Living in Greece

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

Birthplace of what?

Do you know who Nino is? I actually like some of his music, so this is not a criticism of him, but two thoughts come to mind when I see things like this:

a) “Get some new material” — a popular saying from one of my American friends in Athens, who is victimized by the same tired jokes or insults. There’s nothing creative or classy about ripping off other people’s ideas or repeating the same limp stuff.

b) Please, my brutha — How can a Fame Story contestant compare to international starlet Nicole Kidman?

Inspiration is one thing, as I understand originality is in short supply. But at least change something like the T-shirt color, and make it yours in some small way!

Thaumata – Nino


Nicole Kidman for Chanel No. 5


* This post was inspired by De Masame Re’s “O δρόμος της εύκολης λύσης – και της μικροαπάτης” and “G is for Gentlemen – δηλαδή μόνο για κυρίους.” These posts are just two examples of the unoriginal copycat behavior that is rife in Greece.

* Hat tip to my one-man PR team in Athens.


  Maria wrote @ June 19th, 2008 at 03:31

This reminds me of Despina Vandis copy of Clocks by Coldplay :)



  Kat wrote @ June 19th, 2008 at 23:29

Wow, you are so right. In that case, even the melodies are similar. Sad. I never noticed before because although I like Despina fine, the constant morphing of her face is a bit disturbing, so I don’t watch her videos. I’m baffled why already beautiful women choose unnecessary alterations.

  K wrote @ June 20th, 2008 at 06:30

One thing I’ve noticed in Greece as opposed to North America, but especially Northen Europe (including Russia and the ex-Soviet states) is that in Greece I seldom find people that actually love academia and education as an end in itself.

Greece has one of the most (if not THE most) educated youth per capita in Europe; however, what I have found is that most of these people have attended university either (a) because their parents have sent them to keep up with the Papadopoulos’, or (b) as a means to a “show off” in society, or (c) to prolong their party life and put off real life. Or all of the above for that matter. The last reason is because in Greece there is such a huge difference between student life and real life. I’ve seen so many of my friends my age (in their 30s) just go downhill once they entered the workforce, mortgage, real life, etc. Usually as long as you are a student, your parents often pay your way, and during this time, you party ALOT.

So what ends up happening often is that these “educated” youth end up joining the work force and in many cases throw all ethos and ethics they learned in university out the window. These “educated” people just get sucked into the vortex that is Athenian reality: lying, cheating, stealing, ripping off other peoples’ work, doing whatever it takes to step on the other guy and survive.

In many countries (particularly Northern ones) you see “education” loving people. They just love academia for the sake of loving academia. Or they love art for the sake of loving art. Or mathematics for the sake of mathematics. They just love their work, and they define themselves by it. I find that these types of people are a rarity in Greece.

To me, the prevailing mentality in Greece is really still the Taverna owner, “Kyrio Gianni”. Even when most people get educated, they still seem to be just “more sophisticated” Taverna owners in their mentality, but Taverna owners in spirit nonetheless, no matter what their trade. In fact, I would venture to say that most of the country/state itself is like a badly run, unorganized Taverna.

Why do I mention this? Because I think the copyright violating culture in Greece stems from this.

There is also that whole culture of living at home until you are like 40. In other words, somebody else is always taking care of you. You are not taught to take initiative for your own affairs, but rather just take the easy way out.

It’s the mentality of “Να χωθώ”, “Να μπω στο δημόσιο να ξύνω τα α….δια μου όλη μέρα”, “Ο,τι φάμε, ο,τι πιούμε κι ο,τι αρπάξει ο κώλος μας”. How can your whole life’s ambition be based on weaseling your way into the public service? And still, it is a career goal for so many people. The mentality is to have a good time, and take the easy way out. Don’t work to create your own material, that’s too painful, just take somebody else’s…good enough, same thing, gets the job done. Laziness.

This is just my overall impression of course. No data or anything to back it up. It’s hard to articulate it in just a few paragraphs. But maybe other people have noticed something similar.

  Kat wrote @ June 20th, 2008 at 13:48

Very intelligent commentary! I read your comment to my Greek fiance, and he said you are absolutely spot on, and anyone who disagrees is obviously a part of the group (children and parents) that keeps the “taverna” running.

A reader named Karen mentioned something similar to you on another post. Indeed this country is bankrupt in the area of affordable, quality continuing education and cerebral activities for those of us who eventually tire of the taverna, club hopping, smoke myself to death, roast on the beach (accelerate the aging process in the sun) lifestyle.

