Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Do you remember?


Most of the country is caught up in costumes and recovering from consuming vast quantities of charred meat on Tsiknopempti.

But how many of you remember that this week is the 6-month anniversary of the earth in Greece being charred?

“You let Greece turn to ashes…why?”
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  Stathis wrote @ February 29th, 2008 at 22:55

because it is better to build villas in the ashes than built villas in the woods! We adore cement and hate everything that it is green – except panathinakos if you are vazelos…

  dubaibilly wrote @ March 1st, 2008 at 05:57

The fires last year were terrible and I’m sure Stathis is right, they were started so that land could be used for building.

But I had understood that the law did not permit building on land that had been burned if building was not permitted there prior to the burning.

Maybe the whole law on building on forested land needs a serious rethink.

  The Scorpion wrote @ March 1st, 2008 at 14:06

Dubaibilly: A good friend of mine in his late 70s says these types of things were happening in Greece in the 50, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc… Nothing changes except new people like yourselves learn of them. Greeks burn forests and then build on them. No matter how many times we see it in the media as some sort of “WOW” what happened, it’s just a recycling of Greeks gone bad again and again…

  Phillip wrote @ March 1st, 2008 at 14:38

those fires were awful! but i do love a good villa. surely we can build villas without burning forests.

most of my friends stress the importance of the forest registry, that it needs to be completed, so that there’s a record of what’s offlimits for building. i stress the importance of keeping a fire-fighting force out there during the summer, that’s gonna keep watch for fires, do the job honestly, put them out as soon as they start, alert the police of deliberate firestarters. anyway, i’m still too new to this country to know the right answer.

gigantic, hectares-wide sprinkler system?

  FMS wrote @ March 1st, 2008 at 23:54

The summer fires were a national disaster, and mostly preventable. As I have understood the issue, the real problem lies with Greece’s failure to develop a land registry even 27 years after joining the EU. Recently, Greece had to return money to the EU for failing to sort out the registry, whereas Albania has more or less completed the task in 10 years and before joining the EU.

The reason, of course, is simple: corruption. Almost nobody wants things to be laid out clearly and beyond debate, because that would make it much more difficult to steal, cheat and lie. So, let’s continue with the national disasters so that the crooks can steal even more from Greece…

  Theophilos wrote @ March 2nd, 2008 at 07:51


Apart from what the government needs to do, preventing forest fires is a collective job – we ALL need to do our small part in order to reduce chances of experiencing more of the same. As you know, this is not happening. Greeks are generally apathetic in the face of man-made natural disasters.

I’m sure you’ve seen your share of illegal landfills, the lamentable state of forest floors, with junk piled knee high and no one trying to clean it, and our compatriots tossing everything out the open car window, including lit cigarettes and other stuff that could potentially help to ignite a fire.

It all boils down to lack of basic care for the surroundings and the kind of conscience that says “Help out to make this place a better place for all.” And this is not going to change any time soon — along with Greek thirst for reinforced concrete and the destruction of everything that is faintly green. Nature is taking its revenge though, and I say “well done” to Nature, this country deserves it.

  Kat wrote @ March 2nd, 2008 at 12:22

S – LOL!

D – My thought is that many people here are creatures of habit, eating at about the same time as the rest of the country or flicking cigarettes in the dry grass without thinking. I don’t think all of it was malicious; I think much of it was accidental.

The S – That’s true. Panta einai etsi. And I believe the friend you are speaking of is Greek.

P – Forest registry is much more complicated than that, and there are a lot of reasons why many groups don’t want it done. Souflias announced it will be a 4-year “process” (by that time, his govt will be voted out); in the meantime, work has already started on 6 lignite/coal power plants (bad and dirty stuff). Experienced fire fighting staff were traded for amateurs at the highest levels, and pay remains low and training/equipment scarce, so people are hesitant to sign up. Energy and priority is somehow always given to things that don’t make sense.

M – I cannot add anything to what you so eloquently said. Most people watching around the world just saw tragedy and destruction; they don’t realize what’s at the core and what it’s going to take to root out challenges and apply solutions. It’s quite complicated.

T – You’re right. The government shouldn’t need to be morality police or teach awareness to things that are common sense. I did my part and posted a list of fire safety tips and make gentle suggestions to friends, but there’s nothing I can do beyond that if someone thinks I’m a crazy overcautious/preaching foreigner. Taking responsibility for oneself and enforcement are indeed in short supply. Good to see you here again!

To Everyone – This is a remembrance and reminder that the Greek govt and we still need to do something as summer approaches. I believe we’d all like to prevent another round of deadly forest fires this summer. That’s the point. To not repeat mistakes that cost lives and damage to homes, the environment, the economy, the country.

  graffic wrote @ March 2nd, 2008 at 14:34

It’s more important the eurovision contest.

We’re treated like sheep. So we behave like that. It’s difficult to find someone who lift his head from the flock.

