Saturday, January 28, 2006 

I've Been Diagnosed as Heartless and Greedy by My Spin Doctors

Ever since the New Democratic party took over the reins of Greece in March 2004, some media outlets have afforded them an extraordinarily long grace period which continues at present. Initially, I agreed with their lenience and even though I agree with any government efforts to combat the corruption and financial mismanagement of this country. Karamanlis has been in power almost two years now so it's time to stop holding his hand and covering up his government's many mistakes and missteps. The government already has enough spin doctors and sycophants on its payroll. The media needs to stop spinning the news as they've done in the examples I've listed below and just report it.

When the State paid 1.5 billion€ to rid themselves of feckless OTE employees, the press cheered the decision instead of questioning the financial feasibility of such a hyperinflated payout for parasitic public servants.

When the judiciary was rocked to its very foundations by countless charges of bribery and trial-fixing (Ted Laskaris at Phylax expertly blogged this ongoing sordid saga), the media towed the party line again and applauded Karamanlis for tackling corruption. However, they didn't bother to ask if he even had a backup plan to keep the already creakingly slow justice machinery on top of its caseloads while judges and lawyers alike were being removed as the indictments were handed out.

When the deficit was constantly revised upwards (just do a search for "Greek deficit" and just try to count how many times it was revised), they again, rightly blamed PASOK for incurring such an exorbitant debt but refused to question the inability of New Democracy's Finance Minister to accurately report the magnitude of the debt in his first 3 attempts. He also could not pass the 2006 budget in under 3 attempts. This is also the same man who predicted he would be able to increase State revenue collection by 11% and when he realized he couldn't, he downgraded his original prediction to 5%. When he managed to collect 5.4%, the media praised him for 'exceeding' his revised target instead of lambasting him for having only collected half of his original target.

These unofficial State cheerleaders have gone overboard this time with today's commentary in Kathimerini. The journalist, Nikos Nikolaos goes back 30 years into the archives of his memory to tell his readers a story of generosity. Apparently, an entrepreneur was owed $20 million by the State for a nickel subsidy owed to him. The Coordination minister refused since the State's coffers were empty. At the same time, the Defence Minister entered the office and requested that the Economy Minister issue a cheque to get a Greek frigate out of hawk in Bremen. At this point, the entrepreneur told the ministers to use the money owed to him to pay for the Greek frigate "since the frigate is for Greece". The journalist then proceeds to praise the entrepreneur's benevolence and patriotism while insulting the Greek businesspeople of today who, as he says, are "heartless and greedy, they demand more and more from the state without putting their hands in their pockets to help Greece."

I fear that the Greek citizens are being primed for new laws aimed to further tighten the State's chokehold on small businesses because of the actions of a few plutocrats. As a business owner, I am insulted and angered by this man's opinion that we are all heartless and greedy while we pay the wages of other citizens, the health funds and burdensome taxes. We pay our own way in society and strive to contribute something to this country's economic growth. We, like so many other small business owners we know, are struggling to survive in a country whose Draconian tax laws, suffocating bureaucracy and civil servant extortionists conspire against us. The majority of us do not have teams of over-priced lawyers, Swiss bank accounts, luxurious yachts or palatial villas on the French riviera.

All I know is that if most of us "heartless and greedy" businesspeople put our hands into our pockets, all we will retrieve is lint.

Thursday, January 26, 2006 

Bouzoukia. Places to Go When You're Bored.

A night out at one of the many bouzoukia in Athens.

The first time I was asked if I'd ever been to 'bouzoukia', I thought they were talking about a geographical place in Greece. When I was informed that they were actually Greek night clubs with live entertainment, it was only a matter of minutes before I morphed into Party Girl and was on my way to a Greek night out.

If you've got money and enjoy the performer's music, you can have a lot of fun. Although, I've always felt claustrophic in them, I do enjoy watching the 'shows' in the audience as well as the one on stage.