If you look under “Lifelong learning” on this survey, you’ll see GR in second to last place for both men and women, “EU vs. USA working stats.”

Like you, most able-bodied young people I know have been in university forever and aren’t in any hurry to leave since it would mean (potentially) growing up and curtailing the nightlife everyone raves about. They think anyone who goes to another country to improve their life is a traitor. They want to stay children, which I believe is the parents’ fault for allowing them to be dependent, and not laying down the law and teaching self-sufficient habits early in life. This leads to other ills as well, i.e. Women are unlikely to marry a man expecting a wife to be his mother, though what else can he do if he’s essentially a child himself, and cannot cook, contribute or function as a real partner. And people who should be starting at the basiko at 22 or 24 end up earning the basiko at 30 or 32 instead. (Btw, it’s not guaranteed a salary improves with time, as we’ve shown, but at least the potential exists if a worker starts earlier).

And with 90 percent of children under 40 still living at home or living away from home in a house given to them by their family, some have a sense of entitlement. Why work when you can whine? My ex thought his dad “owed him” a villa when he turned 25 because he’d previously gotten a BMW when he was 21. He is employed, but he’s an only child and his dad is a shipping magnate. When he didn’t get the villa, he planned to get married to get it as a gift. He called me stupid for not going along with it and saw absolutely no merit or honor in buying it himself.

At work, my bosses take my work and put their name on it and ask me to write personal statements for their children to get into a U.S. or UK universities (where cheating continues if they get in); I’ve got co-workers who take my ideas and run to my boss; and this website gets ripped off at least once a month (that I know of) in different languages, so I don’t even need to leave the house to be victimized. The ‘getting by’ mentality you mentioned may also explain the low productivity of workers in GR, and the reason immigrants or hyphenated Greeks are recruited/exploited for the hard jobs.

Why be original when you can steal? Why learn when you can party? Why set trends, innovate and research when you can plagiarize? People interpret getting away with something as clever, and working hard and doing the right thing as stupid. But what’s clever about ignorance, laziness and no integrity? The first definition of the word clever is “devising ideas” and “intelligent.” The second definition is “superficially ingenious.” I wonder if these self-proclaimed clever people realize they are inadvertently outing themselves as the latter.

  Maria wrote @ June 21st, 2008 at 10:18

I am actually quite disappointed because I thought Φοιβος was a talented song writer :( I am starting to realize that there is a lot of plagiarism going on in Greece in all sorts of different forms.

  graffic wrote @ June 22nd, 2008 at 01:52

If you just look at the ADSL offers and advertisements: all the same speed, all are “double play.” You can even find two companies with the same specific packages like “double play unlimited”.

Basically, there is no innovation. There are no ideas, and there is nothing pushing people to create something new.

I won’t relate it to the level of education because “going to the university” is not equal to “knowledge”. You can go, spend your time, just pass exams and after 5 years be exactly the same person but with a degree.

And now my point to the theory: In Greece there’s almost no knowledge of “working hard”. People believe that “working hard” is equal to slacking off more hours in the office. They don’t know what “focus” or “productivity” or “efficiency” means because they’re not smart enough to understand them. They rely on obvious things like “hours” in the office.

Even a CEO of a company that wanted to leave Greece and go to UK (because they were so cool) asked me, “how can you say that you like to work hard but do not like overtime?” I answered that if you avoid going for coffee every 30 minutes and a cigarette every hour and instead focus on your job, you can be more productive using the same amount of time. That’s what a CEO should be telling me, not me telling this to a CEO.

Therefore, if people don’t work hard. What do they do? They just copy things or use the same knowledge for everything. You give a hammer to a Greek, and every problem will become a nail. And if you don’t hammer in enough nails, it’s because you need to spend more time, not because you don’t know how to do your job.

@K: What’s the difference between lying to your parents about what you do in the university and lying in real life? I guess the life style is the same, but they´re the ones that are being squeezed like lemons and not their parents.

  The Scorpion wrote @ June 22nd, 2008 at 10:25

I was impressed with the Greek version of “Entertainment Tonight” with the red carpet and all the beautiful Greeks walking by being interviewed by the pretty interviewer.

Then it dawned on me. It was so good that I realized it was “Entertainment Tonight” (USA Show) copied exactly but with Greeks.

So, in this case, at least they copied something of quality, albeit a carbon copy and not something original…

There are so many examples of Greece just copying and pasting the American version of something and making it their own. At first, I shook my head, but then in the end I realized that hey if something is perfection, why not copy it instead of trying to make some inferior Greek alternative.

