New Year reflections

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This year feels a bit different. I am more reluctant to make New Year resolutions and I don’t care to spend time spent wishing and liking Facebook posts. I have eaten a shameful amount of cakes and sweets and strangely that does not bother me either.

The only thing that have started getting a bit on my nerves is the amount of times I have been told that I should have a second baby or asked when I am planning to have a second child (because apparently  now is the time),  or had people compare my weight to last year (especially to tell me that I look “healthier” now). I  reached the unheard of point of stop smiling and nodding politely  when someone is annoying. I experimented a couple of times by trying to be less social at family get-togethers just to see how the others manage without my oh so appropriate comments. Even uncomfortable silences bother me less now.

So yes, this year I do feel that i am getting older. And naturally my criticisms and observations extend to my own faults and the negatives of my character which i try to acknowledge fairly.

But I guess this is just part of the annual Greek family gatherings,for which i am thankful. All the great home made food and wine, loud comments, gestures and grimaces make a great evening if you manage to navigate the conversation away from politics, the financial crisis, people’s children and unnecessary gossip, and instead dig out some interesting story from the past or a family anecdote of beloved family members that are no longer here.

And laugh off the Christmas family dinner tension with a glass of wine and another piece of baklava. One should be grateful to have a family that annoys and embarrasses them. (Provided that you fight back firmly, stoically and with a slight touch of passive aggressiveness).

Happy New Year everyone!

Greek Referendum: Germany should be thankful for the OXI, it is the only moral basis for negotiation.

The Greek referendum crisis resembles a marriage crisis. The “cheater” was punished years ago with long term austerity, hardship and humiliation. One day she decided she is fed up with the hardships and even though she really does not want a divorce, if he keeps punishing her like he has done for years, she will file for one. He now feels angry and humiliated at her rebellion which exposed fully his unforgiving character to all their common friends and – passive aggressively- remains silent and vague about their future together. The ball is in his court to decide whether he will finally forgive her or let her go.

This is of course an oversimplified analogy and it is common sense that countries and their representatives do not act emotionally or whimsically. But then again whoever experienced the Greek Referendum and had the chance to look closely at the OXI voters can easily see that this was a matter of heart and pride, an emotional explosion and outcome of years of built up frustration.

When you ask your people a question, they are likely to be honest about how they feel about it. Simple people have straightforward answers. And in the case of Greece, the vast majority of the OXI voters are young and belong to a new generation that opposes lots of things. They not only object to more unemployment, poverty and humiliation but they object to the Greek political and social status quo. They say NO to political corruption, nepotism, media monopolisation and the shameless manipulation of the public by the mainstream media. They say NO to lack of functional institutions and shady laws.

Young Greeks want to remain part of European Union but they fully realise that in order to truly be there they need to get rid of debris from the past. That was the NO of the new blood. And it was even more reinforced by the weakness and lack of respect of the YES campaign, carried out by discredited symbols of the old political world.

Germany should be thankful for the Greek “No”. It shows maturity and willingness to be European in the true sense of the word. It shows responsibility and desire to be treated like an equal, not a misbehaved kid. It shows commitment to carry out its responsibilities and to work hard towards economic development. It is the only moral stance on which an honest and productive relationship can be built.

Analyzing Rudeness – A Rant

Yesterday I had perhaps my first serious rudeness incident in Sweden. I was shocked. People in Sweden generally are not rude in the sense that they avoid conflict and confrontation. But when they are rude they are awkwardly rude like that woman yesterday.

I am not good at responding to rude strangers, I always seem to be ill prepared. I am so dumbfounded when someone acts like an ass and very often I take too much time to digest what just happened. (In many ways I am a Swede) By the time I am mentally prepared to put together a response the incident has passed.

So I am in a coffee shop with my baby and I am waiting for two women to leave a table, the only available sofa in the place. I stand right next to their sofas as they slowly put their jackets on. I try not to block their way out and allow them space to walk out before I move the baby trolley there. It is obvious to everyone around that I am waiting to sit down. Suddenly a woman holding a tray walks in out of nowhere, completely bypassing me and places her tray on the table before the women are done leaving. I look at her intensely and she then pretends to see me for the first time. She looks at me feigning amazement, as if I just landed from space. I notice that she is in her late 40’s too and pulling such an act is beyond ridiculous. She wins and I and baby take off.
I am speechless: This is the first serious rudeness incident in Sweden. I mean here and there I have witnessed minor stuff, like people pushing or bumping into you on the metro and not apologizing. But nothing over the top that will make you think what the hell?