The Cost
When I went to see Giannis Ploutarchos (a popular Greek singer whose face adorns Greek secretaries' screensavers everywhere), we paid the mandatory 200€ for a bottle of whiskey. Since there were four of us in attendance, that worked out to 50€ per person. And because I don't drink whiskey, I shelled out more money to have my preferred poison, Kahlua, brought to the table. Granted, I would probably have paid the 50€ for a ticket to see Ploutarchos anyway because I do enjoy his music so I can't say I was too put out by that cost. For second-rate singers I've seen, even 25€ per person is too much.

Next come the flowers. Trays and trays of stemless carnations are sold to the patrons for about 15€ each so we can throw them on the stage only to be swept off minutes later by a stagehand. One patron in front of me spent, by my count, 1500€ on them. Most tables buy at least 5 trays and since the patrons are packed in the clubs like sardines, it doesn't take long before you start to wonder where all these flowers are grown. I've never seen fields of carnations on any of my travels in Greece so I figure there must be some uncharted island which is home to nothing but carnation fields to support such a popular industry.

The Dancing
There is no dance floor...there's hardly enough room for the waiters and flower girls to pass between the tables let alone dance. Many women resort to jumping on the tables to dance. I always laugh when this happens because they're usually wearing high heels and mini skirts. Too many times I've seen these Glamazons keel over backwards while trying to maintain some sense of modesty by pulling down their mini skirts as they try to navigate through the dozens of bottles, flowers and glasses on the tables. Just a suggestion ladies, if you're embarrassed about your dresses rising too far up your thighs, maybe you shouldn't be on the table in the first place.

If you're not a table dancer, then there's always the stage. I like this part of the evening because no other night club I've ever been in allows patrons to be on stage with the performer at the same time. I'm quite amazed that anyone can actually sing while being pawed by dozens of inebriated or overly-infatuated women. Now I understand why some bouzouki singers make upwards of 20,000€ per night. It's truly a talent.

The Verdict
After all is said and done, I still prefer dance clubs to bouzoukia. I like huge dance floors and the fact that I don't have to spend an hour trying to fight my way the 20 metres to the stage and where the cover charge won't mean my financial ruination. But you can't say you've had a night out on the Greek town if you haven't been to bouzoukia so pick a singer you like, find out where he or she performs, and try it out if you're not claustrophobic and allergic to flowers.

Sunday, January 22, 2006 

It Was Bound to Happen

Sun, Sand....and lineups

When you become a permanent resident of Athens, you will also become a permanent victim of bureacracy. No matter how prepared you are, you will spend hours every week waiting in endless lineups to pay your bills or deal with the necessary evil called the civil service. Just because you wait patiently in a line-up does not mean that you will complete your transactions. That's just the first step in a long and arduous journey of lost paperwork, misinformed staff, strikes, vacations, and numerous mistakes which will keep you running from one department to another and they're usually never in the same building. Chances are, you will never get anything done the first time around and you will soon realize that employees and civil servants are never accountable for their own ineptitude and incompetence. You will be sent on a week long paperchase only to find out that all your efforts were for nought since the papers you received weren't the right ones or even necessary to have once you return them to a different clerk within the same department. I am almost convinced it's all part of the master plan to keep Greek citizens so wrapped up in paperwork so they don't have idle time on their hands to criticise the government and demand better service.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me to read that an off-duty policeman and his brother beat up a town planning clerk in front of his colleagues because the clerk had lost the man's mother's application for electricity connection to her home. What does surprise me is that situations like this one doesn't happen more often.

Saturday, January 21, 2006 

Greek Issues Chat Room Now Open!

I have good news. Not only has OTE decided to fix whatever was wrong with my ADSL connection after being without internet for 4 days this week, but a fellow blogger, Eff25, has created a chat room for us.