Am I wrong about this?

  Kat wrote @ June 22nd, 2008 at 17:52

M – So true. I guess they figure people won’t notice, and the artists he works for are either oblivious or know and don’t mind.

G – I believe K’s point was the same as yours. He’s saying that education absolutely doesn’t matter, that these copycats and liars only went to university because their parents forced them or “for show,” not because they learned anything. And maybe their parents didn’t know any better either, so that’s why the children turn out the same (i.e. much as we were speaking about racism being passed to the next generation in another conversation).

The S – Sure, perhaps a good copy of a quality show is better than an original “bad” version. In that case, I’d love to hear a little less, “Greece is the birthplace of ____” and “We gave you ____ ” and “Americans are stupid.” OK, yes I know that and that’s great. But if we’re so stupid, and everyone else is so smart and original, stop copying us. ;) Americans copy shows also, but at least they say where they got the idea from.

  K wrote @ June 22nd, 2008 at 20:27

The thing with the States right now is that, like it or not, it is the world hegemony. So it is inevitable that it will set the world stage on so many things, and in this case particularly entertainment.

If you have a company and you have a boss, that boss will set the agenda and set an example for the rest of the employees. If he is lazy and uninterested, chances are his employees will pick up those habits. People generally follow what the boss does. In our time, the U.S. is that boss of the world’s countries, and I think that’s why so many countries mimic it for better or worse.

That also means it has the biggest industries for certain things in the world, again, entertainment in particular. So if you are a good actor/director/screen play writer/musician/etc.. and you want to make it big, you will aim your career at the U.S. So, simply, the U.S. absorbs all the talent, pays them the highest to keep those positions, and develops really good industries. It is only natural that the innovation will come from there.

Tomorrow the U.S. could stumble and decline, and China could be the world hegemony. Arts and culture could then flourish around the world while human rights abuses become the norm. In other words, China would set the agenda, and everyone else would adopt its good and bad habits.

I don’t think that part (the part about copying American shows/things) is particular to Greece. Many European countries copy American shows.

What I do think is particular to Greece–and here I totally agree with Kat–is a lack of innovation in general, coupled by a certain attitude. And more of the same crap of Greeks being all bark with no bite.

Yeah, “we invented this…we invented that…” Which is true I have to say, and good for us. But instead of looking inward and saying, “we invented this, so let’s build on that” and be the leaders of, say, spreading democracy or citizen activism in the world. It seems to be more resigned to magka talk in the Cafeteria: “We invented democracy [takes a sip of his frap, and lights up a cigarette, adjusts his shades] Edw einai Ellada re! 3ereis poios eimai egw;;;” In other words, been there, done that. People actually accept and celebrate the fact that they are has-beens.

Yesterday we were Philosophers, Astronomers, Political Activists, World Leaders. Today we’re just magkes with lots of gkomenes/ous.

“I squeezed my ass into the dhmosio damn it, I’m set. Let the rest of those suckers work while I enjoy my life.” And hey, if they say anything to challenge me, well I INVENTED DEMOCRACY!! So they can just zip it.

After all, mommy and daddy (or the state, or someone else) are paying my way, aren’t they?

Disclaimer: I’m generalizing of course just to prove my point. I know lots of people in Greece who don’t have this attitude. But I think that it is a general attitude that penetrates all levels of society, from doctors, to business owners to taxi drivers. There is no doubt in my mind that it is a part of the national psyche.

  FMS wrote @ June 23rd, 2008 at 00:31

Although the older Greek generations of the 19th century and earlier seem to have valued education as a means of advancement, this has now been subverted by an “educational fetish”. In this fetish scenario, pieces of paper (diplomas etc) are worshipped as they give access to jobs, money, status etc. The idea that participation in education is a learning process, with creative interactions and healthy growth of the individual, has been lost to a bureaucratic formalism — heavily promoted by Greek political parties for their own self-interests.

You can see this suppression of creativity and invention throughout the society, but it it is very obvious in the universities and schools. Why? Because creativity carries a degree of risk, with possible positive and/or negative outcomes. Pure conformism, mindless imitation and crude theft of intellectual copyright are not only risk-free in Greece, but are actively encouraged. Getting other people to do the difficult work (which you can then steal or take credit for) is praised, since those who work hard and sincerely are decried as malakes. Welcome to modern Greece.

