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!
Hi Buddy #1
You were due 🙂
@ Ingy, George pours out his heart and the best you can come up with is #1. Disappointing.
If I posted that I was giving $1 million to the Greek economy, you would complain and ask for $2 million.
Can’t win with you guys. Ever. No matter what I say or do.
Angies gotta be angry and Haters gotta hate. That’s who you guys are.
Why do you always bite? 🙂
Happy New Year!
Just checking your audience mix to look for a change since you stopped personally trashing bloggers in your posts. I did notice your readership is way down based on the fall in your Alexa ranking (from 40K to 82K US Market) Ouch. That kind of sounds like they lived to hear you rant, and once you quit, they left. But you still have a few angry readers I see. I was in hopes for you the angries would disappear completely and you could build a new positive minded readership.
An 82K ranking of people that enjoy the good parts of your blog is far superior to a 40K ranking with angries. Just my opinion though.
Happy New Year George. Your descriptions of Greece coincide with my memories of my last trips there. Such a shame.
Thanks for letting me know about the Alexa ranking numbers…I think you check them more than me as I don’t even remember the last time I was there 🙂
With ingy, it’s always about the business and the money.
I’ve never met the man so I wonder if he is at all interesting. Or does he only talk affiliates, alexa, and angries?
The Incredible Hulk says
HULK NOT ANGRY! HULK ENJOY TBB’S SOPHISTICATED, WITTY TAKE ON TRAVEL AND POINTS! WHY YOU SAY HULK ANGRY?
E stands for Entertainment 🙂
@Ramsey, +1. This was a very touching post that George did, My own “motherland” is in disarray and I can empathize with what George posted.
ingy symbolically pissed on the post.
@ Ingy, Mr. Ingersol, just to clarify, I am not a hater. Just cranky at times. You say you are Georges friend, I think not a sincere one. We all remember the TBB-like Domain name you bought. What was that all about? Leverage? Revenge? I often wonder what your motive was for that. Buzz is nicest guy around, I just come here to try and make him to laugh…..You WERE a legend in your time and I thank you for the things I learned from you. But……………………
I actually just renewed that name for another year. Cost me all of $9. I had no way of knowing how far George was going to go with his ranting and slamming others.
Thanks for the compliment on the days of old. It used to be fun in the good old days. Not so much so anymore. The deals are few and far between, the bonuses smaller, miles and points worth less and the crowd is way more angry and restless .Sad for the gang and I don’t see it returning to our side being in the winning position for years to come.
George is still a friend. We just differ on approaches. I was taught if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It has been hard to watch him trash bloggers and wish he never had. I didn’t enjoy giving it back to him and wish the war was shorter in duration. But glad he gave it up and now it is just a few commenters left demeaning others and taking pot shots. It accomplishes nothing.
Time to do some exercise by shoveling some snow and then more
Great Post! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks, I appreciate that!
Nick @ PFDigest says
Very interesting, thanks! A Greek friend has told me similar things. Have you read the relevant Michael Lewis piece?
Also, I was intrigued by this “5% with the Chase Ink” thing you mentioned and I look forward to reading more about it in the future.
What’s the biggest export of Greece?
Hard working Greeks
Here is another “secret”…Triple points in restaurants TODAY with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, OMG!
Nick @ PFDigest says
Old news… Mommy Points already scooped you today.
If it was only her I would not be so “angry” 🙂
Good luck beating Spain.
A European team has never won in the Americas.
A Greek team had never gotten out of the First round in the Euro Finals….Actually it had only qualified once before and had only salvaged a tie. Until 2004….shocked everyone by winning it all. The ultimate high of Greek civilization..It can happen again 🙂
I really appreciate your insightful, personal perspective here. Moving on, which are the 30 best credit cards to use in Greece?
Aegean offers one with 2,000 signing bonus! I am certain it would be talked way up by other bloggers if they could get paid with it 🙂
George, that was probably the most interesting post I have read here. One thing I have learned from my many trips to Athens, it that the Greek people are very, very proud of their country, maybe more so than anywhere else I have ever been. At least they were years ago. Once you get to know them they treat you like a long lost friend. Where else does the cab driver taking you on a tour of the city, take you to have dinner with his family. This happened not only to my wife and myself but then to my In laws………….As you know, in days of old TWA was the only designated US flag carrier with authority to fly to Athens. Every night for years and years the 747 would leave completely full. Yet it was always the airlines biggest losing money International route. Sure this is a leisure market with few high paying business travelers, but the airline had over 100 full time employees based in Athens to service the plane on its 1.5 hour ground stop. This work is normally contracted out for a fraction of the cost.They were not able to downsize the aircraft or lay anyone off w/o huge penalties. Very sadly TWA pulled out, service was discontinued to Greece, the Athens TWA employees there lost their jobs. Delta quickly became the US designated flag carrier,serviced by contractors and flying with a more efficient/profitable 767 immediately.
