Much has been said and written about the Greek economic crisis and it’s taken up way too much time in the press to the point that a new word was created to describe it “Gretigue” (sick and tired of all things Greek).
I can’t help but wonder how we Greeks living abroad missed the boat and didn’t reap the benefits of the “Greek boom” of the last 30 years.
While we were all busting our butts working in our uncle’s diner washing dishes and waiting tables during the day and going to school at night to get a college degree, our cousins in Greece were partying and drinking frappe. What the hell was going on? We would go there in the summer and shake our heads in disbelief with the high standard of living, a lifestyle only enjoyed by the rich and famous in any other part of the world except for Greece.
Once back from Mykonos and Santorini we would have to sit and listen for 11 months at every single frickin’ backyard bbq of how “they know how to live and we don’t”, “there are people out at all hours of the night”, “my cousin is 45, retired and drives a BMW”, etc.
From the mid 80’s, we Greeks living abroad would load our suitcases with towels and bed sheets and hit every outlet within a 50 mile radius to get a good deal on Air Jordan’s and Timberlands for the brand loving Greek relatives in Greece who wanted a taste of Americana at all costs.
I’ll never forget during my college days when a university student from Greece drove to Boston (from Philadelphia) to get 2 cartons of YSL cigarettes.
The story goes like this (I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I wanted to). This guy gets a request from his sister in law for designer cigarettes but there was one problem, they had not quite hit the market yet. She probably saw an ad for them in a Greek magazine and wanted to be the first “kiria” in Greece to light up an Yves Saint Laurent cigarette at a Cafe in Kolonaki, Athens.
So this guy finds out that these cigarettes are starting to hit the market in Boston so what does he do? He drives to Boston to buy them and hands them over to me with instructions to meet his brother at the airport in Athens. (Come to think of it, I should of asked for him to pay my plane ticket, which he probably would, because this lady had to have these cigarettes).
Well here we are 30 some years later and people are waiting in line (cigarette in hand) for 60 euros at ATM machines in Greek cities.
Consumerism, debt and personal financial responsibility were part of western societies long before they became available to the average Greek. Our immigrant parents taught us early on that there’s no free lunch and that only through hard work and perseverance can one enjoy the good things in life, that memo never made it to Greece.
Capitalism with all it’s flaws works in societies with laws and structure but in Greece where it was left unchecked it came crashing like a house of cards. With money funneled down by crooked politicians the Greeks simply couldn’t handle the credit cards and acted irresponsibly by using loans for expensive handbags lavish vacations and overpriced “malt” whiskey (with sprite or coke of course).
Now it’s time to hit the reset button and return to a simpler way of life. It’s time to put a stop to consuming processed fast food and bring out the katsarola and make fava fakes and fasolada. It’s time for the Greeks to return to a healthy lifestyle enjoyed only by the well off in America who shop at Whole Foods for organic tomatoes and free range chickens. With demand for extra virgin olive oil, Greek olives, feta cheese and other organic foods skyrocketing in America the Greeks were too busy sitting around at cafés and allowing other nations like Bulgaria and Turkey to fill the void of these specialty foods. If you don’t believe me try finding a bottle of good Greek wine outside of Greek town in Chicago or Astoria New York.
And what about us Greeks living abroad? How does it make us feel? What do we tell others when asked “what’s going on in Greece?”
How are we going to attend the flag waving Greek Independence Day parade next year? We went from announcing at every opportunity that “we are Greek” to this? Just like that? You and I had nothing to do with this mess now did we?
In closing I just want to say that I feel for the elderly and the young . As one of my nephews told his dad in Greece “your generation is handing over to us a pile of skata”.
Skata it is and I’m afraid that it hasn’t hit the fan yet.
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