I talked to him about my desire to chat with bloggers and commenters alike in real time because I like the immediacy of being able to discuss issues on my blog or on other blogs. So, now I have a place where other bloggers and commenters can discuss, rant, and interact in real time.

The room is hosted on the server. If you don't see the room there listed by opening the home page, you can click on the direct link in the sidebar and it should open the room for you. All you need to do is register a nickname for yourself and join the room from the list or from the links in my sidebar. Eff has also created a blog with the links there as well. I will usually be in the room early in the morning before I go to work and in the evenings after work so come for a visit! Even if you don't have any Greek issues to discuss, just come for a real time conversation. Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, January 16, 2006 

Knowing When to Hold or Fold

It could be worse but it could also be a lot better.

For the past several weeks, I've been attending parties and dinners for Christmas, New Year's, birthdays and name days. As much as I love to go to these events, socialize and have some fun with my friends, the 'party' atmosphere was missing. The same people, music and food were present but at each and every event, the mood soured when the conversation turned to everyone's plans for the New Year.

It's no secret that the cost of living, inflation and unemployment are increasing in Greece while our salaries (for those of us still employed) are barely keeping up. For the first time in 5 years, our stores suffered a 25% decrease in sales. Two relatives of one of our friends ended up shutting down their businesses after 30 years in operation. Those who are employed complain of working longer hours with no increase in salary. Recent university graduates who came home from abroad for Christmas said they wouldn't be returning to Greece to live and work because it's just not worth it. I don't really blame them since the salaries they'd receive here pale in comparison to what they're getting in Finland, Germany and the US. One 42 year-old woman who lost her executive position last year said it took her 8 months to find another a legal secretary for a law firm. She considered herself lucky to find it. One thing's for sure, this present economic climate is affecting everyone across the board...from graduates to employees to business owners.

With all these tales of woe, it's no wonder that as the night wore on, many of them asked me what I'm still doing in Greece. They said if they had half the chance to leave, they would. This comes as a surprise to me since 8 years ago, these were the very same people telling me that Greeks who left Greece during the Junta were cowards. At that time, I told them cowards don't leave the country and family they know and love to move thousands of miles away to create new lives for themselves. Cowards don't abandon everything they've ever known to exchange it for the mere possibility of a better life elsewhere...struggling with a new language and culture without the support of their immediate family. Those words fell on deaf ears then and now, they are asking me how difficult it would be for them to emigrate to Canada. I was asked this question so much over the holidays, I figure the Canadian Dept. of Immigration should be paying me a salary for all the work I did on their behalf.

As much as I would hate to leave such a beautiful country as Greece and all the wonderful experiences I've had here, I would be lying if I said that I haven't considered going back to Canada. It's a decision I don't take lightly because I would have gone after the first 6 months when I found it the most difficult to be here. But I have my son's future to consider and with things as they are, I don't see much of a future for him in Greece. If only I had some faith in the current government's ability to turn this country around but with 37 government appointees fired or resigned (Markoyiannakis was #37) due to incompetence and corruption, the signs don't look positive.

I liken my dilemma to a game of poker. Should I continue to bet on the 'two pair' I was dealt in Greece or should I fold and find a game in Canada where a four of a kind or flush may await me. I never mastered the art of knowing when to hold my cards and when to fold so I guess it becomes that much more difficult for me to know if staying here and weathering the storm will prove to be the right choice. I can't speak for all Greeks, but for me, I'm playing the waiting game and hoping against all odds that the worst is over and better times are ahead.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 

Families and Marriages

If you've ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I'm sure you all remember the scene where the groom-to-be's parents are invited to their future Greek in-laws home for a dinner. The emotionally cold parents show up with a Bundt cake on their doorstep and are literally overwhelmed by the multitude of extended family members as well as their affectionate nature. For those of you think that the scene was over the top, think again. Greeks really are like that and I love it. It took awhile to get used to all the kisses and hand-holding when people first met me because I had grown up where 'personal space' was to be respected and public displays of affection were for the weak and those of questionable character.

