Monday, 11 March 2013

The cheap life

I heard on the news last night (and it was plastered all over the Greek news this morning) that Greece's money lenders are pushing for the continuation of the temporary property tax being clamped on our bi-monthly electricity bills. I was really upset. We'd been advised by the state that this temporary tax would be abolished this year, and swallowed up in the newly-designed taxation system, which would make it cheaper, and would treat it as a tax rather than an added expense, as it is designed now.

We pay the electricity bill via an automatic payment at our bank, which means that we've always paid this extra tax. It added extra expenses of 45 per month on our own house, and meant we received reduced rentals from our tenants, who get the tax clamped onto their electricity bill, but which we are required to pay. So the added tax actually amounts to a lot more money in reduced income per month for us. The continuation of payment of this tax via the electricity bill means that we have to continue to live with less.

Finally, I can throw my canvas sneakers out, now that i have discovered a hole in them! I wonder if the hole was there before I noticed; they cost 6 pounds from Primark (UK) last year - because it didn't rain much this winter, I have been wearing them until now. I expect I will find another pair at a similar price to replace them, thanks to RyanAir: flying from Chania to London  direct has never been cheaper - I bought a ticket for 40, but the last time I checked its site, I noticed that the same time and day was selling at 30!!! 

This is nothing new for me; I have always been frugal and I will always continue to pay my taxes no matter how much money I make, so what am I complaining about? I also know that it isn't the Greek government that is insisting on this situation - it's the infamously named troika: the EU, the IMF and the ECB, who now govern Greece. Apparently, they liked the way the tax was being claimed instantly without delay - who wants to risk having their electricity disconnected? - and have decided that Greece has a good thing going with this system. The troika must be thinking that, over the last two years, Greek property owners have been paying this hefty tax, we have made the appropriate adjustments that we needed to make in order to live with less money, so it's not going to be a major issue to just 'carry on' paying it.

The old washing machine drum is about to get a new lease of life.

I really shouldn't complain. The way I have organised my life is such that I am planning for a moment in my life when I will end up having very little money. For the present time, I have shown to the state that I can afford to sacrifice what I earn in order to save the country. The troika and the Greek state duped me into it. Unwittingly, I showed them that I can - and do - live with less, without compromising my quality of life.

So I'll just keep calm and carry on - carry on giving myself haircuts (hair tongs do a great job of hiding mistakes), eating fish heads (so that the rest of the family can eat fish), wearing sneakers to work in the winter (it doesn't rain THAT much down here, and I don't work outdoors), recycling tea leaves (we've all done it at some point), growing our own food (and not a lawn), giving silent thanks when we are given a rabbit ("if he gave me a chicken, we'd eat chicken," I often tell my husband, who asks me why we eat rabbit more often than chicken), foraging greens (money can't buy the quality I can find here), and all those other things I do that add a dimension of hardship - physical or emotional - in my life, at the same time as making it heaps cheaper.

I'm educated enough to know that a post-WW2 lifestyle won't kill me and it doesn't actually make me less healthy: in the UK, this diet was called 'rationing', while in Greece, it was (albeit much later) called the 'Mediterranean diet', which mocks all that bullshit often written about how we can't go back to our past. Yes, we can; not only have many of us done so, but we have actually been living like this for a long time without realising it. But living the way I do will not kill me; it will actually make me healthier. Being tax-free and debt-free, I can even afford to joke about the crisis.

After preparing the pastry and mixture from the previous evening, I rolled out the dough this morning and assembled the spanakopita. Spanakopita? What am I talking about? Apart from a few spinach leaves from the garden, my 'spinach' pie contains mainly foraged greens, including a large bunch of nettles. 

Unfortunately, not many people are in my position. Most Greeks don't live in Crete, where the tourist season is only just round the corner, the winter is not so cold, the sun shines most of the year round, the soil is fertile and the ground is sun-drenched. Most people need boots in the winter to go to work - I can get away with sneakers, which lower my clothing costs. I don't need to go on a summer holiday - I live in a coastal resort. In a nutshell, I can live cheaply - but only if I want to. There are rich people who have lived most of their lives as if they were in crisis, but they are few and far between.

The sun-drenched lifestyle - who needs driers?

The news from my Athenian acquaintances is not good. They aren't used to living with less money. My own local economy cannot be compared to their urban-apartment lifestyle. But even here, we see signs of the crisis. When other cabbies ask my taxi-driver husband how he's coping, he just shrugs. He doesn't want to tell them how we're coping because most of the time, they aren't. Greeks have now become split into three groups: the very rich (they always had been), the very poor (most of them are newly impoverished), and a middle group who seem to be coping. We belong to the middle group, but you feel awkward telling others that you are coping: people have the idea that if you are not poor, then you are hiding something, kind of like tax-evading. If we told people how we live, they wouldn't believe us. It's not just a case of having free food available to us - every aspect of our life is frugal, economical and cheap.

The best way to accept who you have become is to remember who you were.

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