For every cab driver taking you to have dinner with his family…there would be many who would charge you up the wazzoo for a short ride. This was rampant in the late 80s and 90s. Early 80s and 70s I am pretty sure this was not the case. Consider yourself lucky! Thankfully the shenaningans with the mafiozi taxi drivers ripping off tourists have mostly stopped…but you still need to watch it. Oh the penalties…of course. This country has some of the most anti business practices on the planet. MANY companies have left and lots more say “why bother?”. Things are changing but in a mega slow typical greek fashion.
I have only 1 memory of getting ripped off in Athens. I remember going for my daily fix of a gyro in the Plaka or Monastiraki area and the b@st*rd gave my 1 part meat to 10 parts french fries in my sandwich. A french fry gyro! I thought to myself, this guy thinks i’m a tourist. I should of told him I was pals with Demis Roussos.
I remember in some Greek islands in my young wilder days some storekeepers used to have different higher prices for the tourists 🙁
Great post. Thanks for sharing. Appreciated such a personal angle.
Went to Athens a few years ago and was blown away by the sites. Fantastic trip. I remember though try to get to I think the Agora or an amphitheater. The ticket said it was open from 930-300pm, get there at 235ish, and the lady in front turns me away saying they are about to close.
I was blown away! The fact that a tourist site had such limited hours was surprising – especially when your city is focused on tourism… And then you close early! Plus, I mean it’s ruins – how hard is it to keep it open until like 6pm.
Either way, great post, thanks for sharing!
Oh the hard working tourism site “employees”. The current prime minister, when he was part of the government many years ago (it is a career job for most of these blood sucking idiots) hired a bunch of people from his village in several cushy jobs in government (some of them in the Tourism sector). Talk about entitled employees 🙂 I was surprised they did not close at 2 pm! And they are likely way overpaid than many hard working employees busting their arse in the private sector! And they probably make fun of them for working so hard while they tend to punch their time clock at 3 pm (or 2.35 pm lol).
There have been many legendary strikes by these assholes over the years and they have used frustrated tourists as leverage! Also port workers who have blocked cruise ship passengers to exit the ships because “they need to fight for unfair practices instituted by the government”. Everyone in Greece feels entitled to FIGHT to win stuff. This culture of protest is built in the greek psyche. Because…it works!
Like I said, this country is absurdly schizophrenic. Thank God for the tourists who just keep coming
I know this will be sacrilegious but, if they want to do tourism right they need to look just across the Aegean and how the Turks do it. Visiting Turkey and interacting with the locals was one of the most pleasant travel experiences I have ever had. It was easy to find tour guides, car for hires and small hotels, with great service. One of our tour guides used to be a mechanic and learned English and Japanese and now owned his own tour company talk about a win-win. All the sites we explored were well run, clean with knowledgeable guides. Getting around was relative easy with good infrastructure (sans Istanbul) and people were very honest. And most importantly food was really good and healthy I lost weight while in the country:o.
I agree. Greece is losing lots of tourists to Turkey (in 2013 Greece had the highest number of tourists ever—-> big reason was the much lower prices though!). If Greece was well run it could be a paradise. It just has been very poorly run…
Very interesting read. I feel very similar about Ukraine. Left at 16 and didn’t visit for 12 years then been back three times in a year and as much as I am proud of te country and its history, I can’t help but feel that I don’t belong there anymore after “seeing the light” in a civilized society (yes, US is not perfect by any means, but it is pretty close with day-to-day things). Funny (ie sad) how many Ukrainians I know express the same feeling of dispair when they come back from their vacation/business trip in Europe/USA and get the taste of “home”, but after a week or two, the feeling subsides and bullshit becomes the norm again…
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! My brother married a Ukranian by the way, maybe we are related lol.
“Bullshit becomes the norm”…oh yeah, until the bullshit became so much that is slowly killing off many (suicides have gone way UP!) while most try to get the BS just a little lower so they can breath/survive. How do you change the mentality of the people when they are surrounded by so much bullshit? Expressing some of my feelings back in Greece is met equally by nods (from educated people who have traveled abroad) and expressions of anti Americanism ( capitalist pigs, etc) that are rampant.
Only fellow Greeks who live abroad can fully understand me 🙂
Great post describing a difficult situation. I appreciate your sharing your insights.
I also have TWA-related memories of Greece. We used to take a flight that went JFK-Rome-Athens-TLV (Ramsey, am I remembering that correctly?) when I was a kid. One Xmas vacation we decided to spend about 5 days in Athens. I think I was in junior high school. I remember we had a hard time because few people spoke English. We visited the Acropolis and other major sites which were very impressive to me. I wanted souvenirs so picked up some small rocks, despite a huge sign forbidding such behavior. I would slip them into my mom’s pockets and she was most unhappy! I kept them for years and years and I sure wish I knew what happened to them….
On another topic. the MMS interview was actually interesting today! I even went so far as to click through to the interviewee’s site. His site doesn’t seem to be anything really special, but he does travel in a way that allows him to really see places. I expect that folks who would like to take extended trips to far-off, less-traveled places, with kids in tow, could learn things there that they might not find at Mommy Points and the other family-focused bloggers. The photos he chose to include in the MMS interview were also unique in that they were far removed from another pic of a couple posing by their over-water bungalow or in their F seats.