So that made me think of the rudest things I have witnessed in places I have lived.
Greece is by far the rudest place, with numerous incidents in the last few years that I can recall. We Greeks can be the kindest people ever towards friends and family but when it comes to strangers show little to no solidarity. Back home we are still working on basic rules like “let the passengers out first” at the metro or that a group of three people does not really need six chairs at a restaurant to sit their bags when others are standing. To be fair, there has always been some kind of invisible threat lurking in the Greek public life, a certain lack of security and trust. Try letting the passengers out first, and the bus might leave without you, is one example. But still this is not an excuse for every act of rudeness.

So here is a short list of the worst, rudest things I can recall in different places I have lived or visited:

Greece: I was sleeping on a bench of a cruise ship on my way back to Athens from a Greek island when an old woman who just boarded the ship from the holy island of Tinos smacked me to wake me up so she could sit on the bench with me. Yes that’s right, she smacked me. And that was the typical dressed in black, golden cross wearing, pious yia-yia (granny), the backbone of the Greek society. An old lady, one of the hundreds that visit the holy island of Tinos every year to pray for their beloved ones. What an original way to end a religious quest.

China: In China people can be rude towards waiguo ren (foreigners). Consciously or subconsciously- I am not sure if they always realize it. One of the topics many Chinese love to pry into is money. Back when I was a student in Beijing there was the impression among many Chinese that all foreigners are rich and somewhat spoilt. How much do you earn, how much do your clothes cost and if they cost that much where did you find the money to buy these things? I remember one day I was harassed by a horrible language teacher who wanted to know at all costs where did I find the money to take her class.

France: I am at the top of the world, sitting at a lovely Parisian restaurant with tears in my eyes. My boyfriend has just asked me to marry him and has given me the most beautiful diamond ring. I want to scream to the whole world that I am engaged and share my happiness with strangers. But everyone is so quiet in there, they speak in that low unwelcoming private voice… The loud American that was sitting behind me and made friends with everyone has unfortunately left, I am sure he would respond to my happiness if he were still there. Wrong timing, the cold eyed waitress is approaching with the dessert. Her eyes land on my ring and then meet mine. “I am engaged!” I tell her filled with emotion. Staring at my ring she gives me the dirtiest look a waiter has ever given me and only exclaims “Oh” before she turns her back to walk away. (On that occasion she failed to ruin my evening, and she even got an undeserving tip).

UK: I leave UK last. The reason is I do not remember anything too hurtful happening in the UK and if there was something it was not by British people. An event that comes in mind is a British guy I had never seen before grabbing my behind at a bar. I was shocked but did not confront him. A few minutes later he appeared again and apologized for the incident which happened because “he was drunk”. (You see, that is why Britons are awesome…)

Obviously now when I look back at those incidents I find them almost amusing but of course that was not the case when they happened. There is the rudeness you can respond to and there is also the passive aggressive behavior that certain people have and it is hard to prove with facts. You cannot always laugh off rude incidents. Sometimes when extreme rudeness leaves you speechless you just have to to let the caveman/cavewoman inside you take over. At the end of the day it’s healthy.

But not letting things get to you is at the end of the day the best response you can give to people’s negativity and aggressiveness.

SSW

Arbetsförmedlingen: How to not get a job in Sweden

As an English speaking job seeker in Sweden I got acquainted with Arbetsförmedlingen  , the official governmental employment agency.  To be honest some non local friends had warned me against registering for Job Coaching, as it would be a waste of time. But having recently obtained my Personal Number in Sweden and being an active job seeker, I thought it would not do any harm exploring all my options. Besides, an acquaintance recommended a career consultant who, once I were successfully enrolled in an employment program, would help me with my job search.

So it works that way: Once you have your Personal Number you have the right to go to any Arbetsförmedlingen office in town, create a CV on their database and then register as a Job Seeker.  In this application you include the name and details of the professional you wish to have as a Career Consultant or Job Coach, and that person is being contacted by Arbetsförmedlingen  to sign up an agreement with them that he or she will help you with your job search. They are paid by the State to do so, regardless of the outcome. They are paid for the coaching.

