This is going to be a personal post revolving about my dual citizenship and ranting on about Greece in general. I like to keep it original around here and not do posts like “My Top 10 Travel Rewards Credit Cards”.
I was born in Larisa, Greece where I stayed until I was 17 and then followed at the footsteps of my brother to become an exchange student in the US for my senior year in High School and then went on to college. Before I realized what hit me, I got a job, got married and had two kids and a mortgage. It has been all downhill ever since…well, not really 🙂
I have been visiting Greece pretty much every year ever since I left (with frequent flyer miles of course, come on!). And I always followed what is going on there. What I am trying to say is I am a little mixed up. Greece is my homeland, I love it dearly but…at the same time, I can’t stand so many things about it as I really grew up in the US. Of course I love my adopted country and proud to be a US citizen too! Every year I go back to Greece I feel more like a tourist! I have always felt a little out of place in general. Going back gets me even more unstable lol.
I do not like stereotyping. But I will do some of it here because, well, you can’t escape it when we are talking about Greece. So here is what I would like you to know about what is currently going on from my unique perspective:
Greece has always been a schizophrenic country. A “poor country full of rich people”. Since the financial crisis started in 2009, there are just a lot less rich people around. It feels like a nuclear bomb has detonated! I have never seen so many shut stores and so many “for sale” and “for rent” notices plastered everywhere! For a long time my father said that one day you will thank me for sending you to study abroad. I was not really sure what he meant. I mean, how can I NOT thank him for paying for my undergraduate degree? After he passed in mid 2009 I think I realized what he meant was that he believed there is really no future in Greece for me as one day the Greek way of doing things was going to catch up to reality.
The Greek prosperity everyone enjoyed for several decades has proven to be built on a giant lie! It was all financed by giant loans that just spiraled out of control. And the citizens had no idea because they were enjoying the fruits of cheap money and proceeded to finance a lifestyle they did not really deserve. Until…the music stopped. No more loans obtained from abroad. Since 2009, the country has been financed by the so called
Troika Institutions: European Community, European Central Bank and the IMF. MANY unsustainable practices have been eliminated. But no true reform has really taken place. And this is the tragic part of the reality here.
Instead of the politicians telling the truth to the people and trying to unite them to face this huge crisis the nation is under….they just protected their constituents: the government sector workers who vote for these incredibly useless corrupt assholes. So, what did they do instead? They went the easy way: cuts across the board on salaries and pensions and increase of taxes big time. The result: an almost total slowdown and depressing spiral of the private sector economy! I mean, the private sector at least was producing something for crying out loud. And all the non skilled government sector people still kept their jobs!
The number 1 issue in Greece has always been the role of the state in pretty much everything. Too many overpaid employees whose primary role is to stay as inefficient as possible to…justify their own paychecks! Greeks out in cafes love to talk about politics every day and they always bitch about what the politicians do. The state is involved in everything! I call the system in Greece: Byzantine Communism. You just can’t get anything done unless you…become part of this rotten system!
Case in point: I had to call a heating & cooling service technician to come to service the furnace in my mother’s home. I asked how much and this was his response: 35 euros cash or 43 euros if you want a receipt with the VAT (Value Added Tax). And this crap goes on EVERY day. People are stealing from each other and they justify it this way: “Well, if I don’t do it, the guy next to me will call me a “malaka” (idiot or jerk) for paying more” or “well, the politicians are doing it, why not me too?”
You know, the people do have a point! As I left two big news dominated the headlines: 1) A former govt official was given the position of a head of a local hospital who was videotaped accepting a 25k euros bribe to award a contract to a local supplier and 2) A former Transportation minister was caught driving with fake license plates to avoid paying the annual vehicle registration dues. He got an extension for his trial and took off to Malaysia for a Christmas vacation!
When you read so many people without a job I want you to know that almost none belong to people who worked for the government sector! Greece has about 1.5 million unemployed (2.8 mil retired and just 3.4 mil working!). It is written in the constitution that once you are IN a job in a govt sector you can NOT be fired. Yes folks, it’s true. For decades all these politicians were buying votes and were awarding “favors” (translation: cushy jobs making citizens’ lives unbearable with the archaic bureaucratic hassles put up by these “workers”).
