For almost three months while we were in Greece I kept thinking: “I need to write a post on Greece as a dichotomy country, as I have seen it as a resident, not a mere visitor.” I never got around to do it. We’re leaving in two hours for Ireland so this is my last chance.
Why dichotomy country? Because there is such a massive difference between the public and the private. Because there is such a contrast between what people tell you about their salaries being cut and the abundance they still live in. Such a gap between the blessings that God has poured upon this country and the negative attitude and talk you hear everywhere. Let me give you some examples of what shocked, amazed and saddened us for 90 days or so.
1. The private and the public.
The Greeks are so very proud of their apartment buildings, their houses and their gardens, especially those who live in the North. Extreme care is giving to keeping an aesthetic appearance through micro-irrigation systems, lawn and building maintenance. We have travelled a lot in Europe so I can say without goofing that the average apartment building in Greece exceeds by far the quality and square meters of even those in Switzerland. The public, on the other hand, is at the other extreme pole. Roads are unkempt and pure dangerous many times. The bins are rarely collected on time due to local councils’ lack of funds and subsequent bin men strikes. Compost is literally dumped on the road from the very tidy private gardens of the illustrious Greek citizens.
The Greeks adopt the same attitude when it comes to dealing with people. If it’s on their private territory they go out of their way to make you feel welcomed. They overfeed you and treat you like royalty. They are the best of friends and the kindest neighbours. If they deal with you on public territory you’re…well…unlucky. They are rude and grossly inefficient when in public positions (I came to believe their standard response to ANY query is NO, before they even listen to your request). They honk, beep and curse when driving, to the slightest mistake you make. They are impatient in buses, on the road, in the market (even if you’re pushing a pram). As I said, unlucky.
2. Poverty and waste
I felt for the elderly in Greece. They are the ones who have felt the blow the hardest when the government decided to cut down salaries and pensions. We know there are many people who won’t be able to heat their homes this winter because heating oil has become way too expensive. I felt for the young families where one or both of the parents have lost their jobs and they had been forced to move back in with their parents. I cried when one day a young woman in the market approached us (and everybody else passing by) asking for help as they were being evicted from their rental accommodation. It broke my heart to see she was carrying a young child who was too ashamed to look people in the eye and had her head burrowed in her mum’s shoulder. It left me shaken because I know how proud Greek people are and I knew this young woman had reached the bottom.
But I was shocked time and again when we went out and saw people leaving heaps of food on the table at the end of a meal. People buying six to eight 10-kilo detergent boxes at the time just because the supermarket had a deal they couldn’t resist. How their sweet shops and bakeries (ARToi, very appropriately called) are amazing artistry display shows and how much of their produce goes in the bin at the end of the day. Looking at the tempting sweet shop window displays, noticing that the only businesses doing well in Greece at the moment are the food shops I had the strong feeling Greek invest their money in the immediate pleasure, not in the everlasting. In palatable goods and not in feeling good about helping each other and their country to progress.
3. Rich country and poor attitudes
Which brings me to the general attitude of poverty of attitude. As I said, we never stepped into a public office without being given the standard “no” first. Even when doing simple things like buying bus tickets we were asked to go back (a “mere” 30-minute drive in 40 degrees) the following day because there was NO way they could release tickets from the day before. When asked why the public service workers just stare. If it hasn’t been done before, they won’t initiate the change, even if it’s as simple as releasing a ticket. The Greeks
seem to have lost never had a sense of civilization as in ” the social process whereby societies achieve an advanced stage of development and organization.” From early days they have labelled themselves as democrats; democracy as in “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them.” I found functionaries in Greece unwilling to want to help their country attain that advanced stage of organisation because they are only interested in exercising supreme power over the poor people they were appointed to serve.
On the upper hand, Greece is a blessed country. With wonderful scenery, glorious weather and beautiful fresh produce. These alone should suffice (and has for us) to make one grateful and happy to have lived here. Greece has wriggled its way into my heart. I fell in love with it when I was 17 and I came here camping with YWAM. I fantasised in it as an Erasmus student and now I love it with a mature love of understanding and acceptance. I am sorely sorry we have to leave it for a season but I know we will return sooner than later. Because we love it and we can’t be away from it for too long.
I never visited Greece but I always wanted too. And I’m sure I will do it in future.
It’s weird…I felt like smiling and then really sad while reading your post. In some ways it reminds me of our country too.
So how they you are back hon?
I’ve been living in Greece for 7 years now and I have to admit that all you said is true. Unfortunately… Every day we face many difficulties because people changed a lot. Life has become very tough and everybody is angry, upset, disappointed. However, Greece remains a beautiful country where you can still find people with beautiful hearts willing to be there for you when you need them and not only.
Yes, Ionela, indeed, people are feeling the financial pressure at the moment. But I believe this is Greece’s chance to change. There were many things that weren’t right before the economic crisis and this is their chance to right attitudes, political mistakes…etc. Will they have the will and wit to do it? I truly hope so, I wouldn’t want Greece ending up like East Germany with a dead economy and no prospects. Time will tell…