If the first things that appear in your mind are remotely related to ouzo, bouzoukia, souvlaki, strobe-lit nightclubs and, heaven forbid, feta cheese, then the best path for you would be the backspace button. If you are easily offended, that route is also highly suggested.
Greeks nowadays seldom speak their minds, and most have taken to living in corners of silence, wordless and accepting, unwilling to change anything about the world that is falling apart at their feet. No punches will be packed here, though, and, as a last warning, any of those who take offense at blunt speaking should take care not to continue past this sentence.
This is not meant to be a pessimistic account of daily life; but rather the opinion of one who cannot truly grasp any ends in this country, and one who needs an immediate and possibly permanent reprieve of it. Greece is not for everyone, just as the United States of America is not for everyone: “to each his own” is the principle we must not forget, but this saying does not mean that the minimum criteria for a good life must be utterly ignored.
It is quite implausible to think that the majority of the Greeks -- a good many of them being veteran money-guzzlers -- would reform and leave their ways in order to assure a better way of life for most.
Indeed, it is even implausible to think that the simplest things in this country can be done without preamble: it often comes down to consulting dozens of doctors (each with their own miraculously perceptive medical opinion) about one ailment; construction of buildings and house-maintenance are notoriously known for their trials and ordeals, the commonest being faulty frames and banned-something-or-other being used in the walls. The closing and occupation of schools by “student councils,” the ridiculous and atrocious treatment of our universities -- supposed sanctuaries of knowledge -- and the desperate state of the public hospitals are some things to ponder. The useless and redundant “strikes” that take place at Piraeus are another to mull over.
To whittle away generalizations, let us take an example from the daily life of an average Greek: most who have visited Greece or lived here for a period of time know well of the day by day machinations of her citizens. A broader scope of it usually includes the ambiguous frappe (a frothy concoction prepared with instant coffee and milk) a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cigarettes, and, most importantly, chatter, which does not have to include even vaguely intelligent conversation.
Whilst saying that other people in other countries do not gossip ceaselessly or prattle on unendingly about the minute irrelevancies of their individual lives would be wrong, it would be absolutely correct to say that there is a type of Greek nitpicking that can only be found in the crowded coffee shops that dot the fashionable Kolonaki square, in downtown Athens (home of the Young, and not so young, and the Useless) and the slightly more bearable northern suburb of Kifissia. This tried and tested (and almost ritualistic) habit of spending one’s free time seems to be a mold that fits all ages: the younger generation slips into this schedule seamlessly; they learn by imitation and often hazardous exploration, as most cannot rely upon their parents for guidance or anything close to a friendly connection.
Flocks of girls barely aged twelve roam the streets -- it is strange to see that the highly valued and continually preached individualism (most often shown through rejection of school uniform) has reduced them to the very thing they are trying to escape: carbon copies. The groups of teenagers are usually singled out due to their particular conduct, be it loud and fun-loving, dangerously happy and obviously intoxicated, or cell-phone equipped and endlessly texting.
The ones that you cannot spot (see: never present) are usually those who either do not conform with said group or do not share the same aspirations and find themselves asking why they do not have company. Again, it would be wrong to say that the entire Greek youth is a rabble of disorganized hooligans; but it would be right to mention that a good many of them do not bother with their studies and there is a disturbingly large percentage of those that are highly ignorant in more ways than one, ready to treat others with the same uncultured manners they have picked up from their own home and "family" environment.
As with any other place in the world, there are exceptions. It is amazingly painful to discover such exceptions in a place like Greece, for their chances of success here are quickly stifled; and the willingness with which their fellow citizens would drag them down is disturbing.
It seems that the level of general social acceptance stops somewhere at “mildly able” and is very much stretched at “hardworking.” Kindness is a green-light for bullies of all types, ranging from the lukewarm jab-thrower to the lethally venomous product of fashionable lifestyle (these usually come with expensive bag reproductions and/or Botox and executioner-worthy stiletto heels, fully operational). Hierarchy is predominantly waged by the size of moneybags and the eminence of social networks. Though this might not come as a large surprise to many, this does not make it any less horrible or unbearable to live with.
It is difficult to believe that a country with such a rich past, speckled with discoveries, theories, great thinkers and some of the most charismatic people the history has ever witnessed, is able to spiral down into such a maelstrom of chaos.
Perhaps the most hurtful thing of it all is that this very same chaos is a conflict that could have entirely been avoided. In reality, though, Greeks have changed very little throughout the ages: they famously asked for the right to fight amongst themselves when Rome stretched her hand of conquest into Greece and the Romans allowed the Greeks one freedom they could have. And what of the Greeks now? There is not much difference, truly, but the essence of the people has changed. Whereas there was the occasional light at the end of the tunnel for the Ancient Greeks, it is debatable whether there is even a shimmer of it for those who live in Greece now and have serious expectations of themselves and hopes for their futures. It is simply a matter of the country’s economy, which has become recently the tragic laughingstock of reporters and columnists worldwide.
What once was the cradle of democracy has been cheapened into a grimy city, one where close to none cares for it, its people, and its history.
Ancient monuments crumble stone by stone everyday, but there is none to tend to them. The sacred monument of the Acropolis is often shut to visitors from the far corners of the world because Culture ministry employees are on strike and take it upon themselves to bolt the gates and cover the noble rocks with their filthy banners. The legacy which our ancestors fought for -- which they gave their blood, their livelihoods, and their families for -- is being besmirched and disgraced by the behavior of those who do not care to unblock their ears to listen, to learn, and, above all, to respect.
So, what does it mean to be Greek?
No one is truly sure anymore, but word of mouth says it means we are disruptive, loudmouthed, dishonest, and infamously rude; and perhaps more than a bit xenophobic. True Greeks are the last of a dying breed, and they have been for a while; they linger in the pages of textbooks (but soon, they, too, will be erased) and in the corridors of the minds of our grandmothers and forefathers. They are very rarely found in today’s Greece amongst the disorder, the street thugs, the corruption, and the fledgling terrorists.
The Greece of friendly, open houses and warm lights in the evening has all but vanished. It is replaced by a world unknown, cold, impersonal, and increasingly dark -- a world in which we have no hopes of recalling what is lost.
There is no imagining the burden of those who carry memories of Greece as it was before in them. Sometimes one must wonder if it is better that they have not known, not tasted the way their home it was before. The supposition, however, is thus: we all carry a fragment of this truth in us, and it is a matter of whether we would like to acknowledge it, or, indeed, even admit that it is there.
This is our very own cross to bear.