10 October 2018

Rob Johnson - Expat in Greece

Rob Johnson - Expat in Greece

We’ve had the chance to talk to Rob Johnson, a British expat who has moved to Greece with his wife. Mr Johnson, who has been living there for fourteen years works as a writer and olive farmer. Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Kent, England


Q: What made you move out of UK?

A: It’s a cliché, I know, but I have to admit it was mostly because of the weather. Before my wife Penny and I moved to Greece, we were living in the heart of the Peak District National Park in England, and although it’s a wonderful part of the country, even the summers could be disappointingly sunless.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Greece. Apart from the much better weather, there’s a general attitude to life here that’s summed up in the often heard expression “sιgá-sιgá”. Similar in meaning to the Spanish “mañana”, this translates literally as “slowly-slowly” or “Why rush to do today what can easily wait till tomorrow – or the day after?” This was certainly very appealing to us.


Q: How long have you been living in Greece?

A: 14 years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: It’s just my wife and I plus six rescue dogs and two cats, but we do have family back in the UK.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Not surprisingly, perhaps, the hardest thing about leaving the UK was having to say goodbye to our family and friends. As it turned out, though, it was more of an au revoir than a goodbye because many of them have come out to visit us in Greece, and we also go back to the UK fairly frequently for a few days at a time.

Other than family and friends, we don’t really miss very much, although there are three specific things that I do miss: a decent pint of beer (e.g. Fuller’s London Pride); watching Crystal Palace Football Club; and cricket.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Despite the appalling effects of the austerity measures introduced since the beginning of the economic crisis, the Greeks still retain their well-deserved reputation for hospitality and generosity. They also know how to have fun and to celebrate the very act of being alive, which is best summed up by another word which we Brits don’t have an equivalent for – “kefi” – which has much the same meaning as the Irish “craic”.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Greece? How did you manage to find a social circle there?

A: We’ve found it quite easy to make friends and meet people here, and our friends are a mixture of Greeks and expats from various countries (e.g. Ireland, Switzerland, Iran, Germany, Romania). When we moved to Greece, we were determined not to settle in an area which was mainly populated by, and catered for, expats, so that’s why we socialise with a range of nationalities, including Greeks of course.


Q: How does the cost of living in Greece compare to your home?

A: Some things are much cheaper than in the UK (e.g. most over-the-counter medicines, council tax and TV licences) and others are much more expensive (e.g. books, clothes and second-hand cars), but prices have generally risen across the board since the EU insisted that Greece increased its VAT rate on most items. Also, if you pay income tax in Greece, you’re charged almost for the very fact of being alive.


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 1.50-2.50 euros.


Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: About 10 euros.


Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: I’ve no idea as we’ve never been to one!


Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: 3 euros upwards for a bottle of wine. I’m not sure about cigarettes, but a 30-gram packet of hand-rolling tobacco is 7.50 euros.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Greece?

A: It wasn’t difficult when we first moved to Greece in 2004, but it’s become much harder since the beginning of the economic crisis. I’m not sure what the current situation is or if opening a bank account has become easier again, but you’ll certainly need to take your passport with you and also your ΑΦΜ (pronounced Ah-Fee-Me). This is a tax number that you’ll need for all kinds of other official transactions, so it’s essential to prioritise getting one as soon as possible.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Greece has a fairly well-deserved reputation for bureaucracy and red tape, and you need to be prepared for most dealings with officialdom to take quite a long time. Also, whenever dealing with any kind of officialdom, it’s a good idea to take with you every single official document you possess. It’s incredible how often you’ll be asked for the one piece of paper that you’ve forgotten to bring with you.
Having said that, there were as many British bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through as Greek ones when Penny and I got married here.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Greece is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Fortunately, we haven’t needed to put it to the test for anything serious so far, but we’ve been generally impressed on the few occasions we’ve had to visit the local hospital. However, since the economic crisis and the consequent austerity measures began, many hospitals have been badly affected by understaffing and lack of equipment and medicines. I should also mention that the idea of nursing in Greece is very different from that in the UK, since family members and friends are expected to carry out many of the duties which would normally be undertaken by nurses in Britain.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in UK or Greece? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: We took out private health insurance through the Greek equivalent of the Farmers’ Union soon after we moved to Greece. Rather bizarrely, this was compulsory when we were considering buying a pickup truck, although we didn’t actually buy one in the end.