I was exactly like that couple in the movie...wondering what on earth these people were up to with all their touchy-feely behaviour. I would recoil in horror when so many people would greet me with a kiss. I would retract my hand when relatives would try to hold onto it while talking to me. I just didn't know what their intentions were, so I did everything I could to avoid physical contact with them. Looking back at it all now, I must have seemed like such an inhospitable and cold-blooded creature to them.

I was born into a large extended family as well where everyone knew what everyone else was doing and if they didn't, they made it a priority to find out. I grew up knowing that no matter what happened in my life, my family would be there for me and I am grateful for it. However, I remember being taught to be distrustful of strangers which is the antithesis of what I experience with Greek families. They don't even have to be related to you to consider you family so every party, BBQ, dinner I attend, I am greeted with the same affection that I, myself, had reserved only for blood-relations in the past. You should see me now. I'm a changed person. Their affectionate nature is infectious. I no longer balk at being the first person to answer the door so I wouldn't be deluged with kisses. My Cold War is over. I've exchanged handshakes for kisses and hand waves for hugs.

Although Greek families are very close, I've noticed something else. Many marriages seem to be dysfunctional. Spouses who are married on paper only. One or both partners are unfaithful. I've personally known several women who grew up with both their mothers and their father's mistress eating meals together. At first, I thought these sham marriages existed only amongst the older generation where shotgun weddings and arranged marriages were quite the norm in the previous generation. Now, I see that this is not exclusive to only older couples. It is prevalent amongst couples my own age and even younger.

When I hear of infidelities time and time again, I can't help but think the reasons they got married in the first place are the cause. Husbands and wives have told me that they got married because:
  • their families expected it
  • their girlfriends were pregnant
  • theyreached an age where they felt they wanted a family and that they could not be guaranteed of finding someone 'better' than the girlfriend they had
  • they didn't want to be alone
Love was not a deciding factor when it came to choosing a spouse in these marriages. Many of the weddings that I have attended over the years are already showing the signs of emotional detachment if not infidelity. Even though very few of them will ever get divorced as would be the case in North America, they have a 'τι να κάνω" (what to do?) attitude towards it all. I suppose, then, that it doesn't suprise me to hear that half of all married men visit prostitutes according to Thanos Askitis, a clinical psychologist who founded Greece's first sex therapy centre.

People have blamed this disturbing statistic on the increased availability of strip clubs and legalisation of prostitution. Do strip clubs and brothels facilitate infidelity or are they the result of unstable relationships? I believe it's a symbiotic association. One is dependent on the other.

I would also like to know the demographics of the men visiting the brothels. What are their ages, their socio-economic status, and the geographic regions of the men included in Mr. Askitis' research study. I doubt many of the men I know visit brothels. Instead they have preferred to find long-term mistresses. So who's visiting the brothels?

If more couples were as devoted to each other as they are to their children, then none of this would even matter. With STDs on the rise, I would think that even self-preservation would be reason enough to keep men monogamous and women dedicated to both marriage and family.

Monday, January 09, 2006 

A Meme by Me

Diva just tagged me for a MEME. Although I've been blogging for over a year now, I didn't know what the word 'meme' meant. So I looked it up and found this definition...

“ meme n (mëm): A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. From the Greek mimëma, something imitated, from mimeisthai, to imitate. ”

In Blogspeak, a meme is an idea that is shared and passed from blog to blog, like a question posted in one blog and answered in many other blogs.

Because I loved the Proust Questionnaires on the back page of Vanity Fair magazine, I will now do my part and contribute to this meme.


