to teach me.
Gyro Man: ψετε
Me (very slowly and carefully): φετα… ψετε…
Gyro man smiles and pushes some button on the register. I’ve passed the test. But barely!
Me: (rushed and very much in English): And a Chicken Gyro no pita, please!
He teaches me to say that too. I stare at the menu till my head aches and sound out as many dishes as I can before my food is ready. When I get home I review the receipt. I am determined to pass this test with flying colors! I study so diligently that I eventually get sick of chicken and switch to pork. Gyro Man is very kind and comes out from behind the counter at one point to type out how to order a pita-less gyro on my phone.
Gyro Man: Next time you come, you say this.
Welp, now I really can’t mess up.
I avoided the tiny, familiar, hole-in-the-wall gyro shop until I could go on no longer (and let’s be honest, it wasn’t even a week). I had taught a lot of classes that day, I was starving, and I realized: it was time. Hoping for a calm and quiet test taking environment (before the dinner rush) I headed off to get my pita-less dinner.
Picture this: sparks whizzing through through the air like the place is burning down. Gyro man is on the phone so I can’t order right away, and Gyro man’s co-worker is literally beating the grill with a shovel that is about as tall as he is. The tough looking tattooed woman who alway makes the French fries (side note: all the people who work here have epic looking tattoos, wear black, and are friendly people who could beat you up if they wanted to), pokes her head out of the kitchen before escaping from the coal filled air.
Am I even supposed to be here right now?? Crap! Now, Gyro Man’s co-worker with the shovel looks confused about why I look so confused. Beating the coals till to the air glitters is probably completely normal in Greece!
Still unsure whether I was even supposed to be there or if this was some coal situation that I shouldn’t be apart of, I turned to the register where Gyro man was waiting.
Me: Γγρος χοιρινό, Ανοιχτό χωρίς πίτα!
(Yiro Heereeno, anichto, korees Peeta!)
That feeling you get when you leave the test room and realize that you did all you could… So satisfying and hopeful! I didn’t speak in complete sentence, but I used the words I knew. I could only hope that I had communicated what I needed to get the food I desired.
Gyro Man (after typing something into the register): Perfect.
He smiled as he gave me the OK sign, and I definitely tossed up double fists in triumph.
Ah, the chaos and excitement of learning a new language. You try, you fail, you try again, and you don’t fail quite so badly till finally someone tells you “perfect.” I picked up one of their printed menus to bring home. I was past studying receipts at this point and moving on to the next level.
Gyro Man (Looking excited at how ambitious I was): This is for ordering on the telephone. You can call. I take the order and we will deliver.
Well… I might not be quite that ambitious. But you never know. I still have a couple weeks left in Athens. I smiled, thanked him, took my well earned gyro, and headed out to study the menu.
And dang, a gyro never tasted so good.