Friday, January 20

Greece vs Canada: fight!

Well thanks to everyone for popping by to say hi... hmm I feel some pressure now to write a good follow-up! Actually, it's a toss up between two topics today: the one, inspired by Seawitch's blog about whether to stay in Greece or move back home, would be called "Greece vs. Canada: fight!"(Actually, if you follow buruburu's suggestion and enter the two words at googlefight, Canada is the clear winner). The other is inspired by one of my coworker who, as the male minority in the office, enjoys provoking us women by asking questions like: 'So, what's so wrong with marriage anyway'. Giving topic #2 its name.
Well as you can see from the title, I have made my selection for the evening. Topic 2, sorry you'll have to wait for another day.
So what is so great about Greece? Actually to be honest, reading seawitch's responses I started feeling a bit nervous. It's one thing to be positive after two years in, but how will I feel ten years from now, when the novelty has worn off and the rudeness factor has worn me down? So, let's list the pros and cons of Canada:

Pros: (according to what most people think)
- People are polite and civil (unless you're an anglophone in Montreal, like I was).
- You aren't taking your life into your hands every time you cross the road (again with Quebec as the exception).
- Things, like bureaucracy, work more or less smoothly (again... you guessed it... unless you're in Quebec).
- There aren't strikes every other day (sigh... if you're not in Quebec).
- If you are at least somewhat motivated and good at what you do, you will find a decent job and be paid decently for doing it.
- The education system is fairly good, judging by world-recognised standards anyway. (I could argue - but that's yet another topic).
- Everything is clean, pretty, wholesome and well organised
- The transit system, garbage collection, etc are excellent. And they pick up recycling!
- It's a pretty safe place to live (But everyone I know does lock their doors, so I don't know what country Michael Moore visited in Bowling for Columbine!).
- Many people actually live in houses. With GARDENS, and yes, (GASP!) GRASS!
- People are aware and conscious of issues like racism and the environment, and are generally not homophobic, and pretty openminded (unless you come from small-town Quebec, where they haven't yet gotten over the province's Catholic-steeped past. Or the prairie provinces, which spawned a political party that thinks women's place is at home, in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, and that gays are an aberration, or BC, where the huge influx of Indian and Chinese immigrants has made people just as racist as Greeks are towards Albanians.)

- Much of Canada's famed politeness is "McPoliteness" (of the drilled-in "would you like fries with that with a smile" variety. OK OK, this is better than "It's not my fault", and people on the street certainly are, if not polite, then not outright rude. BUT people are also generally repressed, and carry their withheld rudeness around with them until it explodes at unexpected moments, usually on those they care about the most. They are also afraid to express themselves or show natural human emotion in public. I used to take the same bus to school every day, and on that bus would be a man who must have been over 90, yet still tricked out in a suit and cufflinks. So he'd get on the bus and, being from a generation where people still COMMUNICATED, would sit down and politely wish everyone around him a "gooday to you, sir, good day to you ma'am" etc. And people would just STARE at him. Some would even shift away or change seats, as though he was crazy! (Which he wasn't. Just polite!)
- Bureaucracy works smoothly, to a point, unless you need something just slightly out of the ordinary. In which case you are suddenly confronted with a confused man-machine, who is desperately scanning her/his computer screen for the nonexistent appropriate reply, while you say (through gritted teeth - though politely of course) "Look. It's very simple. All you have to do is stand up, walk over there and..." whatever. Yet they're so programmed they can't even begin to think for themselves.
- Real people at the other end of phonelines no longer exist - even if you dial 0, or 7, or 9 for the operator, you are told the operator isn't there. (Isn't the whole point of operators to be there at all times?) I recently called the Canadian Embassy here in Athens, and was amused to hear the oh-so familiar message: You have reached ... If you know the extension of the party you are trying to reach, please dial it now. If you don't know the extension, please dial 1 for... 2 for... (a bunch of options that have nothing to do with what you need) Or please enter the first few letters of the person's name to get their extension. If you can't do any of these things, you are f*****. But thank you so much for calling.
- Everything is clean, pretty, wholesome and well organised. WHAT? This is a con? Yes. Because it comes at a price: I knew a lady once who really liked to feed the pigeons. Well, guess what. In Canada, feeding the pigeons is a crime which will get you a 200$ fine!!! Drinking in public's a crime too, which maybe sounds like a good thing - but then there's my friend's father, a respectable middle-aged man, who one day decided to have a beer on his front lawn while watching the people go by. Well, his front lawn was a bit small, so his feet stuck out onto the sidewalk - i.e. public property. And - you guessed it - he got a fine!
- Transit is good, but it's so bloody expensive you might as well own a car. And waiting at a bus stop sucks when it's minus 30 outside, even if you know exactly when the bus is coming. And the reason there are no garbage bins all over the place is that you have to keep your garbage inside until the two days a week they come round for it - if there isn't a holiday or they just don't bother showing up. in which case you have to bring it back in again. (and if you leave your garbage outside on a day when they aren't coming round - even if you leave it out the night before so you don't have to run outside in stocking feet and a bathrobe at 8am in the freezing cold as the truck trundles up the block- yes, you can get a fine!)
And while they do pick up the recycling, in Montreal at least, there is only one recycling plant that only does some of the cans. The rest gets dumped like the rest of the garbage... until the day more plants open. AND most people don't know this (cause of course the Canadian news never reports anything bad about Canada - after all, everyone knows it's such a great country. Never mind the seal slaughter and the poor Native Americans sniffing glue on reserves and the mini-wars this leads to ever few years. Nope. Most Canadians don't ever hear about that.) so every week they faithfully spend half an hour of their lives sorting the bloody recycling into paper, plastic etc, like the government asks you to. And if you should, god forbid, let a piece of paper slip into a garbage bag (which must be the big ones - you aren't allowed to recycle your grocery bags by using them for garbage - go figure - or you'll get a fine) if the GARBAGE POLICE search through your garbage and find something recyclable, they will look for something in there with your address on it, and, yet again, fine you! (Needless to say, the possibilites for neighbourly revenge in Canada are endless!)
- This might be a good time to mention the LANGUAGE POLICE in Quebec, who until recently would fine you for putting up any signs or public material in English, unless it's in French as well, in letters at least twice as big as the English ones. (Even a small, in-store notice: please turn off the air conditioner when you leave, was worthy of a fine).
- In fact, it seems you can get a fine for just about anything in Canada - even breathing, if what you are breathing happens to be smoke. How do you think they keep it so pretty? Canadians aren't some special breed of people after all, who come out of the womb knowing how to say please and thank you and collect their dog poop off the sidewalk. And incidentally, try walking down the sidewalk in spring after the snow has melted, revealing a winter's worth of fineable dog poop, which was nevertheless not collected!
- People are aware and conscious of issues like racism and the environment. But that just makes them stop talking about it in public. Privately, they still get nervous around blacks, and many older anglophones stil think French Canadians are an inferior race and that it's too bad we didn't ship all of them down to Louisiana, with the rest of the French "Acadiens" (or Cajuns) to get killed in hurricanes, when we had the chance. Then there's an Arab friend of mine who, after 9-11, grew a beard and wore a bandana just to see what would happen. Well, what happened was that people would get up and move away from him on buses and the street, shop assistants eyed him suspiciously, etc.
- Nobody dares to criticise their country, cause they're constantly reminded of how lucky they are to live there (unless of course they're Native. In which case they don't have to pay taxes but are otherwise f*****.)