Waitress. That lasted all of 3 weeks. What can I say? Most people don't deserve to be waited on.
Social Page Editor. I was the Birth/Deaths/Events lady at the newspaper. Interviewing Miss Azalea and the Dental Hygienist of the Year got me fired (apparently complaints were made about my apathy regarding their accomplishments) and I ended up in the Art Department.
Graphic Artist. Most of my co-workers believed I would meet my untimely death by an X-acto knife but technology intervened, and my blood levels were restored with the conversion to desktop publishing.
Production Manager. Finally, a job that I liked and excelled at. Working on tight deadlines and to strict budgets suited my autocratic personality.

The Sopranos
The History Channel
The Discovery Channel

Fight Club
Sound of Music
The English Patient

Halifax, Nova Scotia
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Athens, Greece


Mel's Diner
Devious Diva

Vegetarian Lasagna

Inside the Oval Office
Inside MI-6 Headquarters
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Any traditional house on a Greek island

I like so many different types of music and musicians that there is no humanly way I can narrow them down to just 4.

Kawasaki motorbike
Chevrolet Nova
Mazda 626
Toyota Yaris

If I don't tag anyone does this mean evil things will happen to me?

Sunday, January 08, 2006 


About 5 minutes ago, most of Greece experienced another earthquake. The latest reports say it measured 6.4 on the Richter scale and lasted 13.4 seconds. The epicentre was about 215 miles from the coast of Crete.

I have experienced tornadoes, ice storms, hurricanes, blizzards but nothing scares me as much as an earthquake. There are no warnings. You can't see them coming. You can't prepare for them. I feel like I'm being held hostage on the 6th floor. It's not a matter of just opening the door and running onto the street.

Every time I feel an earthquake, I'm wondering if it's just a precursor for a bigger one. To say I'm nervous is a gross understatement. I will no doubt break out in hives again. At least I have my son who is much calmer than me. By the time I left my bedroom, he was already under the massive oak dining room table telling me to join him. My husband was even calmer. He did nothing. Just as he had when the 1999 quake struck and the one in Zakynthos over 2 years ago. It'll take at least all the forces of nature to get him to move faster than a snail's pace.

My son has already put his guinea pig cage under the table in the event that there are more quakes and aftershocks to follow today. As for me, I'm feigning calmness. If I had a tent, I'd be camping in the street for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006 

From Ruins to Wonders

On the ferry to Santorini a few years ago, my husband and I befriended a congenial and talkative Australian world traveller. This man had left his country two years prior to see the world and when we met him he was on the last leg of his journey back to his native Australia. To fund his globetrotting, he would sell a head of cattle from his cattle ranch and have the money forwarded to a bank in whichever city he was in at the time. Since he had left Athens with us, we asked him what he thought of the Acropolis compared to other monuments elsewhere. I expected him to respond like I had when I first visited the Acropolis...that it was truly a remarkable architectural feat and a privilege to stand in the same place as the ancients before me. Instead, he simply responded, "If you've seen one ruin, you've seen them all."

Now that the 7 Wonders of the World list is being updated, I wonder if he'd vote for any particular one or stick with his original opinion.

Out of a possible 77 structures, UNESCO in collaboration with the World Heritage List has shortlisted 21 nominees:

the Acropolis, Athens
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
the Eiffel Tower, Paris
the Statue of Liberty, New York
Jesus the Saviour, Rio de Janeiro
Sydney Opera House, Australia
the Colosseum, Rome
Stonehenge, Great Britain
the town Petra, Jordan
the Taj Mahal, India
the Stone Statues on Easter Island
the Great Wall of China
the Kremlin, Russia
Timbuktu, Mali
Machu Picchu, Peru
the pyramids of Chichen Itza, Mexico
the castle of Alhambra, Spain
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
the temple of Angkor Wat, Cambodia
the temple of Kiyomizu, Tokyo.
the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Having only seen two (Statue of Liberty and the Acropolis) of the monuments personally, I would definitely vote for the Acropolis. The Great Pyramid of Giza is a 'must' for inclusion because it's the only remaining monument of the original 7 Wonders of the World. As for the rest, I'd have to do some research before casting my vote for the remaining five. Which ones would you choose?