Don’t get me started about pensions! The absurdities there are legendary. I know some who retired at age 45 with a decent pension (now cut substantially)! For decades pension payments were being sent and cashed in to almost 70,000 dead people! There is one island where the local Health Govt official was registering residents as officially blind and most of the island residents were receiving special assistance payments for the blind. Actually, just a few were actually blind! Did these local Health Govt officials go to jail? NO!
Did you know that up until three years ago nobody knew how many people worked for the government sector? Finally, with the pressure applied by the Europeans, there was a census done by requiring every government sector employee to voluntarily register; if not, they would no longer get paid! I think they got a handle on the number now, close to 800,000! Actually, I am not sure they still know the exact figure!
Remember the Olympics? Many billions of euros in the hole and lots of this money just disappeared. Sadly, some of it probably went to Switzerland and offshore accounts.
I used to go back to Greece many years ago and they used to make fun of me for working so hard. Yes, it bothered me damn it. I used to see everyone cruising along, going out almost every night and homes/cars worth more than mine. It just didn’t make sense at all. Amazing the charade lasted so long! And then….the money just stopped and the dirty laundry appeared…And it has not been pretty on the ground.
Instead of the country uniting, you see a bunch of people in the current politics scene even worse than the two main parties (in coalition now). Talk about mild Communists, extreme fascists/Nazis, “pure” Communists, “violent” Communists, anarchist scum, along with some real populist ridiculous characters vying for votes. It’s like the best freak show on earth! Update: Syriza, a bunch of marginal hard core Communists have been running the place into the ground since elected January 2015, WTF!!!
You look around and you see signs of depression everywhere. My city is resembling a city starting to look like Dumpus Maximus. Trash and graffiti everywhere, broken things left broken, it is really sad to watch. It’s like an endemic plague, everyone out to survive without looking out for the common good. At least there are now some small citizen organized movements to help the disaffected which is great to see.
The youth? This youth has been raised on Facebook, cell phones and texting. They have not experienced anything like what their families are going through! I think they are the most unprepared generation, a bunch of spoiled brats! They survive on allowances from parents/grandparents. At least the family support system is still very strong and the cafes are still doing a brisk business, thanks to daddy’s and grandparents’ allowances!
At the end of the day, to finish my rant, Greeks just got lazy and brought this on themselves. I think deep down most realize it and they agree with the measures implemented and the pressure applied from the loan givers. There have been many mistakes on how the crisis was handled by all sides, do not let me underestimate that! But, at the end of the day, Greeks voted for these assholes and they led the country to the slaughter house. And, sadly, it is the same people in power who are supposed to save it? The solution from day one of the crisis was to let go 1/3 of the govt sector employees and work out a deal on severance and retraining them. People knew it but guess who was protesting in the streets in the past several years? Yep, it was these same govt sector employees and their powerful unions to save themselves. And they succeeded for the most part. The result: the country has been dying in a depressing spiral and no light at the end of the tunnel.
One more ingredient missing: Respect for the law. How can you develop as a society when there is no respect for the rule of law? But how do you change the mindset of the citizens to start respecting the rule of law NOT when it concerns others but, most importantly, when THEY themselves do it each and every day? Looking at the youth, I am shaking my head. I saw a teenage prick apply some graffiti in someone else’s property about “resistance” and “attack pig murderer cops” and he did it with no fear and then looked back with pride at his “piece of work”. I wanted to go and beat the crap out of him and pull his ear to the local police department. Then I thought the cops would probably be on a coffee and cigarette break and tell me to go to the back of a long line and give me a bunch of forms to fill out or something.
And this is why I like blogging. It makes me feel better getting things off my chest!
Hopefully this was educational. If you managed to read the whole thing, congrats. I am impressed and honored people read what I write.
So, in the sea of chaos, please visit Greece and spend some money. It is still very beautiful in the summer and the people are still very hospitable and fun loving. And the food and beaches are just awesome. We have a saying in Greece: “Greece never dies”. Someway somehow it finds a way to keep…going. Maybe the rebirth can start after Greece wins the 2014 World Cup in Brazil!
Even in winter time you can get to see this:
I am probably the world’s worst trip report photographer type blogger. I only took five pictures in my hometown, boo me!
This post was written aboard my Lufthansa flight from Munich to Chicago in December 2013 . I had a hard time sleeping on my flat bed…for some reason, coming back from Europe I have never been able to sleep!
One more thing:
USA is NOT Greece!
Ask me anything you want. I will answer when I get to it, things are a bit hectic around here lately!