“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.


The Queen of Stupidity—

That would be me.

I keep forgetting my helmet at home!

No wonder I get confused.  Tuesday, Wednesday— What difference is there between them?  Without my helmet secured to my head, I am at a disadvantage—  My navigation skills are significantly diminished.

Now I know I have mentioned The King of The European Union more than once.  And I know I have promised to deliver his speech.  But I am being extra cautious, since it requires careful translation.  The language he spoke was a combination of dialects, which I have been working hard to extract, with the help of a translator.  But I promise you.  You will have the full text of his speech to the nation soon.

For I never fail to deliver!

But let me tell you what happened after I posted my latest report from the front.  I re-entered the other city, and found a fashion show in progress there.  I did!  And if you know anything about Athenian women, then you would know they are fashionistas of an advanced order.  I browsed around—not much appealed to my fashion sense—and as I had almost completed a survey of the room, my eye fell upon a rack of dresses.

I approached with caution.  Would they have the kind of dresses I like to wear?  I fingered my way through the fabrics… Then on the third piece, I felt a curious fabric, and my curiosity deepened.  I pulled it from the rack, and I couldn’t believe my eyes!  It was a dress made completely of black feathers!  Anchored with two wide, green satin straps at the top, and a wide satin belt of the same color, which hugged the hips, and was curled into the shape of the flower.

I had to have it.

That was my dress!!!

I slapped my Euros on the table (and thereby helped the economic crisis—admittedly in a small way, but nonetheless, I had tried…)

And I thanked my patron for always leading me when shackled by Blind interests.

And I flew home.

The Greek Concept of Time and Space— Revisited!


OΔΟΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΑΣ. Well— Not really. Alexandras is just down the street, if you know what I mean...

When I was searching for directions to Comicdom Con 2010, Athens, I ran the address through Google maps, which showed me a route to the convention.  Then, seeking further clarification, I emailed the organizers of the convention, and Dimitris responded that the directions were indeed accurate, and that once I made a left on Alexandras and then a right on Ippokratous and then a left on Skoufa, I would be there!

However, I had failed to explain that I would be using public transportation, and Dimitris naturally assumed, since I had mentioned Google maps, I would be driving to the event.  And thus began my journey on that hot Friday afternoon, up Alexandras, searching in vain for Ippokratous, asking, but receiving, for the most part, blank looks to my question, “Do you know where Ippokratous is?”

Thus I decided to turn to my internal navigation device—my intuition—after a brief detour, which just didn’t feel right, and continue my route—West, was it?—along Alexandras, figuring eventually I would run into Ippokratous, asking along the way, again, and noting, more familiarity with the street by strangers as I traveled westward.

Luckily Athens is a manageable city, even on foot, and I have one friend who frequently travels on foot, crossing the borders of various neighborhoods to get where she needs to go.  But Athens also has a terrific public transportation system, to which I avail myself, since the idea of driving in Athens leaves me, well, feeling shriveled, and I see no sense in owing a car when public transportation and an abundance of taxis will get you where you want to go relatively quickly, and without anxiety.

Nonetheless my frustration continued to grow as I marched uphill on Alexandras and finally pulled into a Starbucks to break the cycle of  increased perspiration, and chill with an espresso and bottle of water, before I resumed my journey.  And, as I had done previously, I asked the barristas, “Do you know where Ippokratous is?” when another customer sprang forth with the answer.  “It’s at the next light,” she said.  I was so happy to hear that!  I was getting close.  Couldn’t be much farther than that, I reasoned.

Space and Time

While I sat at Starbucks, sipping espresso, smoking cigarettes, and cooling, I decided to write Dimitris an email, scolding him for his—what I imagined to be— The Greek Concept of Time and Space!—a highly relative and figurative and shifting idea, based on actual experiences, which I will explain below, not realizing that our mistake was based on a simple misunderstanding, which could have been easily cleared up, had it not been for those nasty critters, assumptions.

I first noticed the peculiar nature of time during my marriage to a Greek man.  In the early stages of our marriage, as we worked to adjust to one another, and build our own historical frame, I found him referring to events we had both experienced as having occurred yesterday.  It wasn’t long before I began to question this idea of yesterday, since my reference and understanding of yesterday, did not match his—at all!  At the time, I assumed it was a personal idiosyncrasy and not part of a larger theme.

I vigorously defended my idea of yesterday and drilled him on his own.

“When exactly was yesterday?” I said.

Gradually I came to realize that the parameters of yesterday were wide and extended back in time to a period of months.  We worked on this aspect of our communication techniques and eventually came to an understanding that concepts of time were indeed relative, and so we frequently—mostly, I did—asked for clarification whenever in doubt.  End of problem.

Time and Space

On My Way To Being Lost...

Not more than a month after I arrived in Greece, while blissfully walking down Patission, a central street, I had the misfortune of having my purse picked.  Totally unaware of what had happened, I only realized it when I stopped in a clothing store, and the woman there told me my backpack was open.  I could have left it unzipped, especially the outer pocket, but doubted leaving the central zipper unlocked, and as I dug into my backpack, I found my wallet missing.  I had been nabbed!

One of the steps I had to take because of this theft was to report it to the Police in the district where the theft had occurred.  So 2 days later, I launched on yet another journey, and searched for the right district to report the theft, which I knew of only by reference to from my neighborhood police station.

I first queried the bus driver who said he had no idea where the station was.  But because I was armed with additional information, courtesy of my local precinct officer…

“It’s right by PASOK’s headquarters—” (Police Officer, Patission Precinct)

I then asked the location of PASOK’s central headquarters, the political party in power currently, which he knew, of course, so at least I knew what stop to get off, before searching for the station.

Though not far from the bus stop, it was an uphill climb, and I stopped along the way, asking for directions.

“It’s up ahead,” said one store owner.

“Up ahead?” I said.  “You mean like…”
“Make a left at the corner, and you’ll find it.”

So I followed his directions and sensing I was not going where I should be going, I stopped yet again, and asked another store owner.

“Oh,” he said.  It’s down there. You passed it.”

Strange, I thought.  I didn’t remember seeing it…

So I began my trek downhill this time, but still not being able to see it, I felt compelled to stop once again and ask for directions.  This time, I stopped at a pharmacy, and the pharmacist there, at last, gave me specific directions to the station.  I was one street off, she said.  “Take the first left, and at the end of the block turn right.  It’s the next block down.”  And sure enough…  There it was.  At last!

(Despite my eyes being in hyper-drive that day, I never did spot PASOK headquarters.)


Now Which Way!

Now it could be a male thing.  I’m not sure.  Or perhaps a tendency for Greeks to think in broad and general terms, rather than specifics. Think Philosophy!  But again, I don’t know.  But there does seem to be a reoccurring theme here, which I see based on my limited experiences, which leads me to suspect the Greek concept of time and space is unique.

Lost! (that would be me talking)

Be advised, however, that almost all taxis are equipped with navigation devices here in Athens, and the drivers make good use of them, so no problem there.

And as for Google maps…

There is room for improvement.  For instance, it would be helpful to have directions based on public transportation systems in cities, yet I realize this is probably a monumental project and requires much work.  And while driving directions are sometimes helpful when looking for approximate locations and routes, they can easily lead you astray.  And finally, I don’t why, but Google does offer walking directions. I don’t know how they manage to do this, but I have referred to them once or twice, and find those too could use tweaking.

At last…
Ippokratous was indeed at the next intersection, just as the young woman had said.
Getting to Skoufa from there, however, was not anywhere as near as I had hoped or imagined!

However, I was determined to get there…