Intentional Conversationalists

by Scott on September 13, 2011

in Character Counts,Travel

The standard "Greece" picture

Ali and I recently got back from a trip to Greece for her sister’s wedding and had a truly incredible trip.  We were able to travel through Greece for two amazing weeks, first in the Peloponnese and then on the Island of Crete.  I’ll scatter some pictures throughout this post to give you an idea of what we experienced.

While the scenery and food were incredible, what really struck both of us about Greece were the people.  In conversations I’ve had since we’ve been back, the best way I can describe them are as Intentional Conversationalists.  I know that’s a mouthful, but it really is the best term I could come up with.  Let me explain.

My step-dad has a long-time friend, Agis (pronounced ‘Ah-geese’), who lives in the town of Gythio in the southern part of the Greek mainland.  They met back in the 1950s in Los Angeles when they were in school together.  Over my lifetime I’ve probably met Agis three or four times when he would be in the LA area while I was growing up.  He was a ship captain, taking 1200′ ships all over the world with various types of cargo.  Every couple of years he would end up at the Port of Long Beach, give us a call and he would usually join us for a day or two and a few meals.  For our first week in Greece, Ali and I (and my Dad) were going to Gythio to relax and reconnect with Agis.

Agis and his wife Lucy

We rented a car, and after two great days in Athens, drove down the Peloponnese (which is basically any part of Greece south of Athens) to Gythio.  Along the way we passed through beautiful countryside, endless olive trees and the town of Sparti, which we would visit on our drive back up.

I should add at this point that Greek is a difficult language to learn to read and if you ever plan on driving through Greece, make a note of the Greek spelling of your destination town (and large towns in between) so that you can easily follow road signs.  Most of the signs are also in English, but not all.  You’ve been warned.

99% of the drive was inland with no sight of water – until the last mile or so when we arrived in Gythio.  The bulk of the town wraps around a small harbor with the main street between the water and buildings.  Countless restaurants and taverns have setup tables, chairs and umbrellas on the water side of the street which is where most of the dining, drinking and entertainment happens in the city.

I had planned on calling Agis when we arrived at our hotel to make plans for the evening.  That plan was thwarted, however, when the woman at reception said she would call Agis to alert him to our arrival (he knows the hotel owner very well).

Gythio by day

Within ten minutes we received a call that he was waiting for us in the lobby.  Keep in mind that prior to this meeting, I had met him in person only the few times before in Los Angeles and via video Skype during the planning of our trip.  It was about four in the afternoon and the three of us (Ali, my Dad and I) went down to the lobby to say hello.  After hugs and a brief hello, we settled on eight in the evening for drinks.  Time for a nap.

View of our hotel from the beach

As eight approached we all headed down to the hotel bar and met up with Agis for an unforgettable evening.  We probably spent two hours drinking and talking before heading over to dinner.  He took us back into town where we had an incredible dinner of fresh fish, prawns, lobster and too many other things to remember.

All of the restaurants setup on the water

I’d guess it was just after midnight when we got back to the hotel.  But here is the amazing part – Drinks, dinner, and four hours absolutely flew by with someone that we hardly knew.

View from the pool bar

And this is where the title of the post comes into play.  We soon began to discover that EVERYONE we met in Greece were the best conversationalists we had ever encountered.  If it had just been that one night, I would not have come to this conclusion.

It was early the following afternoon that Agis called to schedule another round of drinks and who-knows-what-else.   I began to get a little apprehensive that we wouldn’t have much to talk about.  I reverted back to my LA tendency of trying to figure out what the “point” of the conversation was – what would both sides get out of the deal.  I worried that Agis had other things to do and that he was merely being polite by spending time with us.  But as the days went by – and the countless meals, snacks, hours on the beach and drinks at the pool – I really began to appreciate the fact that Agis (and everyone else we met) valued time with friends and good conversation above just about everything else.  Which got me thinking…

Pork Souvlaki, fresh (fried) pita and white cheese

How do we define a friendship back home?  Is it someone on your Facebook list of “friends”, or is it someone who you intentionally spend time with on a regular basis?  For me, that definition has hovered somewhere between those two extremes for quite some time.  Since we live so far from so many of our friends and family it has been difficult to spend intentional time with others.  And both Ali and I realized that we needed to make some changes in our lives to identify our good friends and spend more time nurturing those relationships.

I don’t think that I’ll ever lead quite as slow of a life as our friends in Greece, but it made me realize how important the act of conversation is.  The sheer amount of time spent with others leads to conversations with more depth and consequently an increased closeness in a friendship.  I’m not exactly sure how this is going to pan out in our lives but I know that I’ve been taking a lot more time to make sure that I’m really getting to know others at a deeper level, even if that means the number of people I know will have to decrease.  Think about it in your own life – is it better to constantly be caught up on what 800 of your closest friends are up to via your social media network, or to know three or four people at a really deep level.  I’m not sure where the true answer lies, but I know I’m aware of my relationships now more than ever.

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