Before I tell you my experience I want to make something clear: I applied for the program as an English speaker and having no knowledge of Swedish. I do not claim that it is supposed to be easy for a person that does not speak a country’s native language to compete with native speakers in the local job market. Very much the opposite. But English is the official language of many companies, and in the healthy Swedish economy there are multinationals that do not formally request knowledge of Swedish.  Surely knowing the language of a country helps a lot when you apply for a job, but I repeat, multinationals are happy to employ people fluent in English. So basically it depends on the company and the role.

Day One: I have an appointment with the woman who in the next four months will be my Job Coach. She is a typical Scandinavian woman in her middle to late 40’s, blonde, cheerful and really pleasant to be around. I will call her Ingrid here. You can literally speak to her for hours; she has a very charming personality. She gives me a few tips about how to apply in Arbetsförmedlingen  and urges me to go there as soon as possible to sign her up as my Job Coach. She enthusiastically explains that we will be very busy once she is my career consultant and we will work very hard towards the end goal: getting me a job. She has after all tons of contacts in multinational companies that she could introduce me to.  International people like me are in demand if you know the right people.

“Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” is her motto.

Day Two: I finally have the Personal Number in my hands and I am entitled to register with Arbetsförmedlingen  . I show up at my local branch and I tell the blonde girl at the reception I am there to register as a Job Seeker. The girl asks for my Personal Number and I show her my little precious recently obtained ID Card. “Do you have Clearance from the Migration?” she asks. “But I am an EU citizen” I reply,  ”Sorry you need clearance from the Migration to sign up with us”. “But in order to get my Personal Number I need Migration Clearance and here I have my Personal Number.” I try one last time. “Sorry but unless you show us a paper that gives you Migration clearance we cannot help you.”.she replies.

Not feeling disheartened (I grew up in Greece after all) I decide to take the train and try a more central branch.  My decision is correct: They show me in, no questions asked. My application is handled by a very polite smiling fluent in English Swedish guy.

“So is it hard for someone with no Swedish language skills to find a job here?” I ask at some point to initiate a conversation.

“Not really, it happens, especially with people with good education” he replies kindly and makes a compliment on my CV.

He prints a document with the details of Ingrid as my Job Coach for the next 4 months.

The following four months:

My appointments with Ingrid start shortly after that. She appears to be constantly on the go and super busy with her coaching appointments. Every time I go to meet her she dashes in the room with the air of a businesswoman jumping from meeting to meeting, always looking immaculate in her black fitting suits, and very sophisticated looking holding her fancy MacBook.

Ingrid always has a story to tell. It is either about the good times she nowadays has vacationing in Greece with her Greek tycoon friends or her daughter’s professional skiing achievements. Or her daughter’s Italian vacations on a yacht with her Italian tycoon friends.   Difficult times as well of course. Like when more than 20 years ago she got a cleaning job in a restaurant in Greece. Or her wasted potential and her missed opportunity to become a prominent politician.

Ingrid one day unfortunately is feeling unwell. I show up to find her unusually gloomy and serious looking. She asks me if instead of our coaching I can join a seminar next door introducing Social Media as useful tools in Job Searching. She says the seminar is in Swedish, but would I be kind enough to join just this time and try to understand the basics. Besides, It would be such a good practice of Swedish, she adds. I reluctantly agree to join a group of people who have never heard of LinkedIn before and they appear to listen to the speaker in awe.

But thank God it is nothing serious, her feeling sick was a false alarm and she is back being her old self soon.

Time passes and I have more appointments with Ingrid. Our session usually goes like that: We meet in a private room and then she googles jobs in her sophisticated MacBook computer.  She then recommends roles for me. As a proficient Google Search Engine user I wonder when will we reach the Meet My Contacts part.  She now insists that I enroll in a Swedish language course. “It will help tremendously with your job search” she insists. I agree to do so but at the same time I try to make clear to her that I am not planning to wait around until I become fluent in yet another language in order to find a job. (In the past I have studied around six other foreign languages)

At some point she suggests I meet a girl, a fellow job seeker. “You have the same UK Masters education and you apply for the same International roles! You should definitely meet!” she says one day excited. I do not see how this would help me in my job search (especially in such a small pool of English speaking jobs) but nevertheless I meet the girl in question during one of my sessions. She is a Swede of African origins who is planning make some kind of official complaint for discrimination in the hiring process in Sweden. The girl claims that after submitting numerous job applications she cannot get a job because she is black. As Ingrid admits with honesty,” it is difficult in Sweden for a colored woman”.

