Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“In Naples they say that a red light at an intersection is: Just An Opinion.” Anonymous

I have had such an incredibly rich and fulfilling time in Greece. I love this country (I may have mentioned this once or twice before), the people, the weather, and the great food. Everyone I’ve met has been hospitable and generous with their time (more about that in a future blog) and incredibly engaged and welcoming. There’s a vibrancy here that is infectious, a chaos that makes you shake your head in disbelief and brings a smile at the same time. There is a history that leaves you in awe.

I love the genius that is behind the Acropolis, the Acropolis museum, the Benaki Museum, all the museums that have captured the rich background of this country that was the birthplace of democracy, western philosophy, the Olympic Games, western literature, political science and so much more.

On the mundane, day-to-day front, I love the fact that full-service gas stations still exist here. Customer service in coffee shops, restaurants (a Greek sweet usually is included complementary with your coffee or at the end of a meal as a gesture of welcome and thank you), department stores and small businesses (they wrap your gifts free of charge) is exceptional. I love that there are so many small businesses that continue to operate. Big box stores haven’t taken over this country. And I love that products are made in this country and labels proudly carry this fact.

But Greece is not without its problems. Even I can see that through my own good old-fashioned starry-eyed love of the place.

After visiting the Acropolis Museum, I said to my cousin that it is hard to imagine how a country with the brains and collaboration needed to build that incredible museum can’t figure out a way to work together to get out of the current economic crisis and create jobs for the unemployed.

He replied that it was a matter of ego. “If someone works collaboratively with someone else, who would get the credit?”

I’ve heard a great deal about this need for individuation (as defined by Merriam-Webster as the process by which individuals in society become differentiated from one another) while I’ve been here. And it was again reiterated to me this week in a meeting I had with Daniel Esdras, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM-Greece). This organization was established in the 50s to help Greeks migrate to other countries for work. It now facilitates the voluntary return of foreign migrants to their home countries when those countries are deemed safe.  

During our meeting, we spoke about a number of issues including the impact of the financial crisis on refugees and Greeks. When we spoke about the financial crisis, Daniel said that he felt Greece was not in a financial crisis but rather in a moral crisis. “Too many of us think only of ourselves.”

He has a point. I had just walked the four or five blocks to his office from the metro station my eyes scanning the sidewalk for another pile of unpicked up dog poop. I couldn’t look up for fear I might step in it. I’ve had the same experience day in and day out in the neighbourhood I’ve been living in while in Athens.

My cousins assure me there are laws that mandate the clean up of dog do-do by owners. Nearly no one follows them.

Along the same walk to the IOM offices, I saw a torched cash machine at a Bank of Greece building that also had several bits of marble hacked off its walls. This was the result of a weekend of protests that culminated in violence throughout Greece.

The protests had to do with the 2008 shooting death of a teenager by police. Each year his death is marked, not by a moment of silence or civil requests for more police oversight and vigilance, but rather by indiscriminate rage and vandalism.

There are laws in this country as there are in other countries. The difference here is that people here seem to think they know better and act according to what they think is right for them. The rest be damned.

My own opinion: if you can’t pick up after your dog so that others don’t step into the mess you leave behind, it doesn’t take much more to slip (so to speak) into other forms of incivility and lawlessness.


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