Saturday, 4 February 2012

Anglo-Saxon (Αγγλο-Σάξονας)

A tale of three cities - that's how I characterised Greece from the moment I understood the parallel infrastructures operating in tandem, serving the needs to three different classes of citizens. On the one hand, a group of privileged people; on the other, a group of abusers; and somewhere in between, the masses who had nobody/nothing/nowhere to turn to for support except themselves and their families. This seems set to continue, although each group's structure and members may change according to the new laws being implemented, which are still too fluid to be followed strictly to the letter - perhaps they never will be.

Greece was in a state of frenzy when I first came to Athens: cars clogged the too-narrow streets, people jammed over-priced stores, drachma bills spilled out of over-stuffed wallets, mouths gorged on too much food, cafe seats overflowed with customers, meals out were de rigeur and cigarettes were an indispensable accessory of the fingers. Everyone's dream: to get a job in the public service. Everyone's nightmare: to work in the private sector. Nobody's desire: to live in the countryside. The unsustainability of the system was considered a taboo subject, no matter how obvious it was. Who or what was to blame is still widely debated, "it's not my fault" being the recurrent theme dominating most discussions about the current state of things in Greece.

You have to have lived in Greece for a number of years, and to have needed to use certain services in order to understand this situation. It's not immediately obvious to the foreigner, especially people who do not have family based here. They live in their own ex-pat world, which provides them with a means of protection from the volatile relationships within each class. It's only when you get involved in the system out of necessity that your eyes are opened. The problem was not necessarily the actual system that was operating in pre-crisis Greece; despite its immoral and unethical nature, it worked well enough for everyone to be able to eke a life out for themselves in their own country. For me, it was the perceived notions of each group and the attitudes held among them that I found most difficult to grapple with. On their part, they couldn't understand my need to question the system's feasibility.

To most Greeks, my difficulty in coping with Greece's seeming immorality was translated by the locals as my inability to understand Greek society. Ideas like "you're a foreigner", "you think like an Anglo-Saxon" or "you think you're still living in New Zealand" were aimed at me. This was all undeniably true: I wasn't born here, I was educated through an Anglo-Saxon system and I had created a comfortable life for myself in Greece by living like a foreigner - on my own, making ends meet, and not overspending. I also broke some of the unwritten rules of traditional Greek identity. As an example, take my first Easter Sunday celebration in Greece: I was strictly vegetarian; when I went to cafes with friends, I would complain if there was no non-smoking area; when someone arranged a night out in the middle of the week, I would remind them that tomorrow was a working day. No one could see make any sense of my outlandishness. What a weirdo, they were probably thinking, she won't last long here. They still look at me at me with suspicion when I tell them I don't see any reason why I should want to leave: "Can't you see what's going on? they insist.

My Anglo-Saxon foreignness is probably what provided me with the strength, stability and durability I needed as a foreign-born Greek to stay in Greece permanently. An Anglo-Saxon education allows people to think more freely and yield more creative ideas. It teaches them to listen to others' opinions with a more open mind and fewer prejudices, without colouring their own judgment or beliefs. People with an Anglo-Saxon upbringing are more likely to oust people from their social groups if they feel that their own personality or integrity is undervalued or at risk (this includes family). Through this independent thinking, they are less likely to become attached to objects and places, and more likely to have a vision beyond that of what is immediately found in front of them. This spherical upbringing allows people with strong identity links to preserve their identity without the fear of losing it amidst an Anglo-Saxon world. Above all, it gives them the skills to be able to survive in the globalised world.

You don't have to be an Anglo-Saxon to be an Anglo-Saxon, but if you want to be a European these days, you have to think like an Anglo-Saxon.  

The tale of the three cities that used to make up Greece has not changed much with the latest developments. There still seems to be a class of privileged people who will always find a way to get away with paying their dues (they will argue that they don't actually owe anyone anything, not even society), there is still a group abusing the system (they are rich and rely on their stash of cash), and there is still that group of people who will never have much more than what they had in the first place, ie themselves. The main differences now are that the latter has grown in number, while the countryside is seen in a more positive light - at least you won't go hungry there.

Achieving sustainability is now a global goal: it remains to be seen if Greece, one of the first countries to be dealt the death blow, will also be one of the first to find the winning formula that is so desperately needed to avoid extinction. At least we have past experiences to remind us of how people coped - and they did survive.

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