I walk with the girl until the nearby metro station. As I expected, applying for the same roles does not exactly make us want to become best friends. “it must be easier for YOU” we tell each other.  I am thinking that if she could give me some of her Swedishness and I could give her some of my rather yellowish skin tone, both of us would have a much a better chance of landing a Swedish job. I am about to share this thought with her when she says goodbye and we part.

More time passes by. Ingrid still googles jobs for me. Our time is almost up now. Using the key word Greek in the search engine, Ingrid shows me a job post hiring a fluent in Greek waitress in a Greek Taverna in Stockholm.

Nothing better than have a nice Greek girl like you serve the food!” she encourages me and adds:

You should not be afraid to try waitressing or even cleaning jobs! It’s a good way to practice Swedish and make useful contacts!” she said one day near the end.

The day of our last session is here. It is almost summer and people already are talking about their Summer vacation plans.  Things have slowed down quite a bit as well.

Ingrid encourages me to keep looking and not lose faith. “Wait a minute, I have something for you” she says and goes to fetch her bag. I then realize that Ingrid is not only a talented PR person, she actually somehow likes me. Coming back she gives me a tiny box.

“A small goodbye gift for you”

And she hands me an eye shadow, silver color.

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” she reminds me for the last time before I leave.

So folks, that’s my experience with Job Coaching in Sweden .  Definitely not worth the trouble but worth recording it as I just did. The bottom line is there are English speaking jobs in Sweden but a Career Coach is not the way to find them. Nor perhaps is any conventional job searching. Remember you are competing with locals, so you have to apply very smartly  and  only for certain roles and companies. It might seem impossible in the beginning but eventually you will come across the right job posts or even better the right contacts.

Good luck to ya all.

Parenthood Lessons Chapter One

Parenthood begun for us four weeks ago when our daughter was born. Four weeks and thirty sleepless nights later our lives are completely changed. Feeding and burping the baby around the clock, as well as changing nappies every other hour is a way to practice hard core military style Discipline. It is safe now to say that if you raise kids you know what discipline is. Also, it is a good time at this moment to take the opportunity and squeeze in our sleepless lifestyle other kinds of long postponed tasks of our previous procrastinating childless life: cut down on coffee, food, time wasting on the web and the luxury of being negative. Even taking offense in each other’s words feels like a luxury.

In that sense staying at my parents’ house for the last month has not been as hard for Skywalker as perhaps I would expect it would.

“I feel so relaxed” he says one day sipping some wine while sitting at my parents’ cluttered old kitchen table, his sweater permanently stained with something that could be anything from milk to poo, his tired sleepless eyes with black bags underneath. I look at him in surprise, Skywalker never complains about feeling relaxed. In fact, he is likely to complain about feeling stressed at a five star Lavender smelling spa resort. Normally I would expect that living under my parents’ roof and having to adapt to their compulsive hoarding habit, their reluctance to modernize their ancient kitchen and bathroom appliances or their insisting to never throw away yesterday’s food would put him off somehow.

Miraculously this has not happened. To be fair, there is an ocean of booze available in the house that would make happy any man who for the last year had to take a bus in the snowstorm to go to Systembolaget just to buy a six pack of decent beer.

Children dinner is ready” My mother will shout in the evenings. I see his eyes sparkle with joy.

So far our ascetic post-partum holiday lifestyle has worked out fine. It will soon come to an end and we will have to move on to be just the three of us. Not that I intend to try to imagine how this will be like.

Parenthood Lesson Chapter One: Life is a Journey and we are only travelers.

“Conquer your Fear and you will conquer Death” Escaping Reality or Challenging our Belief System?

Lately I have been thinking of all the people I know back home that deliberately escape reality. By reality I mean all the practicalities of life-nowadays mostly related to the loss of money, acquisitions or social status-that went wrong and now appear to have dire consequences on our lives. Of course Life is not about money and our reality should not be about taxes and debts.

In debt ridden Greece a growing number of people, unable to control how things will turn out in their lives, appear to choose to sweep problems under the carpet. After all maybe what the Science guys say about perception based reality might be true and perhaps the problem will just disappear once you turn your attention away from it?? Or something like that. (Higgs boson bottom line interpretation by those of us who never had any idea of what particle physics is saying).

