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Cyprus is a divided Island. I don’t just mean the divide between north and south, the illegal occupation of northern Cyprus by the invading forces of Turkey since July 1974. No, I mean the division between the east and the west. We’ve been told by Cypriots, on more than one occasion, from Larnaca and Limassol, that Cypriots in the Paphos district were not the same as them. “The people of Paphos are less sophisticated than we are, here in Larnaca,” as one man told me. That’s as may be, but we have also been told that the Cypriot residents of Paphos speak differently than in other areas. I assumed they were referring to dialects, as with Londoners in England talking with a different dialect to those in Newcastle, England.
As a non-Greek speaker I’ve never really detected these differences, but what I have detected is a difference in phrasing between Greek speakers from Greece and those Cypriots who speak Greek. I noticed at Paphos airport a few years back a pilot stood next to me in the shop buying a newspaper. He was purchasing a Greek language newspaper but conversing with the sales assistant in English. It turns out he, the pilot, was Greek and the lady serving him was a Cypriot. Both had Greek as their first language, but the Paphos dialect was so strong the pilot could not understand her. Much the same as I find English speakers from the far north of Scotland hard to understand.
Now, here’s the point to all this, the unfolding tragedy as far as I’m concerned. Yesterday I wrote a piece about my inability to speak Greek after living in Cyprus for almost 12 years, you can read it here. Well, my wife and I learned another phrase yesterday which was going to be more useful. “Thank you very much,” in English is “Efcharistó polý para,” in Greek. But is it? Because if you ask Google translate it comes up with “Efcharistó polý,” missing off the para. So, which is it? The tragedy here is that it seems written and spoken Greek can be somewhat fluid. There are, for a start, potentially different spellings of the same name. The village of Letymbou can also be spelled as Letympou or even Letymvou and we’ve seen that on a few maps and signs. I suspect someone is changing the language goalposts every time I go to bed, because things seem slightly different when I wake up.
Apart from anything else, the English Alphabet has 26 letters and the Greek has 24. English is partly based on Greek, even the English word Alphabet is derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Beta. You would therefore be forgiven to think learning Greek would be straight forward for an Englishman. It isn’t.
Learning a new phrase in Greek is proving somewhat fraught, troubling and even worrisome. I have to admit, I don’t really need the stress at this time of my life. But, at the same time, Cyprus is my adopted country so Greek should be my adopted language. Maybe I should have moved from England to Cyprus 40 years ago, I may have learned a few more phrases by now.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2020
Living in Cyprus has had it’s ups and downs and the very fact of moving caused us many sleepless nights. But looking back, it was also a happy and funny period in our lives… and we’re still learning. Welcome to Cyprus, please ensure your passport and wallet are open.