So I (finally) made it to a European country, although not in the way I expected. It was a 34 km² city (I live in a 374 km² city) with the tallest building approximately around 15 floor or less. The weather was hot (although not unbearable), crystal clear blue sky hung above without even a bit speck of cloud. It has 14km of beaches stretched aside the city and tanned guys and girls walking around in casual clothes, even to work. It was the farthest image of Europe from what I had in mind. It was Limassol.
Reception – the European style hospitality
The whole trip did not had a specific goal, really. I’m guessing that after working for about 2 years, I earned my right to visit the company HQ (and gain a bit of holiday in the process). The whole flight itself took about 12-14 hours, a bit blurry with the time difference.
After a day to recover from the travel, a guy from the office (we’re pretty much friend already) picked me up, bring me to the office, and introduce me to everyone. I got to say, it was quite a warm welcome, with everyone I ever contacted from here seemed enthusiastic enough for the meet and greet. The other have had different reactions. Some shied away, some looked at me curiously, some did not seem to care. We had a short tour around the office and I can see the difference between the explosive sales/support/HR people compared to their timid IT/designer co-worker immediately. It seemed fit to me.
Culinary Experience – If you see more than half of your plate, you’re doing it wrong!
The culinary part was one of my most expected things here, to taste meals cooked by the local themselves. After first overwhelming few days, I came to some conclusions:
1. The ridiculously huge portion was NOT meant to be finished. You’re not supposed to empty your plate and lick it clean – you just chew and gulp what you want and leave the rest. Being raised in a culture where parents scold their children for not finishing their food, I got this entirely wrong for the first few days.
2. There is not much variation to the food (this is probably my bias since I avoid seafood like plague). It’s always grilled xxxx (pork/chicken/beef/fish) + something-bread, perhaps with cheese. Otherwise it’ll be xxxx salad. The taste were.. let’s say “minimum to near bland” to my Asian tongue. All dishes are meant to be eaten with rice here in Asia, so they taste a bit stronger.
I do think I could get used to it – it does seem to be a lot healthier – but being supported by the company during my stay, we always eat the EUR 12-15/meal, which is not supposed to be your daily meal if you actually stay and work there. I wonder what the EUR 2.5-5 meal taste like
3. Avoid any Asian based food. This is probably a bit premature since I only tried one Japanese restaurant, but God.. it was BLAND. My ramen soup taste like hot water with a bit salt on it. The yakisoba was reeked with garlic like the cook tried to improvise a spaghetti recipe on Japanese noodles. It was horrible, to say the least.
How about a toast? Nay, let me rephrase that: How about a toast THREE times per week, my friend?
One thing I learned about the people here (or at least the people in the company) is they love to drink and smoke, despite the gender. The directors rooms are free-smoking area while the rest of the company are smoking-free area. Thus, there are always some guys and girls huddled together on the stairs area to smoke. It’s a long lived tradition it seems, visible by the strategically placed ashtrays around the stairs to accommodate these smokers.
On my first night out with my tour guide guy, he brought me to a bar where he’s a usual patron (guy keep clapping everyone hands like he lives there). He got us a seat beside the beach and got me an orange juice since I refused alcohol-based drink. I got to admit, the spotless night sky and the round moon above Mediterranean sea was beautiful to look at. Soon after, some more guys and girls from the company came and sit with us.
I finished half my orange juice when people start pulling out their cigarette packs. While I have nothing against smoker, being in the proximity when they smoke always put me in uncomfortable situation – mainly because I always find it hard to breathe with people smoking around me, sometimes even lead to continuous coughing. Luckily, my another-tour-guide-guy arrived and he insisted to go out and have dinner rather than stay there, which I gladly abide.
We had dinner on 9 PM in a local junk-food restaurant, then they asked me if I want to meet the directors. I agreed and we went to another bar . This time, it was a small private bar which had been closed to visitors. Our company CEO apparently know the owner and there were only a handful of people there (some from the company, other the bar owner and his friends) with Greek music played on air at near-deafening volume.
