How to learn Greek part 5: working at a Greek Deli in London

Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London

You want to learn Greek, you attend lessons with a teacher, you try your best listening to the radio, watching cartoons and television… But it seems not enough. Don’t worry, I feel you.

I have been there too. After many years trying to learn this new difficult language I found myself knowing some grammar and words but I had the feeling that not only I was not mastering Greek, I was actually not fluent at all. At that stage of my life, I was in London and it was good fortune.
In the City, there is quite a big Greek community, it’s very easy to jump on a bus and catch some Greek words too.

One day I bumped into the Isle of Olive, a charming Greek Deli in Broadway Market, one of my places in East London. At the beginning I was ‘only’ a customer, I was attracted by the delicious smell of the herbs that welcomes you as soon as you walk in. I used to buy some olive oil and sometimes having a quick lunch. I clearly remember the first time I spoke to Paulina, the young woman who owns the place. We spoke a bit about my story, mixing English and Greek, and about my dream of moving to Greece one day. Not sure she took this seriously, surely I did 🙂

At some point, they were looking for a shop assistant only for Saturdays and I thought that this could be my chance to take my Greek to the upper level. I went to speak to Paulina and the next weekend I became the One Quarter Greek shop assistant!

First I learnt to make coffee on the hovoli, a traditional coffee ”machine” for brewing the coffee in hot sand. I got familiar with the briki (the small pot) and the kind of coffee and very fast I became a Master coffee maker with the hovoli. I did not have the same luck with the frappè machine and the first time I used it I could not stop it and I made quite a mess around us.

Soon the Isle of Olive became my Greek family in London and I looked forward to every Saturday with great happiness and enthusiasm. In the beginning, I was a bit ashamed to speak in Greek but at least I listened while they spoke to each other. Something I did not consider when I asked for the job was that I was not only learning a bit more the language but I was having the opportunity to learn about the culture too. Food is deeply connected to the heritage of a country, especially in Greece. I learnt about the good Greek wines and the superb Greek olive oil. I found out that what you buy in a supermarket is not exactly feta, it’s just a white brick that has nothing to do with the real cheese. One of my favorite tasks was filling jars of honey, even if I don’t like it. I still keep some yummy Greek recipes by Thom and Maria.

In between one sale and one Greek salad I had the chance to meet a lot of people, not only Greeks, who were sincerely interested in my dream. And some of them were also very kind to introduce me to people in Santorini when I moved. I even hosted my leaving party there and it was a blast to see all my friends in this place that was for me very familiar.

Towards the end of my London experience, when I had already decided to move to Santorini, I was not going there only on Saturdays but three days a week. I drove crazy Dafne asking for all the possible words in Greek. I became very close to Paulina and Greg and I can call them now friends. I also fall in love with Jason, their cute baby! It was a pleasure to visit them in London after my first year in Santorini and we spent some days together and this time speaking in Greek.

I am not sure they did take me seriously at the beginning, but, by the end of my London experience, they were very supportive and I will never thank them enough to have ‘hosted’ this three-quarters Italian girl in their project!


If you are interested in learning Greek, you might want to read also these posts:

How to learn Greek part 1 – Private Lessons
How to learn Greek part 2 – Listening to the radio
How to learn Greek part 3 – Watching cartoons
How to learn Greek part 4 – Watching TV series

Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London  Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London Isle of Olive a Greek Deli in east London

©Nicoletta Barbata/One Quarter Greek

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