Okay. You get the point. Next installment: Greece, the pros and cons.

Sunday, January 15

well we gotta start off somewhere...

So hi everyone, and welcome to this blog. I've got to admit I'm rather new to this and not quite sure of proper blog etiquette, so if I commit any faux pas please let me know...
Actually I find it quite ironic that I'm doing this. While I'm fond of all the things computers can do for us, I have also always been very wary of getting too attached and dependent on them. E-mail especially rubs me the wrong way, as it trivializes communication while depriving us of natural human interplay (body language and such) and in general I try to stay as de-wired as possible. So why am I here?
Well, I suppose an element of egoism comes into it. I mean, come on, admit it, you've got to be somewhat egotistical to imagine that random people could possibly be interested in the things you have to say. Or perhaps it's just the need to be heard.
In any case, here I find myself in a country (Greece) and a city (Athens) which is my own yet not my own (I'm half Greek, raised in Canada, and, though I feel much closer to my Greek half, still adjusting to what is essentially a foreign environment). And while I've met many nice people here, I have not yet found enough people who like talking about the things I like to talk about on a regular basis. And so I think a large part of my brain is not being exercised, and I am slowly stopping to think about the things that I used to think about and consider important. So basically this blog is my way of re-awakening that part of my brain, and staying in touch with myself.
And if I get in touch with other people who think the same way through it, even better I guess!
And I suppose in time I'll get used to the idea of being completely wired.
Incidentally, what do I mean by wired? Well, basically being wired means interacting with any form of technology. If you walk down a street and a security camera picks you up, you are wired. If you pay for something with a credit card, you are wired. Essentially, as soon as any part of yourself: your image or your personal information, is captured by a technological medium, you are wired.
And when you have something like a blog, you are very intentionally and drastically extending the limits of your physical boundaries. I now, as you read this post, no longer exist just inside my head and in the heads of those who know me, but as a digital entity, spreading myself out across the world by way of the net. I am no longer just me but bits of data hurtling through cyberspace. You could even call me a cyborg, in the sense that who I am is now being extended through a technological medium. Scary thought, huh? Kind of reminds me of those tribes that didn't like having their photo taken cause they thought it would capture their souls.
Oh shoot. I promised no philosophising and here I go already. But I suppose it's appropriate, as I embark on this blog, to spare one last thought to what it is I'm doing!
For those interested, here's a link to a site with further stuff on the subject of being de-wired (going under the name of Luddism, the Luddities being those guys who were against the Industrial revolution and went around destroying technology).
Incidentally, I'd highly recommend the Neil Postman book Entertaining Ourselves to Death, which is not mentioned on the site, though there are other links to his work. Neil Postman being a media theorist, who just died recently, who basically thought the media was turning all our brains into mush. Also here's a link to the wikipedia entry on Steve Mann, who they are calling the first cyborg. Which I suppose he is but they fail to make clear that he is also in some ways a huge proponent of de-wiring, the main reason he wears all that stuff being in fact to challenge the infringement of our rights and privacy by technology.