Tuesday, February 28

DEWARS - YOU'LL NEVER BE TRULY MINE

Has anyone noticed the ad campaign for Dewars whisky that's been running the last few months (here in Greece anyway - it's probably older in the rest of the world)?
In case not, here's the concept: a guy/girl has been working at a good, stable, but perhaps somewhat restrictive or stuffy job. Inspired (by Dewars, of course) they quit this job to pursue the "career" they have always wanted - a really cool, "free" job that lets them "express themselves" fully.
There are two versions, one with a guy, one with a girl.
So, the guy: he's a classical concert pianist. He quits, leaving behind his "tux and bow-tie" to play piano in smokey jazz clubs. We see him playing in the club, having a grand old time, everyone cheering him on, loving him, he's letting loose, discovering the music he has always loved, etc. It's quite a nice and effective ad, actually. You really admire this guy, and think he's pretty cool for giving up such a good job for his passion. You probably envy him a bit.
So I was just about to give Dewars some kudos, when I see the girl version.
She's a detective. Woman cop. Which is already a pretty cool job if you ask me. But, get this, she quits her job to go work in a bar, DANCING in a CAGE above the crowd. A CAGE. Oh, and she "kept the handcuffs". WHAT THE *#@%$*&???!!!
So, if we follow the logic of the first ad, dancing in a CAGE is a job to be envied? This woman is cool? To be admired and, perhaps, emulated????
Obviously this ad is not oriented towards the female market, but it is still such a transparent piece of male-chauvenistic, keep-women-in-their-place-dancing-in-a-cage GARBAGE - It really makes my blood boil that people still make these ads - and that there must be a market for them since advertisers supposedly do tons of market research.
And people try to tell me that "my generation" is lucky cause we don't have to deal with sexism.
Urgh!!!

Sunday, February 26

Η ΠΟΛΗ ΜΑΣ ANHKEI


Η ΠΟΛΗ ΜΑΣ ANHKEI
Originally uploaded by kassandrapoised.

So I've finally gotten round to getting some of my photos online. I really like this one... "the city belongs to us". You can access it and the rest thanks to Flickr by clicking on the badge in the sidebar.
I don't actually have that many photos in digital format, at least not that I've taken myself, cause I'm really oldschool and will never, EVER give up my old analog camera for a digital one. Well, never say never, but I will always insist that nothing beats the grainy, glowing LIFE of a "real" photograph. Digital ones can look great superficially, but they don't have soul.
Luckily, I've got this amazing, quite rare camera that belonged to my mom. It's called an Exacta, was made in East Germany in the 1970's, is built like a tank, and has got a Carl Zeiss lens which takes just amazing photos. But unless my boyfriend gets his scanner fixed one day you'll never get to see the photos I've taken with it. I guess digital has some benefits...

Friday, February 24

ON THE GREEK DOCTOR'S COUCH...

