“I Can’t Wait To Get Out Of (Greece) This Country”

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This morning, I had to go for a COVID Rapid Test as having that done then obtaining a certificate of a negative result is the only way I can access some shopping I want to do. While waiting at the Bioiatriki office located close to the border of Nea Ionia and Nea Irakliou in Attica, I happened to hear an elderly woman, most likely in her 70’s, speaking in English on her mobile phone. She sounded as if she was having some stressful issues, although I could not hear exactly what she was saying.

After my test was completed, the woman, who’s name turned out to be Katharine, was still sitting in front of the testing centre and she had a distraught appearance on her face and knowing she spoke English fluently, I wondered if she needed some assistance or even a helpful voice to speak with that she could understand fully. I do appreciate it myself when that happens, here in Greece.

It turns out Katherine is from Arizona and works/volunteers her time at a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to St. John in Arizona. One of her dreams was to visit Patmos – for those who are not aware, Patmos is the island where John, the author of the Book Of Revelation, was exiled to and where he wrote his prophecies. On the island of Patmos, there are churches and monasteries of course dedicated to this St. John, and Katherine was able to realize her dream and had just spent some time there.

She apparently had arrived in Greece on a one-way ticket, not originally in a rush to get back home to the USA. But today, she was in a rush.

“I can’t wait to get out of this country,” she said to me. “Everything is insane here.”

She had my sympathies right away. Greeks do not understand my own frustrations regarding how things are done in Greece and how insane it can be. Sadly, I think Plato wrote “The Cave” for modern day Greece. It is sad actually, because Greece could be a very rich country despite the lack of natural resources (other than of course, the ubiquitous beauty of the landscapes in the country).

One could of course blame the COVID pandemic for Katherine’s frustrations, but the problems are far more deep-rooted than the pandemic. The insane bureaucracy, rules, regulations – Katherine pointed out to me, which I well know from my own experience, that she can call four different government agencies here for information, and get four totally different answers. As I’ve often pointed out to anyone who will listen here, it’s like the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, and the feet are moving in different directions.

But that is the natural result of far too much bureaucracy and regulation. Seldom are “unintended consequences” thought out; instead, a new rule to try to deal with the unintended consequences, which of course, will have it’s own unintended consequences and the result is a lack of freedom, a lack of respect for time, and even life here is not all that valuable except in words.

Katherine has been staying in the area for the past several days I assume with a friend – but the friend has no internet access. But Katherine cannot get internet access from a cafe or other place as she is not allowed to visit without a negative test. When she makes phone calls to try to get information, she’s told to go online…. but of course, she cannot read Greek. She has no idea how to navigate the hell of Greek bureaucracy.

Katherine pointed out (similar to my first thoughts when planning my first trip to Greece) how excited she was to come here, and see places where so-called Western Values apparently first appeared, ideas of liberty and freedom… and the utter disappointment and frustrations she has felt – doubled down with dumb COVID regulations not well thought out, and their unintended consequences.

Katherine was unable to check her email – but happily, I have some mobile credits available on my phone from Cosmote. I was able to create a “hotspot” on my mobile phone and provided the lady with the password – the happiness that showed on her face at being able to check her email was wonderful to see. Sadly, one of the emails she was hoping for – a confirmation of her plane ticket home – was not there yet.

I had to leave Katherine after awhile, as I had my own Greek bureaucratic madness to deal with, and while I am not leaving Greece in the next few days, I certainly understood her frustrations and why she never wants to return to this country. Sadly, many Greeks don’t even seem to realize the madness they deal with; they just accept it as a normal way of life and don’t understand that all this time spent on rules and regulations means not spending time on being productive, or enjoying life the way they might want to, otherwise. They just don’t “get it.”

Oh… and all this to fight a pandemic, where in Greece, the MEDIAN age of Covid deaths is …. 78.

The Prime Minister here, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, promised to reduce bureaucracy before he was elected. He did not do that. He does seem to have moved some of it, to online bureaucracy in an attempt to make bureaucracy more efficient, but the bureaucracy has not disappeared. Greeks are just as unfree as they were before he was elected. Greece remains at around #73 on the world’s freedom index – a spot I’m sure Greek heroes such as Theodoros Kolokotronis would be disgusted with. And that freedom index spot is likely to get worse, as PM Mitsotakis now brings in new laws in regard to “fake news” being a crime – which could have horrible effects on the press here in this country.