Truth is we all have different ways to cope with things. Our minds process information in different ways and we subconsciously or consciously choose our defense mechanisms. In this sense every single piece of information out there is perceived by each and every one of us in a different way. We could never go into another person’s mind and experience their perception. We can never know what they truly fear or feel in its totality even if we spend hours and hours psychoanalyzing them by listening them trying to explain. In this sense what we call our gut instinct about people can often give us information that we cannot logically justify.

The devastating financial crisis has brought radical changes as to how we see our closest family members, friends, colleagues, or our selves. It has changed the way we see society and life. It has changed the way we visualize the future, and it has altered our value and belief system. People cannot easily adapt to radical lifestyle changes. There are those who often prefer to shut down and dwell in the past or in a better place on their minds and hearts. A growing number of people around me, at the expense of others as society rushes in to remind us, would rather hold on to these illusions for a bit longer. Maybe if they let go they feel they have nowhere else to go.

There might be a feeling of sadness when you observe, but in the mind of the object/person there is probably peace. Peace after all, like fear, exists primarily in the mind. Is it real peace?? Society critically attacks. Will it be real peace when the bank comes knocking on your door and claim your house? Or when you realize that despite waking up every day at 7 and go to what you once called work you have neither income nor real work to do. Probably there is no way to escape what is happening in the country right now. And you will wake up one day feeling it. They want you to feel it after all.

No matter what happens, the bottom line will remain the same: it will never really be about the bank balance, the house or the car. What will matter most will be the family, the companionship, the love, the laugh you shared that night. It will be about the good time you had and about how good you felt. It will always be about those nice experiences that the chemicals in your brain or the energy of the place or the people created for you that moment in time. You will never be sure what it was exactly, but you will hold on dearly to it.

My conscience says deal with it with Dignity and that is how lots of people do it right now. But when it gets too upsetting, too much, too devastating, too ugly, sweep it under the carpet and refuse to be sad. Refuse to be overwhelmed by fear and defeat. Like everything else in life, these too, are part of the same illusion.

My experience with NGOs and “institutionalized” Help

In the past I have spoken a bit harshly about Ngos. I intend to keep it that way. I suspect that the last thing the human species needs right now is somebody to pick up the pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support turning a blind eye to pain, loss, or grief. Quite the opposite. I just think that the whole concept of humanity and humanitarian action can no longer be isolated in strict institutional frameworks, manipulated as a political instrument to keep things on an even keel.

Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. These are principles that do not interest anyone anymore in politics or in most professions as a matter of fact. Somehow they are seen as dated principles, linked to dying religious beliefs and truth is they carry an innuendo of embarrassment as well. Yes, embarrassment, because kindness is seen as a form of weakness. Try writing in a job application Cover Letter something like “I am an honest or just person” instead of the equivalent of “I am a corporate slave”. You don’t like where this is going? Ok, let’s move on.

My experience working for a prominent Greek NGO which in this blog I call The Public Sector for obvious reasons has been an interesting one. Its rampant bureaucracy and shocking deliberate isolation had created a surreal Orwellian landscape where extremes of Kindness and Evil existed side by side, making no pretenses. At the same time there was a total absence of grey zones in which a somehow healthy, productive, professional environment can contain the beast inside of us. In there you were likely to meet the most benevolent souls, often ordered around by the ones whose personal demons had found the most fertile ground to run wild.

The good people you met in there were almost definitely good by nature, and their goodness in this restrained and isolated environment was maximized perhaps analogically to the levels of the inhumanity of others. These kind people were kind in all aspects of their lives and obviously treated their friends, spouses and colleagues with respect. Their work helping people in this sense never ended. It was not a mission, a project or a plan but essentially a way of life.

I am thinking that, in fact, this is the only way to go ahead. You simply cannot “help” people 9-5. You can certainly try, but in the long run will not get very far. And once you try to institutionalize kindness, compassion and humanity then you are more likely part of a society that has devalued humanitarian principles.

Another simple example can be drawn from my experience in first world Sweden. A few months living there and I took up a Language Volunteer role for an Ngo helping Immigrants coming from EU countries.(not necessarily EU citizens). At that time, despite my legal rights as the wife of someone who worked full time in Sweden, the bureaucracy was preventing me for months from getting a Personal Number. (The Holy Grail of Survival in Sweden).The majority of Language Volunteers had similar profiles and stories to share: they were mostly well educated multilingual South European (and not only) women who had moved in Sweden to be with someone, either that someone was a husband, a boyfriend or family in general.