Well I'm back from a week long trip to a plethora of doctors' offices. Seriously: my every waking hour this week has been spent either in my chair at work, or on a couch in a doctor's waiting room. Fun, fun - well, not for me, but hopefully for you, cause here is a detailed account of my journey through the various rooms.
The beginnings of this journey can be found in my post called MY LITTLE ENDOMETRIOSIS.
Since then I've been waiting for the right time of month to embark on the second round of doctor's visits. Well, the time swung round, and off I went.
First, my wonderful sweet kind cousin, who is a very... shall we say, alternative kind of girl, insisted I see her gynaecologist to get a second opinion (in addition to the first, given to me by MY HERO, the doctor at IASO). Rather reluctantly, I went, and not surprisingly, (as this was no regular gynaecologist but rather a family friend) the waiting was funky lo-key: big overstuffed couches splayed around a homey kind of living room; millions of tiny baby eyes staring down at you from collages covering every available wall space; a collection of rather bedraggled plants, and a serve-yourself filter coffee machine.
Unfortunately, after a two hour wait (we'd already shown up 3 hours late, as recommended by the receptionist) the doctor was less homey and comfortable than her workspace. In fact, the 75 euros I paid got me the conviction, held for two days, that I had cancer and was going to die. I was just working on the third draft of my will when my first blood test results came back.
To go back a little - this is important cause Greece gets yet another point in the ongoing Greece vs. Canada Battle: BLOOD TESTS IN GREECE ARE A MILLION TIMES EASIER THAN IN CANADA. It's like this: I am (was?) DEATHLY afraid of blood tests. Days before the appointed time, I start getting strange numbness and weakness behind my knees and elbows, and little whimpers escape my mouth whenever I am reminded of the awful fate that awaits me. On the day itself, I am fairly composed before the ordeal, but afterwards I emerge ashen-faced, hyperventilating, with pain and numbness coursing through my entire body. I swear I am not exaggerating. Ask my friend, Liz, who came with me once. She still has nightmares about the day, and has developed a (previously non-existent) needle-phobia herself.
So, here in Greece, I started getting the same symptoms, started coaching my boyfriend so he wouldn't freak out completely and run out of the office when I turned into a blubbering puddle of cowardly jelly, and tried my best to steel myself for WHAT WAS TO COME.
Which then never came.
My boyfriend is convinced I made the whole thing up to freak him out.
Actually, this is what happened: I walked into the clinic. Two girls were behind the desk - both about 16 years old by the look of it. The younger of the two - about 4 foot 5, blond and pixie-like, gushed at me to follow her to THE CHAIR. Which I did. She then started preparing the needle, and I was like - hang on a minute, aren't you going to call your mommy to do that? (OK she was actually married and just really young looking, but in my panicked state I wasn't noticing details). But anyway, before the question is out of my mouth, she's saying "OK, we're done, sweetie/glykoula mou."
And we were. That was it. I didn't feel a thing. Phew.
Needless to say, I spent the next hour laughing.
My only explanation is that, in Canada, they siphon off extra blood to secretly donate to the blood banks, hence the exaggeratedly large needles they use, and the large amounts of blood they take.
Go Greece!
Incidentally, the results were below the cut-off point that indicates cancer. (!!!) Phew again.
And back to my dissertation on waiting rooms.
So, with my blood tests in hand, I set off to see my original doctor who, if you recall, I had originally seen at the hospital. So I had no idea what to expect from his waiting room. However, the girl who had recommended him to me was definitely a POINTY SHOED kind of Greek girl. If you followed the debate on buruburu and Scruffy American's sites, you'll know what I'm talking about - perfectly coiffed, leading a trouble-free existence of coffee bars and clothing stores, very chi-chi and chic. So, (again not surprisingly) when I stepped into THIS doctor's waiting room, I thought I must have walked into the wrong office. It looked like a posh modelling agency or something - abstract modern art tossed about in every corner, plexi and chrome galore, and a very stylish black girl serving the ladies coffee - your choice: cappucino, espresso, filter, the works, from a very fancy looking machine.
Unfortunately, the elegance of the place did nothing to detract from the waiting time.
I got there at 7pm, on the dot.
The doctor saw me at 11:15pm. (An aside: these doctors amaze me, really. They're up at six, spend the morning at the hospital, then work all night, regularly, until 11 or 12, and still - at least in this case - manage to be cheerful and answer all my questions and more!)
Moreover, since I had to wait so long, the consultation was on the house! Whoopee, as my funds are quickly dwindling due to the constant stream of tests I am having to undergo.
Also, I had plenty to entertain me while I waited. In fact, I barely had time to concentrate on the book I'd brought, foreseeing the marathon wait ahead of me (Eleni Gage's 'North of Ithaca'. Yes, She's Nick Gage's daughter. No, it's not a work of genius, though rather amusing, and, ironically enough, she had ovarian cysts too, and in fact had to delay the start of her voyage due to them!)