But hey, the “Greek sun” is nice….

2 thoughts on ““I Can’t Wait To Get Out Of (Greece) This Country””

  1. Hey, interesting read. True what you say about Greece. But I want to point out that many of us Greeks living here, we do “get it” 100% and we too hate it, same as you. We too are trying to navigate the same maze everyday, when trying to start and run a business, get anything done with the public sector, etc. We absolutely get it and it also pains us that our country is that way. Giorgos Seferis said it best: “wherever I may travel, Greece hurts me”.

    My theory is that the political circle is so tightly run by specific people with specific upbringings, that all the sane and good people of Greece just cannot and don’t want to get into politics and try to change things because they are just not that kind of people and they cannot navigate this network. Or they get into politics and then the power structure changes them or doesn’t allow them to make a significant change. Have things gotten better with the years? Maybe some things are and some things are changing slowly. Other times specific incidents makes you think that nothing has changed. Don’t forget that Greece is a nation with a very turbulent history, a bloody civil war, with no big industries and always influenced by the big players in the global sphere of geopolitics. Where we ever truly an independent nation? Are we now that we have sold our airports, ports, railroads and so much else to foreign companies? Not that this is an excuse for anything but I do believe the harsh history of this nation played its role on how things get done in Greece, what power structures were formed, the mentality of the people and how they are trying to survive.

    On the other hand you do see many people from abroad moving here because they love it and want to get away from their countries. Lately many Germans are buying properties here after they retire. I guess each one weighs the pros and cons and their own limits and compromises they are willing to make.

    1. Hello Mikis, thank you very much for the reply and for your insights and observations. Thanks also for sharing the quote by Giorgos Seferis!

      I do realize that Greece has had a turbulent history, and it is a good “excuse” for awhile – but at some point, Greeks have to and MUST, if they want to see change, figure out how to demand this Eleftheria that their ancestors fought for. There is an “interesting” to me way of looking at life that I have observed here – a couple of things:

      1. Often when I bring up things that are not good, I get a response something like, “Ah, but the Greek sun….” as if Greeks somehow own the sun, and that it’s the sunniest place in the world. Which it is not. Anything south of the latitude of Virginia and north of the equator gets more intense sun in the summer time than Greece does. 🙂 But I suppose for northern Europeans, there is something to be said for the sunshine in the summer in Greece.

      2. There are systemic ways of thinking about things here, that really do need to change. For example, I had a conversation with a very intelligent man (he’s been a naval military captain and seems to have a good general knowledge of things) and pointed out some of the differences – and commented, “If one of your daughters, when they are teenagers have a great idea and want to start their own business, it will be virtually impossible for them with the bureaucracy and regulations including monthly social payments they must make, even if the business has not made a single sale or a cent of profit.”

      He really did not get what I was saying and instead retorted, “my daughters won’t be ready to start their own businesses when they are teenagers. That is too young to start a business.”

      He just doesn’t “get it.” Whether they are ready or not because of their age is not the point. In fact, starting a business without encumbrances when others think you are not ready is a hallmark of a free society. I had a paper route as a child; it was my own business. I have started several businesses, most of them have failed until recently. That of course, was in Canada. The point is, I have been FREE to at least try, fail, and learn.

      I agree many people are looking at Greece as a place to live in retirement. I have Greek friends in Canada who would love to retire to Greece, but they have told me in no uncertain terms would they ever return to Greece to work and do business.

      I do not write this in malice; I have loved the Greeks I have met while I’ve been here, and for some reason, most of them have seemed to have liked me… haha… and we drink, sing, talk, joke, laugh, and get along VERY well (perhaps because of my Northern Irish background/birth – in many ways, Greeks are very much like the Irish/Scot-Irish).

      While Greece may not have much industry or natural resources, it has smart people – that is the biggest asset any peoples can have, but sadly, smart people in Greece often do much better in an environment where there is more freedom.

      Anyways, this could all make for a very interesting discussion – keep in touch 🙂

      Ian

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