When I shocked a Greek pharmacist

by explaining to him that my friend got bitten by a sword fish while riding her motorbike Memories of a tour guide

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As I young woman, I worked for 11 years as a tour guide all over the world. Back then, it was not as easy as it is now to receive a work permit in many countries and being a tour guide was one way to do it and learn about other cultures and peoples.

In the summer of 1981 I was sent to a 6 months’ assignment on the beautiful Greek island of Skiathos. It was an amazing experience because the place was small and still quite untouched by mass tourism. I rented a room in an old house the middle of the village, nobody spoke English and I was therefore obliged to learn Greek as fast as possible. I had taken Greek lessons at the University of Geneva and had learnt some Greek the previous summer when I had worked in Rhodes, but this was it, this was about survival. I spent lots of time with the kids in the neighbourhood to practice, they were grateful that I brought them colouring pencils from my regular trips to Athens and I enjoyed talking to them because they didn’t judge my grammar.

Due to the tiny size of the island and the lack of shops, my friend and I took the ferry to the city of Volos on the mainland once in a while on our day off to change the scenery and shop for important supplies such as shoes etc.

Unfortunately, the day before one of our shopping days, a wasp had gotten caught in my friends’ sunglasses while she was driving her small motorbike between the hotels she had to visit and the area around her eye was swollen and looked really sore. We decided not to cancel our shopping trip, and I promised that I will help her with my perfect Greek, to buy a soothing cream in a pharmacy once we got to Volos.

The conversation with the pharmacist, however, didn’t go as planned. I told him, that my friend had been bitten by a xifias / Ξιφίας. I mixed up the word sfiga / σφήκα (wasp) with the word xifias, which stands for swordfish. The pharmacists’ eyes got a little bigger, he asked: “In the water???” and I replied: “No, on the motorbike” and when I noticed, that he nearly fainted, I realized, that I must have said something wrong…

We all had a good laugh, I managed to explain, that it had been a wasp and not a swordfish that had bitten her, we got the cream and went on with our day.

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