  KT wrote @ June 23rd, 2008 at 01:39

Personally, I think Foibos sucks. The songs he writes are terrible, they repeat the same words over and over again. I doubt if after 5 years anyone even knows who Nino is.

But who can blame the guy for writing this garbage? Modern Greece (like someone else pointed out) lives for this crap. The kids don’t want to do anything else but become singers, actors, or models.

I can relate to that many things Kat said My boyfriend constantly tells me that his parents “owe him things in life” — the BMW, his education, and he even talks about a house sometimes. I just don’t get it. He doesn’t seem to mind that his parents have to sell more land in Greece to support him.

  FMS wrote @ June 23rd, 2008 at 10:48

KT: although I agree with you 100%, don’t forget that there are good reasons why your bf thinks such things. The primary cause of this mess, in my opinion, is that Greeks have deliberately created a system of dependence on older generations — a system of gerontocracy. The Greek Church is a fine example of this way of thinking.

How have they done this? By making sure that paid employment is so badly rewarded, that you are not able to survive on it. You are therefore dependent on charity from your family — such as cars, houses, money — all on the condition that you behave as they instruct.

This system has the added advantages of (1) stifling informed political debate on political economy; (2) keeping corrupt wealthy families in power; (3) exploiting immigrant workers more efficiently than most countries can.

In such a system, your bf is actually behaving in an intelligent and rational way — at least, at the personal level. Of course, the whole mindset surrounding this completely stinks…

  Paul wrote @ June 23rd, 2008 at 21:19


I fully agree with your analysis, and have been wondering for some time how this vicious circle of a dependent, infantilised generation and low wages/non-existent career opportunities can be broken. Regrettably, the only solution I can come up with (at the personal level) is to encourage my children to leave Greece as soon as they are able. What do you think? Is there any reason to believe that things might get better?

  Kat wrote @ June 23rd, 2008 at 22:55

K – That’s true, other countries copy the USA, and the USA copies certain things from Europe too (American Idol, Big Brother, etc.). Also, I totally acknowledge and admire that GR gave the world many things, but as Janet Jackson would say, “What have you done lately?” Same vein regarding what you said about building on greatness, instead of relying on tales of yesteryear in which modern GR can take no credit.

F – I’ve found that many interpret learning as memorizing and reciting things without understanding their impact or meaning. I fault the system for that. I dated someone once (literally) who felt the need to give me his business card, and on it was a number of degrees after his name. He thought that would impress me and was disappointed when it didn’t, namely because he was arrogant and a social and professional retard.

KT – A lot of skyladiko repeats refrains over and over. I find it useful when learning new Greek phrases ;) Btw, in my case, my ex was an only child and from a filthy rich family; he did work, but they’d created a monster, and there was no going back after those habits were set. He never went to university and had no interest.

F – I think KT’s boyfriend is in the USA, though I perceive he did take some of the habits with him from GR due to the environment in which you refer.

P – Your comment is for FMS, but I wanted to throw my two cents into the ring. For 11 years, I’ve hoped and been optimistic more than is healthy that GR would indeed get better, to the point my Greek friends thought I was a fool, but didn’t tell me so until I’d come out of my love fog. Other than small improvements for Athens 2004, which we’ll be paying for decades, there’s been no change in work life (despite developing connections), salaries (I’ve only been able to advance by aggressively changing jobs and bringing claims at the epitheorisi), cost of living (upward) and quality of living (downward).

I’m really no better off than when I first got here, which I believe is because I’m both a woman and an immigrant. But the major reason is mismanagement, corruption and nationalistic egotism, which is rampant and at the same time apathetic. I love this country deeply and am thankful for my time here, but I always knew that I would leave when I had children because I want something better for them. And if for some reason I didn’t have children, I would still leave because at my core I am someone who values accountability, equality, integrity and doing the right thing.

I’m sure that sound really boring to some people, but fun, nightlife and freedom are severely dampened when having to endure endless bureaucracy, strikes, poor service, watching my back and holding others accountable for money owed, plagiarism and other wrongdoing.

  FMS wrote @ June 24th, 2008 at 11:40

Paul: I concur with Kat’s comments. From my own personal experiences, I can say that I too exhibited misplaced optimism on two occasions in the last decade. The first was with the advent of the Simitis government (given the alternative to Simitis, he looked like a god) and the second was the effective management of the Olympic Games. In retrospect, and with much more information than we had at the time, both events turned out to be clever manipulations by (mostly) hidden actors. Their criminal actions cemented Greece as a culture of corruption and financial embezzlement, whilst the politicians played along with superficial modernization of Greece.