Anyway, in the large, main waiting room, equipped with leather couches and all the latest trendy magazines, I was privy to a constant parade of women with bellies bulging out of tight designer pregnancy pants. Really. Who the hell buys DESIGNER PREGNANCY PANTS when you're only going to use them for a few months?? But that's what they were. (Have you ever seen the film Dr T and the Women? It was kind of like that, but more so.) Of course, the non-pregnant women were even more glamorously dressed, and the multitude of attractive staff looked ready to step out onto the ballroom floor. For example, the woman who typed in the info while I got my ultrasound was wearing a flowy, see-through ruffled black dress, stilettos, and huge dangly silver earrings. Humph. I would've at least cast off my baggy jeans if I knew I was going to a fashion show.
As if that wasn't enough, the elegant couple sitting across from me were a constant source of amusement, namely because the husband spent the ENTIRE FOUR HOURS with his head thrown back on the couch, mouth open, snoring loudly. His demure wife, for the duration of this manly display, stared vacantly into space, every now and then patting his bald crown in an absent-minded kind of way.
But whenever this carnival started losing its charm, I had a third source of amusement: the SMOKERS waiting room, into which I kept popping in order to celebrate my state of non-cancerness.
This room was, of course, much smaller than the main one - about the size of a closet, in fact - but everyone who wasn't pregnant was jammed in there. Not only did it hold the lure of nicotine, but there was a TELEVISION on the wall. So we alternated between watching the Pireas riots (which were SO staged - like, "Hello, guys, it's 8 thirty. The news is on. Let's throw some stuff around then go home and drink Metaxa, OK?") and two women who were staging their own, personal, cold war. It went something like this:
WOMAN ONE: It's cold in here. Close the window. (ed. note: What, and suffocate?)
WOMAN TWO: But we're smoking. It's smoky.
WOMAN ONE: Just for a minute or two, OK? I'm freezing.
WOMAN TWO: (grumbling) OK, OK...
five minutes later (woman two re-opens the window)
WOMAN ONE: What are you doing?
WOMAN TWO: Opening the window.
WOMAN ONE: But it's cold. Can't you see it's cold? There's a draft hitting my legs.
WOMAN TWO: I'll just leave it open for a minute or two. I can't breathe.
five minutes later
WOMAN ONE: Are you going to close the window or what?
WOMAN TWO: But I just opened it!
And so on. As far as I could tell, they were at it continuously for the entire four hours. All this because, of course, woman one couldn't concede defeat (or relinquish her smoking chair) by moving to the mainly empty main waiting room and just relocating for cigarette breaks.
But to make a long story... a little less long, it was with some reluctance that I finally made it to the doctor's office. Good news, he's still convinced I have endometriosis, and that, with a small operation, I'll be cured - well, at least until the bloody disease/condition comes back, as is its wont, apparently.
The bad news is that, done privately, the operation costs 2000 euros. And that's just the hospital fee. I didn't get round to asking how much the doctor's fee would be, or the cost of the monthly hormone injections I'd need to get for the next half a year. 2000 is already, sadly, out of my budget.
SO the next morning, having recently (and with many failed trips, pain, suffering, and waiting in lines) gotten my vivliario (health book) I ventured to the nearby IKA office to see what the whole deal was with public insurance. After waiting 10 minutes for the information lady to finish her (I'm sure private) telephone call, I shoved my way through the hordes of smelly people to the basement and got a family doctor written into my book (as required) with something approaching ease. I was then directed to the imioropho to book an appointment with a state gynaecologist.
So, I enter the waiting room. What confronts me: a stark white room, entirely bare walls, linoleum tiles, and a stack of broken chairs in the corner. Nothing else - besides a mass of poor unfortunates who, like me, cannot afford private healthcare, waiting their turn to be... somethinged... through a stained metal door.
Needless to say, after my whirlwind tour of the glamorous private health care world, this was all a bit much for me, and I fled.
So what now? I see two options: apply for private health insurance (and lie and say I'm perfectly healthy, though it might seem a bit suspicious that as soon as I hold that golden card - or whatever they give you - I'll check myself first class into the IASO), or 'Go Greek': pull some strings, call up some favours, rely on connections. In fact, as I type my uncle is speaking to an IKA doctor on my behalf, and my dad is calling up every doctor he knows, to see if someone can pull some strings and get me, IKA offices-free, into a halfway decent state hospital like the Alexandras. Never mind the so called "black fees" - the illegal, but well established fees you must use to bribe the guy doing the operation - if you want to get it sometime before the year 3000.
Jesus. Minus 10 Greece.
But I'll cross that bridge, and all the rest that await me, when I come to it.

