Finding Common Ground

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go with Cody and Sydne to the house of a guitar-maker not far from Thessaloniki. Cody was reporting for a profile on the craftsman, Giannis Paleodimopoulos, while Sydne’s job was to take photos. My job was that of videographer, a role I’ve only fulfilled a couple of times before. I’m not exactly experienced at shooting video, as evidenced by my frequent calls to Danny about how to set up the audio and where the headphone jack was located. But you can’t learn how to do something without putting yourself in a situation where you actually have to do it, so I stumbled down the stairs with my giant tripod and tried not to feel too embarrassed by my inability to detach the camera from the tripod at the end of the shoot.

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Looking more professional than I feel with my giant camera. Photo by Sydne Mass

After a 20-minute car ride, we wound up in a part of the countryside that I have never been to before, but that strongly reminded me of a past visit to Frýdek-Místek, Czech Republic that I took with my family about seven years ago. During that trip, we had the chance to visit the home of a colleague of my mom’s, Drahomira. I remember eating homemade onion soup and taking silly photos in her backyard, and feeling perhaps the most content that I have ever felt.

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Town square in Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Arriving at Paleodimopoulos’ house yesterday immediately brought back memories of that experience. Even though this time, I was visiting someone’s house in a professional capacity (and I had a giant camera with me), I immediately felt at home. Paleodimopoulos’ wife made coffee and brought out a delicious feta-and-zucchini bread that I can’t remember the name of but which our translator, Theo, called “their take on tiropita,” or cheese pie. As I downed my espresso and consumed several pieces of the delectable breakfast treat, Cody, Sydne, and I chatted with Paleodimopoulos and his friends, some of whom were also musicians.

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Giannis Paleodimopoulos. This photo’s from his website because I want to save the photos Sydne took for when Cody’s story is published. 

There’s no denying that there is a language barrier here. I can only remember about five Greek words at a time, so two-way conversation in Greek is essentially impossible. While Paleodimopoulos spoke semi-fluent English, several of the other people we had breakfast with did not. I’ve discovered that in those situations, there are always ways to find common ground. Maybe it’s using a single phrase in Greek, or discovering a mutual love of espresso, or just sharing a smile.

Sometimes it’s an unexpected connection. As it turns out, our photographer Sydne is fluent in several languages, and while Greek isn’t one of them, German is. As we were having a disjointed conversation in Greek and English – with Theo helpfully translating – Paleodimopoulos’ wife, Katerini, used a phrase in German that I would never have caught, but Sydne did. Soon, the two were chatting away in another language that, like Greek, is completely unfamiliar to me. Later, we captured video of Katerini explaining in German how to add the “rosetta” – the design around the guitar – which Sydne will soon help me translate and caption.

Not only did Sydne’s multilingualism come in handy yesterday, it also demonstrated something amazing about spending time in another country. Hearing three languages spoken simultaneously in the same room – Greek, German, and English – was a somewhat indescribable experience, but I think it comes down to the fact that there is always common ground. For me yesterday, it was the fact that the Greek countryside felt just like Frydek-Mistek, and that I was handed an espresso right when I needed one. For Sydne, it was finding someone who she could communicate with in a way that none of the other reporters in the room could. It’s hard to be far away from home, but it’s nice to know that mutual connections can always be found.

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Author: gschanker

I'm an aspiring science writer studying journalism and biology at Northeastern University and making my third - maybe fourth? - attempt at blogging.

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