25 January 2018

Greece, not for the fainthearted

I have now been living in Greece for more than 5 years and I can say it's been quite an experience. In many ways, Greece is idealised in Western Europe as much as it is demonised, especially during the last 9 years. The terrible economic crisis that has struck Europe has been particularly nasty for Greece, a country which was ill prepared, to say the least, to face the brunt of it. This has been all over European newspapers, of course, so I'm not going to get back on this, even though the quality of the coverage has been uneven in the best of cases.

But I wanted to delve a little bit more on the grittier aspects of the experience of a Western European living in this country. I'll pass on the odd earthquake or storm, these are only normal here and you get used to it, eventually. I meant more the social, mental and cultural aspects of life here. Superficially Greece is a European country (they coined the word, after all) but there is just as much of the Orient or the Middle-East in this place. Chaos, whether it's organised or not, is the norm. And this is something you can't really get used to. You either accept it, with good or bad grace, or you have to leave. Any other option will make you very unhappy. I'm still torn at the moment. There are days when I'm longing for the normalcy of the Dutch organisation. Others, I can feel the rush of adrenaline that Greek life provides, for better or worse.

Greece traffic, despite its reduced crisis time density, is an absolute aggression. Not only is there no respect for any rule on the roads, but there is also no attempt by the police at, well... policing. Check ups are rare and speed controls even more seldom. No one cares if you park in the middle of a crossroad, without any warning, just to buy a pack of cigarettes at the nearest yellow kiosk. Greek politics and society are only justly reflected by Greek traffic. It's not that Greeks are particularly more corrupt than any other nationality. They are after all victims as well as perpetrators. But it's that the whole chaos of the system, the regulated anarchy of it, is a strong incentive to cheat the rules. Police is, after all, as absent of the economic and social life as it is from the roads. What's worse is that the legal and administrative system has seen an explosion of such rules, not to improve anyone's life but to add artificial barriers to it so that people will want to pay to get rid of them...

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