Apart from that. It’s the people, it’s us, but more the greek citizens, the ones who have to realize their situation. I’ve run out of ideas, and I’m not gonna force anyone to wake up.

This is like matrix — you should want to wake up because the reality is shocking.

  Phillip wrote @ March 2nd, 2008 at 16:29

My boss’s village is near Kalamata, and they had a plan installed in the event of fires, which saved their village last summer. What this plan is I’m not sure of the details. Probably other people in this post know. But it saved my boss’s village, and a couple of my friends have mentioned this as being a good solution. They say other villages should have plans in place, rather than waiting on the national gov’t to save them.

  vasilis wrote @ March 2nd, 2008 at 22:02

That was painfull for all Greeks.. You ‘re right.

  The Scorpion wrote @ March 3rd, 2008 at 08:39

Although I agree and say the same answer (i.e., greeks throwing garbage and lit cigarettes out the window etc), most of my Greek friends poo-poo me when I say this as the cause of fires because they point to the media showing arson devices(?) that they found, plus the fires started at exactly the same time, and also many started at night when people are supposedly sleeping?

So, does anyone have a good answer for me to give in response when I get this type of answer from the “IT”S ARSON ONLY” type Greek mentality and refuse to believe that their littering and other careless behavior could cause this?

  FMS wrote @ March 3rd, 2008 at 14:27

The Scorpion: you are right, it is not only arson. The best evidence is from comparison with countries where there is no incentive to destroy the country for personal gain — e.g. Australia, the USA, etc. In those countries, there were also terrible fires: some of them were started by people with mental problems, and some by accident.

Also, I vaguely recall reading some scientific debate about the older policy of removing scrub in forests, in order to minimise accidental fires. This is now thought to be a contributory factor in forest fires, since the forest becomes drier without low-lying bushes and shrubs.

As with almost everything in life, there is rarely a single cause or a single explanation — although humans always push so hard for simple answers to complex issues.

  Kat wrote @ March 3rd, 2008 at 13:39

G – I agree with what you’re saying about ‘waking up.’ I think there’s only so much a person can do to bring awareness; however, I do feel it’s equally important to dispel myths and face down lies with the truth.

P – You’re right. Firefighters in many villages and small towns are local residents (many who don’t even get paid) that have gathered or devised a plan of their own, gathered supplies and readied themselves without outside funding. They’re doing their best, even though many have no training and little or no equipment.

I have a friend who is a firefighter in the USA, who would volunteer to go from village to village with me to teach fire safety. But the problem is we’re not Greek, and I doubt anyone would listen to us based on our nationality.

V – :)

The S – As I’ve said before, many are creatures of habit, eating at the same time every day, cooking on an open fire at the same time, having a cigarette or coffee at the same time every day. Is it so difficult to believe that 11 million people could start 500 or even 1000 forest fires at the same time? Also, is Greece not boastful of its nightlife? Are they now trying to say that no one goes clubbing, takes a drive or sneaks out to be with friends, and everyone is sleeping? It also happened in August when, coincidentally, most people are in their village or island. Hmmmm.

Arson device? Please. This is the country that took 27 years to catch 17N. Are they now experts at analyzing evidence? Fires (careless) take only a cigarette, match or spark from a grill to get going, and no one is going to admit to causing their own house/village to burn down, especially when there is no proof to convict them. Unless people have also suddenly decided to take personal responsibility. LOL!

I let people believe what they want because ultimately you can’t change their minds, even if you shove evidence in their faces — these types like to be right, feel that being right is essential to their identity, and there’s no way a xenos will tell them any different. I would quote some stats for you about the correlation between education and ignorance, but in the end it’s just best to save your energy and brain cells. :)

  The Scorpion wrote @ March 3rd, 2008 at 17:27

Kat & FMS, thanks for the info. I’ll try and use those wonderfully logical arguments into my next discussion about this, but one thing I think many of us take for granted when debating each other in English, is that you wait patiently for a person to stop talking then give your thoughts. Unfortunately, I rarely get off a few words before getting “talked over”. Granted, I can certainly elevate my voice and continue but I find that unpleasant and ultimately Kat’s advice is best.

Those that wish to toot their own horn don’t listen to any other tune anyway.

  karen wrote @ March 6th, 2008 at 19:36

I think one of the saddest aspects of living in Greece is the lack of respect for one’s community and neighborhood. I realize most land in Greece is privately owned, hence the total lack of town planning (ie a house next to a nightclub etc) but there is also a lack of respect for the community. It seems as if Greeks only care about their own house and not the surroundings. Even the apt blocks who have a “manager” seem to argue more than find solutions. And another thing which really bugs me is why do Greeks build single family homes which just look like a mini apt block? Forget any trees. If there plot is 500 sq m. they will build on all of it to take advantage of the building ratio. Doesn’t anyone just want to have a nice garden with some trees!

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