Bree Johnson grew up in a small town in Minnesota, USA. She has always yearned to understand different cultures, and experience new things while actually living some place and getting to know the real way of life there.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Minnesota, USA
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Athens, Alimos, Greece
Q: How long have you lived in Athens?
A: Nine months
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
Q: Why did you move to Greece; what do you do?
A: I moved here to experience a new culture and spend time understanding their definition of everyday life. I work as an au pair: I live with a Greek family and take care of their 2-year-old son while also teaching him English.
About living in Athens
Q: What do you enjoy most about Athens; how's the quality of life?
A: I love that there is always something to do in Athens. Whether you want to spend time at the sea, go for coffee, go shopping, to movies, theatre… and the nightlife is unbeatable! Everyone is quite friendly and helps you get around. It is an old city, so it is confusing trying to find certain places, but even the people who have lived here their entire lives get lost, so they don't mind when you ask for directions.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The only negative that I can think of is that there isn't much of the one-stop shopping that I'm used to (aka Target, Walmart, etc). If you have a list of things to get, there is a good chance you'll be stopping at a few different places to find it all. And the entire city shuts down on Sundays, other than the cafés.
Q: Is Athens safe?
A: I feel very safe in the city. I mean, you do have to be careful just like anywhere, and there have been occasional pickpocket episodes, but other than that it is safe. The crime rate isn't very high here, and you can trust that if people around you see something bad happening, they will help.
Q: Describe an ideal way to spend a weekend in Athens?
A: If you are here for holiday, I would suggest seeing the Acropolis, of course, and also visiting the new Acropolis Museum. It has a very interesting video you can watch about the history of the Acropolis before going up to see it. I would then head to Plaka for a late lunch/early dinner, where you can sit outside and have a wonderful view of the Acropolis hilltop. I would also take a day to spend at the sea; there are great beaches and wonderful cafés that line the water.
About living in Greece
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Athens as an expat?
A: I live in Alimos, which I love! It is only a 10-15 minute drive to the centre of the city or 40 minutes by public transport and is located right on the water. I spend a lot of time at the beach! Glyfada is also very nice, but it is farther out of the city.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Athens?
A: The apartments are usually small, just like in most large cities. Many of the buildings are old and family owned, but they have their own Greek charm.
Q: What's the cost of living in Greece compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living is more expensive. I notice it most when going out at night. Drinks tend to be a little spendy, but I always have such a great time that I don't mind spending the extra cash.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The locals are friendly, from what I've experienced. I've made some friends that have grown up in the area, and they have shown me a side of Athens I would have never experienced on my own or with other expats. I do hang out with other expats though too, I found them online because they are also au pairs in the area.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Greece?
A: It wasn't too hard to make friends through the means of Facebook and other expat sites. I met my Greek friends by talking to the bartender at a café/bar. I find it a good way to get to know the locals.
About working in Greece
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: I just have a tourist visa that I need to renew every 3 months. It is kind of a pain but worth it, and the family I live with takes care of most of it for me.
Q: What's the economic climate like in Athens; is there plenty of work?
A: Greece is going through an economic crisis, just like most of the world right now. It is difficult to find work, but there are tons of cafés and small odd-end jobs that are usually available. One of the problems with the economic crisis right now though is that there are a lot of strikes. Many don't affect me, but when they shut down the pharmacies for a week and stop public transport for days on end, it gets to be annoying. The funny thing is how everyone is saying that no one has any money, yet the cafés are full during the day and the bars are full at night.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: People seem to work slower here. I'm used to seeing the 9-5 rigorous work day when you get a 30-minute lunch and then back to work. Here you will see people having coffee in a café at 2 in the afternoon. Not everyone starts work in the wee morning hours, and many people are done working by 3 or 4pm.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Greece?
A: Healthcare has its positives and negatives. It is nice because many medications don't need a prescription from the doctor, but finding a good doctor if you need one can be difficult. They have private and public doctors/medical clinics. The public is very cheap to go to, but you will wait a long time, and they don't always pay very close attention to your condition. The private is better, but it will cost you.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: I would definitely suggest coming to Greece. Not only is Athens a great city, but it is so close to many other amazing places to visit. The islands are so beautiful and an irreplaceable experience. I would suggest doing your research before you come, where you want to stay, where you're going to work, etc. If you're not going to have a car, make sure you understand the bus schedules and metro lines so you can get around. And keep an open mind; every place has its own unique characteristics that make it special.
~Interviewed April 2011