Thursday, February 9

& NOW IT'S TIME FOR: GREECE... ok ok...
ITALY vs. EUROPE

I was just reminded, by an article posted on Nerd's Eye View, of this HILARIOUS flash movie. It's about Italy vs. Europe, but if you substitute the Italian flag with the Greek one it'll work just fine.

Get ready to laugh your socks off. Trust me. All you have to do is click here.

I guess we're not alone...

THIS POST WILL BE SCANNED
BY GOVERNMENT SPIES

As those who read my first post ever may have guessed, I'm just as paranoid as the average suspicious, media-savvy, post-communication-studies student - that is to say: very. I'll gladly buy into any government conspiracy theory you care to throw my way, and pride myself on having had the wool surgically removed from my eyes. Nevertheless, when my friend, who lives directly across from the American Embassy here in Athens, started voicing fears that her phone lines were being tapped, I had to draw the line. "Come on!" I said. "Don't be silly! Why would they want to tap your phones? You're just a radical, anti-American (government), activist-lawyer-type, after all. They couldn't care less about you!!!"
(In my defence: when theory encroaches on reality it's a bit hard to swallow - even for the most jaded among us.)
Well, I am now having to bite my words: flipping through the tube last night I came across a documentary (on MEGA) about government surveillance and the phone tapping of civilians, or something to that effect - I tuned in about half-way through, just in time to hear the interviewer ask: Do you think the American Embassy here in Athens is likely to be monitoring people's cell phone conversations? And the answer? Yes. (sorry I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist.)
The person being interviewed was Mike Frost, a whistle-blower who worked for Canadian (ha!) intelligence for 34 years (19 in the communications department).
So I guess I'll be calling my friend now to apologise profusely - but you can be sure I won't use the words b***, t********, or A******* G********* in the conversation!

