“Greece Doesn’t Belong To Just Greeks”

That’s what a Facebook group dedicated to advancing the rights of Albanians living and working in Greece claims.  Hm.  This seems like a prime opportunity to discuss one of the many dire predictions of The China Man about Greece, for he is extremely fond of the Albanians, views them as possessing a strong work ethic, unlike the indigenous people, “The Greeks are lazy,” he says—a refrain I’ve heard sung many times before.

The Wave of Migrations

I first met The China Man on a late April Sunday afternoon and the first comment he made was about the wonderful canopy of energy the sun spread over Athens.  “Ah, the sun,” he said, as he looked upward.  This I took to mean that he liked the sun, that he liked being here in Athens.  And as I enjoy hearing what other people think, and since his establishment had only one customer—me—we soon began a conversation, while he sipped a beer and I stuck to my favorite beverage with a slice of lemon in it.

He migrated to Greece from Shanghai in 1997.  Some of his relatives had already settled here and were involved in importing goods from China.  Greece was prosperous at the time, and welcomed immigrants, generously distributing green cards, so they could establish themselves here, and he made a decent profit from his ventures here.  However, following the 2004 Olympics, Greece was headed in downward economic spiral.  Alongside this spiral was his own descent into a less favorable picture of the country and its people.

Praise for Scotland and Germany

The China Man had traveled to many lands and expressed immense admiration for Scotland and Germany where he said people were more direct in their dealings—unlike the Greeks—with people.  Plus the streets in these other countries were much wider and incredibly clean.  Here in Greece, he said, life is steeped in Chaos and progress is slow to materialize and the people are a source of mystery when one attempts to analyze them.  “Who knows what they are thinking?” he said of the indigenous people of Greece.   “No one knows what they are thinking!”

He cited the 70 year contract between Greece and China to manage the port of Piraeus.  The contract was agreed upon while one government was in power, then its authenticity was challenged by the next government.  “We didn’t agree to that,” he said, referring to the next government.  “That was agreed upon by another government.”  This thoroughly confused and frustrated The China Man.  But this is exactly what I find so endearing about this country.  It epitomizes Chaos.  And beautiful things are produced from Chaos.  However, I fully empathize with The China Man.  Chaos is not a simple matter.  Nor are its streets as wide or as clean as those of Germany and Scotland.

The Greek Tango

As for his own attempts to establish a business here, The China Man expressed frustration with the corporate techniques of Greeks.

The food had been purchased, permits had been granted, but the doors of his establishment remained shuttered.  It was Friday afternoon.  Apparently, he needed some final confirmation—a stamp, I think—on one of his documents before the doors of his business would open.  By the time he arrived where he needed to be to get that final approval, the bureaucrat looked at him and said.  “It’s Friday.  Afternoon—  What’s wrong with Monday?”  Plenty according to The China Man.  Perishable goods perish.

I think perhaps this last experience is what led him to conclude that “Greeks are lazy.”  However, I suspect The China Man still has not understood The Greek Concept of Time and Space and is therefore at a slight disadvantage.

(When I asked him several times if he had any intention of returning to Shanghai since he found life here frustrating, he never gave me any clear response, something to bite on.  The only thing I could extract was that his son, now 9 years old, was being schooled in a British academy in Athens and liked living here.  So I am assuming he is still here for the sake of his child.)

The New Greece

The China Man had also traveled to Albania to visit friends he had made here in Athens and expressed unconditional admiration for them.  Not only that, but he predicted the following:  “Fifty years from now, no more Greece.  This will be Albania,” he said with a laugh.  (The implication being that Greece will fall because Greeks are lazy.)

And not more than 10 minutes had passed after he had made this prediction when 4 young boys stopped by his restaurant on their bikes, curious about the poster of Shanghai he had taped to the window.  The China Man then did a survey of the boys.  “Greek?  Or Albanian?” he said.  Two of the boys were indigenous and 2 were Albanian.  “See?” he said.  “Albania!”

The Banker and The Taxi Driver

That made me recall a comment made by my banker here, since I had asked her about the Albanian population, having heard that with the migration of Albanians into Greece, there was a simultaneous increase in crime.  “No,” she said.  “The Albanians are okay now.  They have settled down.  It’s the Pakistani and Romanian immigrants who we are having problems with now.”

However, I could not resist asking one of my taxi drivers about the Albanians one evening as we sped down the street.  “The Albanians?” he said.  “Oh, yes.  They have settled down.  Indeed, they have reached the top of the economic ladder.”  I was curious about what he meant by this, what enterprise had allowed them to rise so rapidly, so I asked him for clarification, which he promptly provided.  “The Drug Lords of Athens.”  So you see, everyone has a different perspective on a single issue.

(Personally, I have no ill will against the Albanians.  My next door neighbor is a young Albanian couple who recently produced a child and they are congenial and, like The China Man said, industrious, and warrant no suspicion.  However, with the advent of social networking sites like Facebook, I should add, one never truly knows who your neighbors actually are.)

The Friend of Icarus

When I shared with The Friend of Icarus what I had heard about the immigrant populations of Greece, noting also how the streets, buses, trolleys and metro were flooded with the music of beggars and peddlers, he looked at me and said, “Do you know why these people are here?”  Aside from Monika the Romanian who had told me she had migrated because there was more food here, I had no idea why these people came here.  “First,” he said.  “If they were to do these things in their countries, they would be swept off the streets and ushered into jails.  You would not see them there.  But here, in Greece, we allow these things.  Other nations do not.

“However,” he added, “we only permit ourselves to be pushed so far.  When we reach a certain point, when we have been taken advantage of repeatedly, we respond accordingly.”

I then asked him about The Decline of the Greek state as predicted by The China Man and he had the following response.