They all had more or less the same legal issues that caused great frustration and strain in their lives and relationships. In fact, many of them were not much better off from the immigrants visiting the Center to get food, shelter, clothing, Internet, Communication and legal advice. However what they needed most was a piece of solid legal advice about their pending cases and the shady laws that supposedly covered their rights as EU citizens. I for example turned to the Human Rights lawyer in the Center to ask a simple routine question about how I can deal with my inexplicably pending case. Instead I received no reply. The irony was that, as volunteers, we were asked to perform a number of such phone calls to help visitors to the Center. But we could not get further support for our own cases if we did not give up our status as volunteers and instead ask support as immigrants. Instead we were strongly encouraged every week to attend Free Counseling that was offered to all volunteers. Ironically, venting about our problems for an hour every Tuesday was fully funded and guideline approved, while getting a 5 minute practical advice about how to solve them was not.

Which leads me again to where I started. Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. Can you really be humanitarian by the book? Or does the sole act of helping others conflict with the way our whole system works? Education, experience, planning, funding are always very important. But they are useless when people-leaders especially- lack charisma and integrity.

I don’t object to systematic efforts. But please bring Goodness back in the field and people who genuinely want to help others.

Concrete Walls: The Future was not here yet.

Athens todayAncient Athens had rivers

Our parents’ generation in Greece had a lust for concrete. Property became the ultimate lifelong investment and status symbol. The Greeks invested everything they had in construction and property as the property prices skyrocketed 15-20 years before the recession to what is now known as the Greek property bubble. Furthermore they were allowed to build almost everywhere and anywhere they pleased as the shady construction laws and inexistent urban planning allowed them to be creative, often in total ignorance and disregard of the environment and their neighbors. In the history of the Modern Greece trees were cut down and rivers (which were considered sacred by ancient Greeks) were buried for the sake of development and prosperity.

It was as if their concrete lust could provide a lifelong stability and the heavy thick walls could protect them from all kinds of misfortunes and disasters. My parents built a house where heavy injections of concrete “would make sure that it can never be demolished”, as my father proudly announced to us. Twenty years after and struggling to get a decent internet connection through the thick “anti-seismic” walls I wonder why we insisted to build a medieval fortress. True, twenty years ago the fear of an impending earthquake or even a fatal meteorite coming from space was more real that the heavy property tax of today. The latter was a scenario completely and utterly unthinkable.

People believed that things should be forever, eternal and inherited by descendents that would cherish them for…, well, forever. The same idea of eternity dominated all aspects of the Modern Greek life. Jobs in the public sector were idealized as the ultimate career opportunity that would keep you employed no matter what. A false sense of stability that came after two ugly world wars, a civil war and a military junta gave people the hope that “We are there, the drama is over.” In short, that the Future is Here.

Apparently this security was false. The older generation can now acknowledge the fact that there was a naive positivity and false sense of prosperity. Trying to “downsize”, rebuild or remodel is not a job to do overnight.

Closing, I want to remember my grandfather who died when I was six. My grandfather who had seen the hard face of life fighting in two wars (against the Germans and the Greek Civil War that followed) was reluctant to buy or own property. My grandmother had to beg him for years to buy a house and in the end after many years of marriage he had to do her the favor, go to the bank, get a loan and buy an apartment for her. The reason for his reluctance was that he believed that property was a form of slavery and he wanted no such attachments that came with debts to the bank. During his time people must have thought he was irrational and that his family was unfortunate.

Nowadays we, grandchildren and children, think about his life views and decide that grandpa was a very forward looking man and that he also possessed a sense of detachment that would be rare in the years to come.

But in his detachment I can now get a glimpse of our globalized, “refined” revolutionary, but still distant future.

How we learnt to live Without: The Greek Debt Crisis

The Greek debt crisis has taught us Greeks to live without. Without common sense and without logic. In need of money but without valuing it above everything else.

We watch the horrid news on TV every night announcing new taxes, new scams and new ways to make people give up everything they have. And for some reason no one twitches. As a Greek, you are at this point of acceptance. You are going to pay more and more and you are going to give up more and more. Or if you have no money to pay you will sit back and wait for the consequences. And then in that dark place you realize you either need to find peace or disappear. You need to continue living by sharing what you have with the ones you love.