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Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Greece? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: One of the most memorable things about packing and moving – in that it caused several “debates” between my wife and I -- was that Penny said I couldn’t take all of my very large collection of books with us. She suggested that, as a start, I should sort them into three piles -- one for definitely keeping, one for definitely not keeping, and one for undecided. This was an almost impossible task, and when she came back into the room some hours later, there were two books in the definitely not keeping pile, four in the undecided pile, and the rest in the definitely keeping pile. Needless to say, she wasn’t overly impressed.

Pickfords packed and moved everything we took with us in a forty foot container and did a very good job. The container was then stored in Athens until we’d found a place to buy, and then brought to the house by a Greek removals company called Orphee Beinoglou, which was also very efficient.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: I found it very difficult in the early stages, although Penny seemed to adapt far more quickly than I did. Perhaps I just have a much lower culture shock threshold than she does, but I think it was probably more to do with my inability to communicate in Greek as well as I would have liked. I’m a bit of a chatterer by nature, so I found this incredibly frustrating even though both Penny and I have put in a lot of effort to learn the language.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Greece?

A: Where do I start? I could write a book about this. Oh, wait. I already have. Seriously, though, the most positive aspects of living in Greece have to be the normally excellent weather, the generally relaxed attitude to life, and the friendliness and generosity of spirit of the Greek people.

Although we haven’t been too badly affected by it ourselves, the most negative aspect is witnessing the disastrous effects on the vast majority of the Greek people by the appallingly stringent austerity measures introduced since the beginning of the economic crisis at the insistence of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: We live very close to the sea, and there are plenty of wonderful beaches to enjoy all along the west coast of the Peloponnese. There are also many archaeological sites within fairly easy reach, such as Ancient Olympia, Nestor’s Palace, the Temple of Apollo and the ancient cities of Mystras and Messene, all of which are well worth a visit.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Not at all.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: By far the most important is to learn as much of the Greek language as you can before you come. Plenty of Brits expect people in foreign countries to be able to speak English, which is not only presumptuous but seriously mistaken unless you’re moving to one of the bigger cities in Greece or a heavy tourist area.

If possible, take your time to look around as many areas of Greece before committing yourself to one in particular. If you intend to buy somewhere, rent a place first so you can use that as a base for your explorations.

Read whatever is available about moving to Greece, although you’ll find when you’re actually here that a lot of the advice is out of date or just plain daft.

Read ‘A Kilo of String’ and listen to my podcast episodes that the book is loosely base on. These will tell you everything you never realised you wanted to know about Greece or didn’t dare to ask. (Shameless plug. Sorry.)


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Greece?

A: There’s my own website, of course, where you can listen to my podcast series about life as an expat in Greece: https://rob-johnson.org.uk/

Keep Talking Greece is an excellent website in English about Greek news, updated daily: http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/

Ekathimerini is a daily online Greek newspaper in English: http://www.ekathimerini.com/

The Independent and The Guardian newspapers both have sections on Greek news: http://www.independent.co.uk/topic/Greece and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/greece

If you’re visiting or moving to Rhodes, John Manuel’s Ramblings from Rhodes blog is an excellent resource: https://ramblingsfromrhodes.blogspot.gr/

And for Corfu, Effrosyni Moschoudi’s free guide is essential reading: http://effrosyniwrites.com/your-guide-to-moraitika-corfu/

Two Greek-focused Facebook groups that are well worth joining are Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides at https://www.facebook.com/groups/greecetravel/ and Foreigners Living in Greece at https://www.facebook.com/groups/foreigngreece/

Finally, the Facebook group A Good Greek Read is great for finding both novels and non-fiction books with a heavily Greek theme or setting: https://www.facebook.com/groups/866776986702535/


A Kilo of String', which is available in both e-book and paperback formats from Amazon: http://viewbook.at/A_Kilo_of_String

The book is loosely based on my podcast series of the same name at https://rob-johnson.org.uk/podcasts/a-kilo-of-string/