If you're interested in learning more about Mike Frost or ECHELON (the code name for the system they use to spy on us) check out the following links:

An article from the Village Voice
A CBN news report
Two articles, from the London Daily Telegraph and Covert Action Quarterly
And of course the Wikipedia entry on ECHELON

Monday, February 6

Vhere'd It Go, My Vertigo?

Continuing on the "stand up for your health rights" theme, I personally know three people who suffer from vertigo, which I think is rather a lot for one person to know! So, we can assume it must be quite common - but for those lucky enough to not have this disease/condition (what's the difference anyway?) it causes you to suddenly, for no apparent reason, get very dizzy. If you are unlucky enough to be standing when the world starts to spin, you will fall over. If you are furthermore unlucky enough to be standing at the top of a long flight of stairs at the time, you are likely to break your front teeth off. So my first two friends were told their condition was incurable, and accepted this, broken teeth and all. The third was told the same by the first doctor she went to... and the second... and the third... but she just wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, and kept on going and going like the energizer bunny until she found a specialist in the illness. And what do you know? There is, if not a cure, then a way of stopping vertigo when it starts to happen. So if you have vertigo, start taking notes: the procedure is called the Epley Manoeuver, and as far as I understand, involves the doctor twisting your head around in alarming-looking ways until you projectile vomit violently all over the place. Not pleasant, perhaps, but certainly preferable to lying in bed watching the crack on your ceiling spin round for weeks on end. Other recommended forms of prevention are kneading those little squeezy balls when you feel an attack coming on (which probably most people here in Athens could benefit from, come to think of it) and doing crossword puzzles. (Why crossword puzzles? Don't know, but hey it'll make you smarter so what the heck!)
Yet another good example of why most doctors can't be trusted, and why you, at risk of being called 'Argan', should never never take no for an answer where your health is concerned!

Saturday, February 4

MY LITTLE ENDOMETRIOSIS

So I was diagnosed this past week as having, to quote the doctor, "an illness - no, I mean a disease - no, let's say, a condition" called endometriosis. Why should you care? Well, because apparently 10% of women or so suffer from it, yet it's usually mis - or not at all - diagnosed. I should know. I think I've been suffering from it for ages, ever since I was in my teens, but all the doctors I've seen over the years have dismissed my list of symptoms offhand and treated me like I was a hypochondriac, or exaggerating the pain. And I started to believe it, figured I was just a lazy wimp (the symptoms include fatigue, really really bad cramps, nausea, and so on) compared to ‘normal’ people, and did my best to ignore and dismiss the symptoms, and keep them to myself. But this past week at work I suffered a bout of cramps so bad that I confided in the girls there, who were all so so wonderful I can't thank them enough. They all told me to see a gynaecologist RIGHT AWAY, so one girl made the necessary phone calls to her gynaecologist (saving me the always stressful procedure of making myself understood in Greek) and another insisted on accompanying me to the hospital to do the rest of the translating. The two of us snuck out of work, feeling like two high-school students playing hooky, and headed for the IASO hospital. This hospital is mainly a maternity hospital, apparently one of the best in Athens, and I have to say it had nothing of the dingy, third-world atmosphere I've come to expect from Greek hospitals; if you have any gynaecological stuff to deal with GO THERE. And the gynaecologist my friend had recommended was, to my surprise, wonderful. Miracle of miracles, he took one look at me and knew exactly what I had. Then he sat me down, and to my amusement started explaining everything to me FROM THE BEGINNING. And by FROM THE BEGINNING I mean, like, a complete survey of gynaecology from the time of genesis - i.e. a woman is born with all her eggs, whereas men create their sperm every 30 days, and you have a period because your brain releases certain hormones blah blah blah. So I had to stop him and tell him that in Canada we all learn that stuff in sex-ed class at the age of about ten, and could he please skip it and get to the 'what was wrong with me' part. (Yet another shocking reminder, however, of how ignorant most young Greek women are about these things and how necessary sex-ed class really is - it's about time they got it in this country but with the church and all... we'll see.) Anyway, there we are, pictures of my insides from the ultrasound spread across the table, with his cellphone going off every two seconds, but between the cellphone calls he patiently and clearly explained EVERYTHING to me, drawing cute little sketches to illustrate each point. Now, I'm a "why" kind of person. I like to know, for example, WHY a certain Greek verb is not conjugated like the rest, not just how to conjugate it, and, similarly, WHY, or rather WHAT EXACTLY is going on when there's something wrong with me, so I just loved all this. (I'm actually rather doctor-phobic, I think because in Canada the medicare system makes doctors see as many patients as possible, so they never bother to explain the WHY to you - or maybe they just figure we're too stupid to get it.) Anyway, in short, this doctor is now my new hero. If I didn't think it would break a zillion doctor/patient ethics rules, I'd throw my arms around him and give him a big hug. Instead, I'll send a thank you out to him out into the cosmos by means of this post!
Anyway, to wrap this up cause as usual I'm being excessively verbose, if you suffer from really bad cramps or any of the other symptoms, or in fact if you feel you're not well but have had your complaint dismissed by doctors, INSIST they listen, or go to another doctor - as many as it takes till you find one you feel is taking you seriously. I can't say how much I wish I'd done this earlier. It REALLY REALLY PISSES ME OFF that all these years I was suffering unnecessarily. In fact I'd like to go and give all the doctors who smiled at me condescendingly, and suggested I take stronger pain killers or drink herbal tea, a GOOD SCOLDING. From what I’ve read, knowledge and understanding of gynaecological problems is REALLY POOR since, in this male-centred world, until the late 80’s most of women’s problems were simply shrugged off. So don't let it happen to you!