Seeing your bosses on – let’s say not in their best condition (they were definitely not wasted – yet) – was weird, to say the least. They talked about random things, mainly about me and the company growth (at least from what I caught in English), then at some point sing along with the song, arms on others shoulders. Drinks (or drunk) aside, that sight gave quite positive feedback to me about how the bosses treat their employees. I had another orange juice there (4th orange juices across the day, including breakfast and dinner), and tried 2 alcohol based drinks to no success. Came to conclusion that I don’t like alcohol after all. Later, they finished with that bar and while the directors headed for the first bar to join the other employees, I was driven back to the hotel thinking how good their stamina were.
The way I see it, the drinks at the bar (perhaps 2-3 times per week, weekend not included?) and the smoking-on-the-stair activities are how they bond together, not only as coworkers or employer-employees, but more than that, as actual friends. In addition, the company also throws party regularly where employees can bring their spouses. They know each other beyond what they do at the office and it created good atmosphere at work too, at least from what I see during my limited time there. All in all, I liked how these directors run their company.
This drinks culture also led me to found out another difference here: nobody interested in theater. To my utter shock, there is only 1 theater in the city and it’s not even packed. People choose to hang out with friends over drinks than watching movie together, which seem to fit their relaxed culture I guess. If there are a lot more culture like this, those actors/actress and directors in Hollywood will have to find another job soon.
The Need for Speed – Hot Pursuit
On my 3rd day, we rode in my friend’s BMW to another city to visit another company’s office there. The car was about 8 years old, but it still can pack a punch quite well and he drove at (what I thought was) decent speed on the highway. I was sitting on the backseat and I saw 140 km/h on the speedometer when a policeman at the side of the road waved on us, telling us to stop. The realization that we rode above the speed limit struck at me at the same time my friend kicked the gas deeper, jolting me back while the car bolted forward at alarming acceleration.
The road wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty either. While we’re zig-zagging the other cars in an attempt to get away, I glanced at 160km/h on the speedometer, then looked backward, half expected to see a white car with red-blue sirens wailing at its top and angry officer’s face at its driver seat. I didn’t see anything, but wasn’t convinced that it already over. My friend, apparently, didn’t want to take any chance either, maintaining his crazy speed while trying to get out of the highway. I buckled up and hoping he’s good enough and calm enough not to hit anything in this speed.
Later on, I found out that we ran of not only because we passed the speed limit, but also because he did not bring his driving license. That, and while I did not pay attention, apparently we run up to 180 km/h. That was an experience I do not want to repeat (among other things)
Lost In Translation
Yeap, at one point I felt like I was in Lost in Translation, only without Scarlett Johansson. In place of her is a dog named Brownie, which still seemed better than me because he apparently knows more Greek vocabulary than I did (sit, roll, and such?). My vocabulary on Greek was limited to Kalimera and Malaka. While Kalimera is safe, I’m quite sure the use of the other word will get me in trouble, so I kind of stuck with 1 Greek word at that time.
I actually got myself in that situation by agreeing to come to my friend to join his personal world-cup-final-watch-together party. While I wasn’t a fan of football and did not care less about world cup euphoria, I was intrigued on the Cyprus culture and willing to see how they interact on this “gathering”.
The result was 15 people, all spoke in Greek, and I had no clue what they were speaking about. It’s the actual experience of Lost in Translation, and it was tiring. When the game finally started at about 10PM, I already too tired to watch something I don’t have any interest on. I picked up the last seat with bad visibility to the TV (don’t care anyway) and spent the whole game wondering if these 20 men actually trying to get the ball to the goal post. If there is any game that need a patch, football sure as hell does. The whole deadlock situation which would bored any audience can be avoided easily, by removing the goalkeeper for instance :). They can play 10 v 10 without goalkeeper and the score would go probably 15-17 or something, but at least we can see clear winner easily and people will get more action packed game.
My friend saw me and kept offering to take me back to the hotel, but I don’t want him to miss the game because of me or speeding back and forth to catch the game (he’s the 180km/h guy), so I held on and said I was OK. After what it seemed to be forever, two things happened that night: a) Germany finally got that one lone goal and got their win; b) I vow to myself that, if I can help it, that would be the last time I watch a football game, ever.
