Friday, 18 September 2015


That’s your actual Greek, that is. And if you know the Greek alphabet, but not so well the language itself, you may have puzzled it out and decided it means ‘Ruffians’. But it’s one of those ‘False Friends’ between languages; words that look much the same but have different meanings. In fact Roufiani, as we might transliterate the word, are that lowest form of life, common informers; people who go to the authorities out of sheer malice, or perhaps in the hope of some creepy little reward, to say that so-and-so is doing something illegal, and why don’t you go and do something nasty to them? Not even the police who use them like informers.

As in other third-world countries, so in Greece one theoretically needs a licence — for which the relevant official must be paid a ‘fee’ — to fart or pick one’s nose. In fact of course no-one minds and no-one bothers, but if someone brings it to the attention of the police that old Barba Yanni who sits outside the café all day twirling his worry-beads and leering at the girls doesn’t actually have a licence to do so, then the police — who are usually engaged in similar occupations — are obliged to go and make Barba Yanni stop or get a licence. So Greece is a paradise for roufiani, who can’t bear the idea that someone somewhere is more-or-less-innocently enjoying himself when they themselves aren’t.

I mention all this — common knowledge to those who are lucky enough to live in this beautiful country — because there is a certain restaurant here in this village which remains open during the afternoon siesta time, when all the others are closed because everybody is sleeping, screwing, swimming etc. So I like to go there for a quiet afternoon ouzo; I am usually the only customer at that time. Then a couple of weeks ago I found it closed during siesta time. ‘Oh well,’ I thought; ‘I expect they decided it wasn’t worth staying open just for me and have gone off to sleep or etcetera.’ But it didn’t open in the evening either; it remained closed for about two weeks. What had happened?

The usual sources told me. During August, the busiest and noisiest time, they had decided it would be pleasant to have a bit of live music in the evenings. Not a huge rock band with great big loudspeakers; just a traditional group of bouzouki, violin and guitar, playing old traditional tunes on the restaurant’s rear terrace, which faces out to the sea to the north. Nothing that could reasonably be said to disturb, and nothing at all in comparison with the noise from other restaurants and bars. But someone discovered that they had no license for live music, and informed the police, who, much against their will, were obliged to impose a punishment: not just no more music, but closure of the whole restaurant for a while.

It’s open again now. I happen to know who the roufianos was. He has never been seen in that restaurant, (and certainly never will be), and he doesn’t even live in the island; he’s just a brief though regular summer visitor. No doubt he feels a warm glow of satisfaction that he has, albeit briefly, destroyed a pleasure that others enjoyed but in which he has no interest himself.

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