Friday, February 3

The Crumbling Legacy of Athens

A comment made by 'd' in regards to my previous blog has reminded me of a project I've been mulling over for some time now. As I said in my reply to him, I really love all the old neoclassical buildings that survive in Athens, and I'm greatly disturbed by the condition most of them are in. Here and there you see them being renovated, usually by large corporations who no doubt strip their insides, while many others are likely past saving. However, a large number are probably still salveagable, yet nothing is being done! The last remnants of the beautiful city Athens could have been are being completely neglected... I can only assume that tearing them down is prohibited due to their historical status, so their owners are just waiting till they become completely derelict and dangerous, so that they may then demolish them and sell off the property to a company wanting to erect yet more of the (no doubt profitable) concrete blocks. I have also heard that many of the buildings are church property, having been bequeathed to the church in peoples' wills. And the church just lets these properties languish... dropi!!! In any case, I'm interested in photographing and perhaps cataloging these buildings before they all crumble into dust, but there are so many and I have trouble keeping track of the Greek street names. So if anyone has any pet crumbling buildings they would like to see commemorated, please post me their location, being as specific as possible! Thank you.

Thursday, February 2

Greece vs. Canada: the sequel

Well, ladies and gentlemen, here it is at last, the pros and cons of Greece, according to me. Now, if I wanted to be scientific about it, I’d follow the same procedure as I did with Canada – that is, to list the pros then refute them. However, science is not my aim; rather I wish to challenge the preconceptions people have about both countries. SO since most ex-pats seem to fall into the trap of forgetting all the bad things about their country of origin, in the first installment I tried to remind people why it was they came to Greece in the first place. And since all I hear about Greece (from Greeks and foreigners alike) is endless moaning, I thought I’d start now by listing the most common complaints going round and rebut them, in order to remind people of some of the good things this country has to offer. Πάμε λιπόν, Ελλάδα:


CONS: (according to what most people think)
I’ll keep these short since we’ve all heard the long versions about a million times – feel free to elaborate in your own head.)
1- People are rude.
2- Bureaucracy is a mess of red tape and unhelpful employees.
3- The government and judiciary are all corrupt, and the church has too much money and control over everything, and is corrupt too.
4- Essential services are constantly going on strike.
5- Shops and businesses – especially public bureaus – are never open when they’re supposed to be. And generally the shops close too early too often.
6- The transit system isn’t good, traffic and parking is horrendous, and both drivers and pedestrians alike are taking their lives into their own hands by hitting the streets.
7- The job market is miserable, working conditions are sub-standard, and wages are pathetic.
8- Everything is very expensive. Especially food and going out.
9- The school system is abysmal.
10- So is the public health system, and god forbid you have to go to an IKA hospital for anything.
11- Athens, at least, is a dirty ugly city of concrete apartment buildings and no green space or gardens.
12- Greeks are racist, especially towards Albanians and Poles.
13- No or little effort is being made to improve the state of the environment.
14- The news on some channels is little better than an entertainment program or a soap opera. And they show MOVIES with SEX in them BEFORE KIDS GO TO BED!!!
15- Everything is disorganized, chaotic, and takes three times as long to get done than in other countries.

