My Desperate Search for Books in Athens

I mentioned a few days ago that I was struggling with the phase of culture shock where everything unfamiliar feels like a personal attack.  Nowhere did I feel this more strongly than in my search for books written in English.  I love to read, books are my happy place, when I see them my face goes all wistful, etc etc.  But everywhere I went, the titles were maddeningly indecipherable.

Duh, Tricia, you may be thinking.  You’re in Greece.

But you’ve forgotten – I’m incredibly privileged, and I expect everything to be available in my mother language!

Which is, you know, selfish.  But also true.  And anyway, it just felt like a slap to my face every time I saw a book and knew that it’s pages – MY PAGES, MY LOVE – were stories and words and phrases that I would never understand.  Street-side book sellers hosted tables full of familiar covers and unfamiliar titles.  The center where I volunteer had a bookcase full of Greek books; I pulled out the most basic books for children and wilted with my inability to translate more than one sentence.  In a desperate attempt to find normalcy, I returned to Omonia where I had once walked through a bookstore to get to a bathroom.  It was made of several rooms, but I found only two bookshelves with English books.  There was nothing worth reading, and I left really dejected.

I complained about this to Argyris on Sunday, and an hour later he exclaimed, “Oh!  There is a big building at Syntagma, next to the McDonald’s!  Public, it’s orange.  There are many books there.  I’m sure they have some in English.”

“You mean there’s been a bookstore right next to my metro stop, and I’ve ignored it for two weeks??”  

The strike that forced me downtown two hours early felt fortuitous.  I crossed Syntagma Square with a crowd of tourists and saw the five-story Public building.  I walked in to see walls full of journals.  It looked sleek, ordered, and well-stocked.  My heart leaped.  I rode the escalator past the second floor full of Apple products and made a mental note in case of emergencies.  I saw books on the third floor and wandered happily among displays and stretching bookcases….but everything was in Greek!  By the time I circled back to the escalators, I saw a sign that said there were more books on the fourth floor.  I rode up, and: *ANGEL CHORUS*


There was a huge section of English books, with multiple rooms and dozens of displays.  And where there were displays of Greek books for “Psychology” or “Travel,” the bottom shelves offered the same titles in English.  I wandered happily, stroking book spines and smiling fondly at old favorites.  I bought two books at full price, as well as a notebook for Greek vocabulary.  I would never buy full-price books in the United States, where there are libraries and Used on Amazon options.  But my soul NEEDED to purchase books, needed to assure myself that there are places here where I can feel perfectly at home.

What a nerd, eh?

I DON’T CARE, I found my happy place.


12 thoughts on “My Desperate Search for Books in Athens

    • Tricia February 3, 2016 / 7:04 pm

      I have a Kindle, and you’re right, it’s AMAZING, especially for public reading (doesn’t take up much space/weight in my purse), but….I am still a physical book fanatic at heart. Nothing will ever replace the sheer joy of being surrounded, wall to wall and floor to ceiling, with pages and pages of story.


      • Mira February 4, 2016 / 10:50 am

        And those covers!:)


        • Tricia February 4, 2016 / 11:19 am

          Yes!! I didn’t realize how much I like to judge a book by its cover. 😉


  1. Mary February 3, 2016 / 5:28 pm

    Yay! I can picture your happy face!


    • Tricia February 3, 2016 / 7:05 pm

      You’re probably picturing the right one. 🙂


  2. An Adventure A Day February 5, 2016 / 6:22 pm

    There’s nothing like finding an English language section, especially when it has books you actually want to read!


    • Tricia February 5, 2016 / 6:38 pm

      Yes, that “having books you actually want to read” part is important!

      Liked by 1 person

      • An Adventure A Day February 5, 2016 / 6:51 pm

        Exactly! I usually find the most obscure novels and can’t help but wonder why on earth they choose these to represent the literature of the English language!


        • Tricia February 5, 2016 / 9:09 pm

          Haha, yes! Like many things, it makes me think: Is THAT what you think of American culture?

          Liked by 1 person

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