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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Lost in modernity, mired in ignorance

I have never ever understood the Greek left, and I still don't understand them now. This 'left' concept sounds democratic - in that obsolete communist way - but it can only work when restrictions are placed on people and institutions, when funds are available to make everything free or cheap, and last but not least, when people are prepared to work together to make this ideal work. Since Greece doesn't have these funds, and no restrictions have been placed on any aspect of our daily life, and - more importantly - people cannot find the common ground to cooperate and compromise and make things work out for the greater good (instead of looking after their own interests), who is the government kidding, except itself, when they promise to raise wages and pensions, provide free medical treatment and hire more public servants? If it's not working, it's not working. (On this note, congratulations to Paul Krugman who came to Athens last week and spoke in support of this impossible scenario - like his charismatic counterpart, Greece's body-builder motorbike-loving Varoufakis, he has great ideas but he has got the context completely screwed up.)

When SYRIZA was voted into government, I was prepared to give them a chance to succeed. I supported them when they stood up against the big guns. I liked the way they carried on defiantly. A change in the establishment is always a good thing. But it has now become obvious to most Greeks that a new establishment has now come into play. Same game, different faces, that's all.

Even though our income has been drastically reduced since the crisis broke out, my family's lifestyle hasn't changed much at all, something I am very proud of. Why should my life change just because I don't have as much money as in the past? We still prepare fresh frugal meals on an almost daily basis in our house, we still pay all our bills, we still manage to clothe our kids and we still manage to get a week away from the island, and all this is done on a well worked out budget. I've always known how to cut corners; I've been doing it all my life. I am fully confident that I will always be able to enjoy this kind of lifestyle. I will not have everything I want, but I will never be in need. I am sure of this. I also know that some people simply cannot do that. Not everyone is like me, of course. Apparently, that's a good thing: by having all sorts of people in the world, it makes us less boring.. But it would be nice if they behaved more responsibly, even if they weren't like me.

I am reminded of my neighbour who complained to me recently about the high cost of her electric bill the other day. She asked me what we pay on average for a two-month period. We rarely exceed 100€ (150€ if I add my mother-in-law's bill - she lives on the ground floor in a granny flat.). My neighbour's bill came to 367€ for the same two-month period. Instead of having the audacity to ask me why I am not paying as much as her, in my opinion, she should have wondered what she does that makes her own bill so high.

For a start, she lives in a two-storey villa-style house. It's huge - much larger than our own two-storey house. My 3-bedroom house and my mother-in-law's granny flat are not tiny - they are both very compact. The neighbour is one of those types who like to keep their home really clean and tidy. But this has got less to do with cleanliness and much more to do with a lack of a hobby - since she doesn't work and her kids are older teens, she has a problem of keeping busy. So she does a load of full-cycle laundry on an almost daily basis, always separating her whites from her coloureds, which inevitably means that she will have lots of ironing to do - and she irons everything, right down to socks. If you have nothing to do all day, you'll do that too, I guess, as well as vacuum the house every day. She also uses her dishwasher on a daily basis - nothing is washed by hand. She cooks just as much (and better) than me, but she doesn't use gas. What's more, she is more of an oven cook, not a stovetop cook. When she's at home on her own and she feels cold while she's watching the morning chat shows on TV, she won't turn on the central heating which will heat up the whole villa (which is of course pointless when you are the only person at home) - she turns on the air-conditioner (I can hear it cranking away). No bloody wonder she's paying so much on electricity supply.

Compare all this to me: I only use the washing machine when I have a full load. I don't separate ALL the whites from the coloureds - isn't it all colour-fast these days?! Out of respect for my husband, I iron his shirts and trousers - anything else just gets folded. If I suspect anyone of wearing something only one day before putting it into the laundry basket, I take it out and return it to them. (Who do you think you are, if you believe your skinny jeans need tightening by being washed in the machine? Soak them in a bucket, for all I care!) The kids iron their own clothes if they really want them ironed. We have a dishwasher, but I allow it to be used only when the need arises, ie we have guests for dinner, or I cooked fish (which is a smelly business). We take the turns to do the dishes - wasn't THAT the way everyone in the past (a very recent one, as far as I'm concerned) learnt to do their fair share of the housework? And you really don't need to vacuum your house every day if you have mainly stone tile floors - they just need to be swept with an ordinary broom. My oven works with electricity, but our daily meals are mainly stovetop dishes cooked on gas elements. (We pay about 20 euro per 2 months for our gas supply. It's really cheap.) When we feel cold and we are on our own, we wrap ourselves up with a blanket - the air-con is simply off limits. It's only used about 10 days a year on average to keep us cool during a warm southerly wind. 'Nuff said.

I have been cutting corners all my life here and there in order to ensure the privilege of a debt-free lifestyle, but I've never absconded from my responsibilities. I know I'm going to hear a heap of shite from leftists who will say 'you can do that, Maria because you are wealthy'. Of course I'm wealthy - I am so frugal that I don't ever spend everything I earn, even when I don't earn much! I'm also prepared to 'go without' when I know I cant afford to 'go with'. I'm prepared to wear 3€ items of clothing bought from the street market, I buy food on sale and prepare it for cooking even when the expiry date has passed, I book the cheapest flights to ensure we can all get a holiday once a year, I sleep on the floor or the sofa instead of a hotel bed, and if I can't afford to buy presents, then so be it - we don't  buy any! (We make a lot ourselves. In this have-everything world, it's the thought that counts.) I never mumbled when payback time came during the crisis. I was still prepared to give back more than the fair share of the 'blame' allotted to me when taxes skyrocketed, but right this minute, I really do NOT understand why I have to be put through the ensuing chaos of a disorganised polarised disconnected and not even unified government.

While talking with a friend at the weekend who is a retired public servant (therefore many of her friends are also public servants), she told me that her colleagues are now mumbling out loud about the choice they made when they voted in January. Now they are wondering why they have nothing, and 'what went wrong'. Just 10 years ago, Greeks really did have it all, but they did not respect it, and they did not even protect it. That's not the worst part of it all for me. Most mid-50s Greeks do not know how to live like their parents did. Washing machines, dishwashers, electric cookers - all these became common when people started living off higher salaries, which came some time after Greece's entry into the EU (1981). Greeks have lost their continuity with the past, despite the fact that the parents of many of those 50-ers are still alive. How easily they have forgotten their origins. That's what's killing them.

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