PROS:
1- OK. So. The great majority of people are rude. Especially in Athens, where the stress of city life drives most people to the edge of insanity, but also, increasingly, on the islands (though whose fault is that? Before the onset of mass tourism and idiotic tourists, Greeks were known as some of the most hospitable, kind and generous people in the world – jaded perhaps?). Nonetheless, among the rude masses you also discover people so fantastically helpful, so kind and considerate and willing to go a mile out of their way for you, that I think a kind of balance is achieved. Furthermore, a lot of Greek rudeness is a method of stress relief – and it works. It does suck when it’s directed at you, but it explains the phenomenon of Greeks being able to switch from full-throttle screaming to joking around and friendly claps on the back in under a second. And, just as we expect immigrants who come to our countries to adapt to our way of life, so too should we be expected to adapt to the Greek way of doing things, through a process my friends and I call DISCOVERING YOUR INNER GREEK. What this process involves is letting go of your inhibitions and having right back at them: throw a tantrum at the supermarket when someone butts in front of you; start yelling at the lady who shoves you on the bus; swear at the person who steals your parking spot from under your nose; throw insults out loud in the middle of the street, whilst shaking your fist, at the driver who almost runs you over. It acts as a form of catharsis - you will be amazed at the feeling of calm that follows once you get whatever it is off your chest, and, rather than hating you, you’ll make a lot of new friends – with sympathetic onlookers, for example – who will recognize you as one of their own. Just remember, once you’ve thrown your fit, LET IT GO. Be magnamonious, and don’t keep fuming about it.
2- Bureaucracy is a mess. No doubt about it. We’ve all had to run around to a million offices, getting a mass of papers stamped about a zillion times by taciturn employees. But again, I feel the exceptions are SO exceptional that they balance things out. For example, a friend of mine was filing her sister’s tax returns for her, while her sister was out of the country, by assuming her identity. Note that the two sisters look nothing alike in their taftotita pictures, but no one commented in the tax office. Not the first time – or the second time – or the fourth fifth and sixth times when the forms were lost and no one could locate them. It seemed as though an impasse had been reached: yes, they could see they owed this much money – it was on the computer – but without the original, stamped, and sadly misplaced paper, they could do nothing. At which point my friend pulled a stunt called PLAYING ON THEIR SYMPATHIES: the tax office employee looked at her melancholically and asked her, “Kyria mou, are you really fed up?” “Yes,” she said. “I mean really, really at the end of your tether?” he insisted. “Yes, I am,” she replied. “I’m about to snap. Δεν αντέχω άλλο. Please, please, help me.” “OK kyria mou,” he said, “I just have to check something with your accountant. Let’s call her”. Of course, the accountant said, “Are you sure you have miss so-and-so there? Cause I’m pretty sure she’s out of the country at the moment.” The clerk looked at my friend. He looked at the ridiculous taftotita. He asked her: “Are you sure you’re miss so-and-so?” “Yes, of course I am.” she replied brazenly. “Hmmm. Of course. I see,” he said, and magically produced a piece of paper, stamped it a few times, and sent my friend off to get a few more stamps and her money. But the amazing thing is that, at one of the stamping points, some clerk actually said, “Oh – I see here you never got your money from last year. Let me see if I can locate the form for you.” A search through drifts and stacks of paper ensued and, just when they were about to give up hope, the paper turned up at the bottom of the last stack, and my friend ended up walking out of the place clutching no less than 8000 evro – cash, to boot! Okay, perhaps that’s more a tale in support of the cons than the pros, but I was looking for an excuse to tell that anecdote. But there is one thing to be learnt from it. Unlike in other countries, where bureaucrats are polite but unfeeling and immoveable in the face of your suffering, Greek bureaucrats are, beneath the tough exterior, quite HUMANE, and can be GUILTED into doing things for you, if you know how. I’ve done it myself – for example, I went to the wrong IKA office, waited a few hours to be greeted by a very dour looking middle-aged lady behind the wicket, who told me, sorry, I’d just have to go to the correct branch. Tough luck. So I pulled the PLAYING ON THEIR SYMPATHIES trick, with success – the lady did the stamping for me there. It’s very useful to know, and it goes something like this (I’ll write it in Greenglish for the non-Greek speakers to practice): “AH! kyria mou, Ti tha kano tora? Eimai xeni. Den milao kala Ellenika. Den boro na pao sto allo meros! Den xero pou einai!! Kai doulevo!!! Prepei na eimai sto douleia TORA!!!! Pira adeia na ertho edo!!!!! Kai perimena yia deka ores, kai eho pedia!!!!! AH ah… the mou! Ti tha kano?” etc. etc. (What am I to do now? I’m a foreigner. I don’t speak Greek well. I can’t go to that other place! I don’t know where it is!! And I work!!! I should be at work now!!!! I took time off to come here!!!!! And I waited for ten hours in line, and have children!!!!!! Oh, god! What will I do?.) This has to be said with much mournful eye rolling, and your voice must slowly rise in pitch throughout, until by the end you’re verging on hysteria and casting yourself about wildly, eyes raised in supplication to god. (No matter how over the top you think you’re going, don’t worry, it’s not too much – embrace your inner drama queen, this time.) Also, said with a terrible Greek accent, it is even more convincing – the hardest-hearted, laziest employee, male or female, won’t be able to deny you!
3- The government and judiciary are all corrupt/The church has too much money and control over everything, and is corrupt: I won’t even try to argue. But really, does this affect you in your daily life, or have you been watching too much Alter?
4- Essential services are constantly going on strike: You mean they aren’t in your country?
5- Shops and businesses – especially public bureaus – are never open when they’re supposed to be. And generally the shops close too early too often. OK this is a pain in the behind, but if I was one of the people working in a shop – something I did do in Canada, till 9 every night, and on Sundays too – I’d be pretty happy about it.
6- The transit system isn’t good: Really? Seems fine to me – at least since the Olympics – if you aren’t living in a far-off suburb. But hey, it was your choice to live in a suburb. Those of us brave enough to live in Athens proper need to have SOME reason for staying here. So, there are masses of buses and trolleys which come all the time, and the metro is fast and handy. Plus, it’s all ridiculously CHEAP!! Come on, people, if you're going to complain, at least pick something that really is a problem! 6.5- Traffic/parking is horrendous, and both drivers and pedestrians alike are taking their lives into their own hands by hitting the streets: Umm… yes. Let’s just skip that one, OK? Besides, New York is just as bad. So there.
7- The job market is miserable, working conditions are sub-standard, and wages are pathetic: Can we skip this one too? Oh OK. Yes, the job market is miserable, but at least Greeks know how to enjoy themselves when they’re not working – and even sometimes (a lot of the time) when they are. Why do you think all those officials are so hard to reach? Just check to see if it’s a sunny day and don’t be surprised when no one picks up the phones. Also, how nice is it to be able to smoke AT YOUR DESK? (Non-smokers, sorry, you really picked the wrong country.) And where else could you take a ONE MONTH VACATION, or call in sick every time there’s nice weather, or, on the other hand, if there’s rain, or snow, or a football game or…