I read the MMS interview on my phone…I was bored to pieces, yet another blogger with a family 🙂
As a kid growing up there, we used to call those things “the rocks” and always wondered why tourists were so fascinated by them. We appeared way more fascinated by the Scandinavian female tourists 🙂
Interesting – that is, your take on MMS’s interviewee. Unlike the other family bloggers, he seems to go to remote place for long trips. And it was the first time I ever saw a travel blogger interviewed on MMS post a photo of themselves at Auschwitz. For me it stood out from the others. Not that I plan to follow his blog, but it was significantly better than someone who has been traveling for 2 months and goes to the same places in the same first class seats.
As my dad would say, that’s what makes horse racing – everyone bets on a different horse. In other words, we all have our opinions!
Okay maybe I was a bit harsh. Yeah, it was a few steps up from the usual in recent times. I guess I am just becoming numb to all these family bloggers lately 🙂
I have been to Auschwitz too!
That reminds me, a friend gave me a DVD about his farm where he is raising this breed of horses found in an island in Greece! I need to make some time for it before I misplace it.
So which price did you pay the technician?
My mother insisted she pays. She is 74 years old, born in 1939. She had a hard life during WWII and the Civil War that followed. Guess what she chose (and she did not think about it for a single second)… 🙁
Food Wine and Miles says
Heading to Greece this summer for a big family trip – 7 of us in total! We’ll be sure to stimulate the economy 🙂
That’s great! Any questions fire away if I can help. Best darn site about traveling to Greece is done by a non Greek 🙂
Great post, George. I’m sorry to hear it.
Your point that:
is hitting the nail right on the head. People in economics, sociology, political science, and psychology are working on it, but the matter is complicated. I wish there was an answer.
That comment reminded me of the anti-bribe-taking campaign launched by the federal government in Mexico. Sigh.
If you find an answer please let us know…the sooner the better por favor! 🙂
Nick @ Personal Finance Digest says
I think the key is a benevolent dictator. Those are hard to find, though.
The last one ruled Greece for seven years and people thought he was my uncle. Nobody phucked with me as I told them my uncle will beat you up.
Finding benevolent dictators is indeed very hard to find 🙂
Really enjoyed reading your perspective on the country and culture. Glad your parents had the insight to offer you and your brother a way to find a different life. That is a very special kind of love to let go like that. My son did a research paper in economics about Greece last spring while he was taking a course on the EU in Germany. His theoretical insights match your observations on the ground. It is hard to watch for you I am sure. I hope that tourism doesn’t continue a downturn. They need the tourism income! I have also noted a similar issue in Portugal. My husband has a part time appointment at a Portuguese university and so we go there every year. We have watched similar things happening there, but perhaps less dramatic. Meanwhile, what is with Ingy? Seriously, WTF?
Thanks a lot! Actually, the tourism is a constant over there and the tourism numbers have never been higher! The recent upturn is solely due to lower prices across the board (still not cheap but not terribly expensive anymore!). If they were organized better they all could make a very nice living from tourism alone as the natural beauty of the country is exemplary!
A reader reminded me of this article by Michael Lewis: “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” written back in 2010. I think he was able to “get it” 🙁
“…After systematically looting their own treasury, in a breathtaking binge of tax evasion, bribery, and creative accounting spurred on by Goldman Sachs, Greeks are sure of one thing: they can’t trust their fellow Greeks….”
Wow, great post. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the feedback, greatly appreciated!
Having visited Athens n Santorini this year, my only thoughts are Acropolis, Sunsets, Gyros, and Sponges 🙂
Hold on to these precious thoughts Lee 🙂
It’s a similar story around much of Europe, especially in southern Europe. It’s a shame they missed a great opportunity to make real reform to set up the country for the future. The future of Greece looks pretty bleak unfortunately. It’ll always be a great place to visit though. I haven’t been for almost 20 years and look forward to going back soon.
Yes it is a shame indeed, what a great opportunity to finally do some things and blame it all on the troika 🙂
Still a great place to visit, I love going there on…vacation!
I loved hearing your take on things down there. Also good to get things off your chest. Keep it up! 🙂
Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it. I couldn’t sleep on that flight so I just let it go & this was the result 🙂
I do accept as true with all the concepts you have offered on your post.
They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for starters.
May you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time?
Thank you for the post.
Also visit my blog: refrigerator repair blog (Sharyn)
I can’t believe I found this post only now. Sucks to be a year late. I greatly appreciate your candid and impartial insights on Greece. Things are going down to the wire now and the country is on the brink of getting dropped from the European Union. Your post explains a lot. Not everything but it does illuminate on how this economic tragedy came to be from a layman’s perspective. Good job, mate!
Hi, typing this from my mother’s home in Larissa, Greece. Everything I have written above is still valid. And, sadly, the effort to preserve the politicians’ clients has, amazingly, taken a turn for the worse with the current government! There will be no saving Greece until that whole state apparatus collapses. The Europeans and IMF should had insisted in frontloading reforms instead of fiscal measures (which are still necessary of course) to get the current clusterphuck to be sustainable and perhaps one day can go to the world bond markets…
Having said all that, the suffering is real here. But with its natural beauty it is not a bad place to be suffering. And I feel bad for saying that!