There are those who say that you are a slave if you do not react. That you are dangerous if you continue paying higher taxes to compensate for those who cannot pay. Also that you contribute really nothing because you do not join the revolution against the system. The fault with this idea is that denying paying as a principle does not make you revolutionary. A few years ago it made you a part of a rotten system and reinforced the mentality that only idiots don’t cheat the system. It makes you imitate the behavior of the politician and the businessman. It makes you revengeful. At the end of the day whether you like it or not, you will still depend on those naive “idiots” who always got their hands dirty for you.

I watch my family in Greece watching the horrid evening news on the tv. They make bitter comments here and there but nothing appears to shock them really. I wonder whether they are hypnotized or merely have given up. They have paid and paid and paid at the point of not calculating anymore. Their tax return (a rare case nowadays in Greece when you have donated your life’s savings to the State under the name “Tax”) is a few hundreds euros less than it is supposed to be. No one twitches and no one claims. Who counts anymore? In the end they turn off the tv and they feel better already. And life goes on.

Being in a younger generation, I used to feel much more angry and bitter. When Skywalker was offered a job in Sweden I gave him immediately my blessing. Who wants to live without any social justice and any security? I felt disgusted.

Now I am feeling grateful for the things we Greeks still have. In many ways in the crisis we have lost and found each other.
“It must be frustrating for the Germans seeing all those Greeks still enjoying life”. A Greek friend who knows well the Athens cultural scene recently said “There are so many free theatrical performances and events you can enjoy until late the warm Athens evenings.” In every corner you still see big groups of friends enjoying the night and chatting away till dawn, sharing cheap wine and good company.

There are brave and noble souls out there that are neither tax evaders nor crooks. They have no Swiss bank accounts and would never commit fraud. As long as they have a roof over their heads and food on a plate they are not afraid and they refuse to give up. They are still kind to each other and civilized. Not because they have been taught this way by a just, organized or responsible Government but because they have chosen to.

They still have trust and faith in humanity when nobody gave them the right to.

And that’s true guts if you ask me.

(I want to believe in peaceful revolutions, call me a dreamer but I somehow have to)

The Things a Pregnant Woman does not want to hear

The things that people say to pregnant women are almost impossible. Pregnancy, a once normal condition that rarely invited comments, has now become this huge deal that everyone in the outside feels they have to relate somehow and express some kind of opinion, comment or life view.

Googling the most common things that bother pregnant women I did not really find among the most popular reasons anything that offensive or shocking. As a pregnant woman today you should not really take offence easily but rather kindly try to see where every person is coming from. There is such an abundance of judgment around pregnancy out there that If you pay attention to every little thing you will drive yourself crazy or completely neurotic.

Weight gain remarks, unsolicited medical advice or assumptions about your postpartum life challenges (all often joined by uninvited belly touching), are things you should generally learn to shake off easily. We unfortunately live in times where pregnancy is seen as a lifestyle choice, as the Daily Mail “sidebar of shame” would agree. We see a pregnant woman in a voyeuristic gaze and instead of wishing her all the best and going on with our lives we try to spot that hard toll pregnancy has taken on her life, body and mindset.

I personally learnt not to mind weight gain remarks. When I first heard “Now that you grew fat you look like your mother” (Double compliment for me and my mother) by an old relative I did mind for a while, but then I put things in perspective. If it matters to him, it does not matter to me.

 I still have to admit there seems to be some secret guilty pleasure some people feel in seeing a person who walked all their lives in skinny jeans now waddling down the street. It is the same guilty pleasure that the Daily Mail sidebar brings to people’s lives.

So is your weight gain just baby or body fat as well?” Another old relative asked in deep concern.

Funnily enough, I do not care about that either. For one thing, there is people out there who genuinely and in all seriousness have these concerns. Give them a break.

What I do mind is horror stories. Anecdotal stories about miscarriages, birth defects and the like are things that pregnant women do NOT want to hear. You might have a sudden itch to share a horror story with your pregnant friend. Don’t do it. Keep your horror stories to yourself. Don’t even say that horrible word to her, in any sentence or context. It is possible that it might haunt her.

If you have to say something, you don’t even have to pay her a compliment about how good she still looks if you do not feel that is true. (Even though that would give her a secret joy that would make her day).

Just look at her and tell her with certainty: I am sure that everything is going to be just fine”