A Life Choice to be Made
So the option seems to be there to grasp, but do I want to commit a life change and move there? Limassol surely does not live up to the Europe I had in mind, but it does has some advantages which not exist here:
- long daylight (5 AM – 7.30 PM), vast clear blue sky which pretty much widely visible due to the low rise buildings
- wide and clean pedestrian walkway in a city where people actually like to walk – perfect!
- No traffic jam – I won’t have to think twice about buying a car
- Safer – you can walk with ease, knowing there won’t be any thugs huddling at a corner of the street ready to mug you up
- People are generally easier to interact with, most have the same beliefs and values with me. They’re easier to relate compared to here.
That being said, there are also the cons. The main disadvantage is I will lost the economical advantage of the currency value. This is bothering me since I already have invest on something here. I keep doing calculation about cost and how much I need to live in Limassol and it always doesn’t add up. I would probably end up having to pay debt for the rest of my life or having to rent for the rest of my life, both seemed like a dark prospect.
In any case, I need more time and data to know how it would be like to actually live there and being pampered at a hotel and having someone taking care of my every meal surely didn’t show anything of the real situation (this is what happened during my visit). For now, I will concentrate on the company project for September and revisit this later.
Add: Intriguing Companionship
Another interesting point I think worth mentioned:
During my visit, there were these 2 guys from overseas department who’s been being my host. They took me everywhere, introducing me to everyone, acting as tour guide, and generally making sure I was taken care of. But, there was also this one girl that, to my bewilderment (realized this after a few days) see me more than these 2 guys were.
During a week of my stay, these 2 guys took turns giving me tour and taking me everywhere, so I guess I saw each of them half the time I was there, but for some reason that I can’t comprehend, I saw this girl almost every day during my visit. Let’s see:
day 1: picked up at the airport, rest at the hotel
day 2: met her at the office. Later that night, met her again at the bar
day 3: went to 2nd office at other city (the need for speed incident), she was there in the car when my friend picked me up
day 4 was Saturday: she was there when my friend picked me up to hangout at a cafe. She was supposed to come also at night when we went to eat, but my friend would not made the detour to pick her up
day 5 was Sunday: the “Lost in Translation” episode, she was there also. Already there in the car when I was picked up
day 6: Only met her at the office. I ate dinner by myself that night since both of my hosts were unavailable
day 7: Had last dinner for me in Cyprus. She was there also, but this time my friend picked me up first then pulled over at a point to let her came in. He said “surprise”
So basically she was around all the time. I asked my friend when I realized this on weekend and he said “she’s always there where the fun is” which I translate as she will come to any gathering if you ask her. Don’t know about the “fun” part, but I guess she just really like to socialize..?
Despite being grateful for the companionship (at some point, it’s quite weird for 2 dudes keep going everywhere together :)), it was also a bit annoying for me. The thing is, she was really chatty (which is no problem for me, actually, since I prefer chatty girl over a quiet one) – in Greek (this is the problem!) We’d had some conversation in English for a bit, then she would jump to tell her story in Greek (in really fast and exciting way), which pretty much kicked me out from the conversation. While my other 2 friends usually had the knack to explain to me what people actually talking about after they talked in Greek, she did not had that generosity. Thus the conversation was kind of divided in two: her telling of her story in Greek (in which I’d stare the other way) and some English c0nversation which either me or my friend started.
It was really annoying in the sense of “why are you always around if all you did is keeping me out of the conversation” kind of way. Then again, after a while, I tried to see things from her side as well. My friend was studied in NY, the other in London, so their English are excellent. On the other side, she was Greek-German, and she spent most of her life in German, then Greece, then Cyprus. So I imagine English is probably her third language and all her life she was never really demanded to speak English all the time. Telling exciting story in fast pace in English probably was really inconvenient for her, so she preferred to went by her native language. At least that was how I tried to look at it, and despite the annoying part, I’m still grateful for the constant companionship (whatever the reason) as well.