8- Everything is very expensive. Especially food and going out: Yes, but such food!!! Amazing, flavourful, real, fresh, ahhhhh… It’s worth it. And sorry, it’s really not so bad, so long as you’re not eating steaks every day. I think a lot of this talk about how Greeks have no money is that they like to LIVE WELL: good food, lots of partying and drinking, nice clothes, flash cars. Just about the only things Greeks don’t spend money on are their homes. So it's not surprising that most people are broke. (I don’t include of course those with kids who really can’t find a job and are in dire straights. Those do exist aplenty, and my sympathies to them, but most of the people you hear whingeing are doing just that!) (For the record, here are just some things that are much MUCH cheaper here than in Canada: public transit, theatre, taxis, hairdressers, painkillers and antibiotics, wine, bathroom appliances, cigarettes, big concerts, mixed drinks (when you consider that you’re getting at least three times as much alcohol when you order a drink here, rather than the Canadian thimble full), shoemakers and seamstresses, university, rent, purchasing a house... ummm OK so I can't think of many. But it's a good indication of what the Greeks really consider important, isn't it? Ha ha.)
9- The school system is abysmal: Yes it is. This is one thing that really gets me too.
10- So is the public health system, and god forbid you have to go to an IKA hospital for anything: But at least, if you do have to go, you’ll come out with a whole repertoire of stories to regale your friends with!
11- Athens, at least, is a dirty ugly city of concrete apartment buildings and no green space or gardens: Actually, it has quite a lot of parks and plateias, they are just rather subsumed by all the concrete lowering over them.
12- Greeks are racist, especially towards Albanians and Poles: Well first, please note this is misuse of the term RACIST – Albanians and Poles are not a different race from the Greeks. Greeks are not, however and as far as I can tell, racist towards blacks, who are truly another race, and not terribly racist towards Pakistanis. But OK so they are PREJUDICED. I’ve even experienced it: when I speak Greek my accent is not at all English, but it’s not really Greek either, so when I shop for expensive things, I often get the cold shoulder and am told things are VERY EXPENSIVE – until I throw in an English word, and suddenly they’re all over me. However, this prejudice is based, I think, on the fact that the refugee situation here is completely out of control – and the government is doing little to nothing to ease tensions or help immigrants adapt and fit into Greek society. So it’s not surprising that Greeks are reacting somewhat badly to this sudden influx of foreigners into what was previously a pretty homogenous society. But Greeks are in general quite humane and empathetic people. They may talk badly about immigrants – or homosexuals for that matter – but they rarely put that talk into action. After all, how many gay bashings have you heard of happening here in Greece? Here’s another example: I was walking in Monastiraki a while ago when we came across two Pakistanis who had been caught by the police selling their wares on a blanket on the street. One of the men knelt down and threw his arms around the police officer’s legs in a traditional gesture of supplication, and the officer – more out of surprise than anything, I think – kicked him away. So we stopped and started asking – well, OK, yelling – what they thought they were doing beating the guy up. Within SECONDS a HUGE crowd of Greeks had gathered, all of them shouting abuse at the bewildered officers, defending the Pakistanis, and insisting that they be released. One woman thrust her child forward and kept demanding, “Is this the example you give to our children? To beat an innocent man?” So finally the police let the men go, and the mob dispersed, feeling very pleased with itself. But I ask you, would something like this ever happen in more Western countries? Would anyone interfere with two burly policeman, or even glance to see what exactly was going on? And to defend a racial minority that is not exactly smiled upon? That’s what I mean by humane.
13- No or little effort is being made to improve the state of the environment: SHAME!!! KRIMA!!! I was very disappointed to see that the renewable energies bill did not pass last week. And what is going to happen with the rubbish? Will they just keep burning/burying it improperly on the islands, and paying out fines to the EU??? Grrr… OK people, whinge all you like on this one. Maybe if we start causing a big enough fuss something will be done. Unfortunately it seems the new generation of Greeks, unlike their ancestors who recycled and composted even before those terms were invented, are generally apathetic about environmental issues. But to tell the truth, I don't hear many foreigners whingeing about it either.
14- The news on some channels is little better than an entertainment program, or a soap opera: and it’s different where you come from? Face it, the news, especially in the US but in Canada and the UK too, is FULL OF LIES AND PROPAGANDA. It’s just done with more sophistication than here, so you’re more likely to believe it – at least here it is so clearly a joke. And despite it Greeks have a very healthy dialogue about politics and the state of their country. They may not be very well informed, but they re aware and critical of everything and motivated. I was so impressed when I went on the anti-war protest here by the fact that it was not just activist university kids taking part, like in Canada, but mothers, fathers, kids, and grandparents. Right on. 14.5- And they show MOVIES with SEX in them BEFORE KIDS GO TO BED!!! Puh-lease!!!! I can’t believe the number of times I have heard this coming from the mouths of foreigners. Hello! Have you watched TV back home recently?? Feel OK with your kids watching people get dismembered? It’s just the facts of life, people, not pornography, and anyway, if you care so much, shouldn’t you be monitoring what your kids are watching???
15- Everything is disorganized, chaotic, and takes three times as long to get done than in other countries: MMMmmmm and I love it. Just relax, breathe, take advantage of the time you are wasting to think about life, stop for coffee, watch all the amazing dramas that unfold around you on the street – it’s like live theatre! Not a day goes by that I don’t witness some fascinating exchange, some REAL and basic human interplay. So, you’ll be late. So you won’t get the thing done by the deadline. So what? No one else will either. Live a little. Maybe it’s easier said than done, when you absolutely HAVE to get something done and are constantly frustrated, but generally life here is 'organised' to make room for delays, whether due to procrastination or the system – or lack thereof – and you shouldn’t end up in too much trouble. Greeks have their priorities straight – enjoy the things that make living worthwhile, and try to weasel out of the rest as much as possible. That’s why everything is such a mess – the two are mutually exclusive. The things that make Greece such a wonderful place are the very same things that make living here so frustrating – depending on which side of the fence you are sitting on. Try to remember that if you are one of those people who are always carrying on about how much life sucks here. Not that we should never complain – it’s natural to criticize the place you live in - but remember that your country of origin was no utopia either – you came here for a reason after all – and that there is a difference between valid, justified complaining, about things that actually do you harm, and the pointless everyday TRASHING of Greek culture and society that I so often hear going on.


Well this turned out to be a real manifesto. Sorry all. If you’d like to leave a comment addressing one of the specific points I wrote above, perhaps it would be good to start off by stating which point exactly you are commenting on! Thanks, and I look forward to hearing all of you telling me just how crazy I am and that I’ll be singing another tune in a few years’ time – I’m ready for it!!!