I can hardly say that the situation is any different today. Arguably, it is worse since the leaders of the two main parties are intellectually bankrupt and the return of ND to power had an additive effect on corruption, since the ND members have no intention of repudiating the mass embezzlements and fraud that came to characterise the previous PASOK regime.

The only other plausible source of pressure for reform would be the younger generation. Here, I am less certain but I think that they have given up and just want an easy life. A state job, some illegal moneys, not too much work… So, for all of us with any integrity and work ethic, leaving Greece is really the only option. After a decade of living here, and two decades of research on Greek political economy, this is indeed a sad conclusion for me to have reached.

  Kev wrote @ June 25th, 2008 at 00:55


Totally true on the gerontocracy theory. I think so many manifestations that we see on the surface of Greek society–and we comment on–stem from that seed essentially. (Including the lack of creativity issue.)

Regarding the last view that you and Kat share (if I understood correctly) that nothing has changed. I semi-agree.

I agree that Greece is still Greece. And what I mean by that is 20 years ago, Athenians were still whiners, still melodramatic, still complaining about their wages, still sipping their frappes at work, still self absorbed and self centered. Athens was a concrete jungle, a harsh metropolis. And Greece was corrupt.

And today, basically all of the above is generally true. All the annoying “Greek-isms” that we know all to well, are there as strong as ever. So nothing has essentially changed looking at it that way.

But certain things are different from 20 years.

20 years ago–and in fact just the other day I was watching one of our old videos of the city streets–you looked at the people and you saw tired (ταλαιπωρημένες) expressions on their faces. Almost all the guys wore a dress shirt or t-shirt, tight jeans, and Vermaacht boots (I can’t remember how to spell that, but do you remember those things?) A lot of the women had that “skylou”, caked makeup, gold-digging look that a lot of ex-soviet country women have nowadays. Anyway the point I’m getting at is that it was a very closed society, and daily life itself just took everything out of you. Your choices were also very limited.

Today you can do your banking online at HSBC, play playstation, ride the metro to a movie, order fast food, connect with other enthusiasts of your favorite music over the net, drive a nicer, newer car (not an old Lada, Niva, or Yugo like those that populated the streets in the ’80’s), and have more open discussions locally with more open-minded people.

Today you see man-on-the-street interviews and you see yuppie dudes pushing baby strollers in the plateia, not magkes who looked like they were from a time warp from 1950’s America.

And daily interactions/transactions are made more calmly. I remember a time when you would hear arguing on the street over the pettiest of matters constantly. To get any form of service was a struggle.

I agree, most of this is because the world came to Greece, not because Greeks actually woke up and reformed themselves deep within their values as a society. And as I mentioned, I think that as a society, they are still essentially the same.

Everything exists in the country now. The biggest challenge today is to have a bit of money left over every month to access it.

But Greece today is no India or anything like that. You know you are in the first world when you are walking around. And the rich and poor spread, or that “developing world feel” if any at all, is nothing like in other countries.

Let’s not kid ourselves guys, things have changed.

  Kat wrote @ June 25th, 2008 at 01:33

Superficially yes, things have changed, but it’s come at a price and one needs to be OK with being ripped off in many cases (i.e. paying double vs. other EU countries); and as you said, you need to have money to access those things. But at the core, it hasn’t.

And technically, I never said nothing has changed. I said that work life and salaries haven’t changed, and cost of living has gone upward and quality of living downward (and I’m talking environmentally, socially and economically for all, not materially for a few).

I wouldn’t use India as a comparison. I spent a few months there, and the country is quite advanced (and growing) in many areas, their youth are staying and the diaspora are coming back to invest and contribute to growth. True, many areas are still poor, but I could say the same thing about many areas of GR except that India is an immense country with 10 times the population.

Good service in GR is still a struggle (even with connections), you can still see the skylou makeup on frowny faces, arguing on the street over small things (that often escalate to people shooting each other), and designer ripoffs. Unless someone is from an affluent suburb and/or foreign, I’ve not seen any yuppie man pushing a stroller. People exchange pirated music over the net, but it was surveyed that GR has very low computer literacy, and the majority of people do not trust the Internet so I’m not sure how many people actually use online banking. The only open-minded people I’ve met here in 11 years are foreign, Greeks who lived or went to school abroad or just plain raised right. I would say society is more closed and inhospitable compared to a decade ago. My fiance disagrees with you regarding the miserable faces; a lot of people still look like that (Constantinos also saw it when he was here, see “Smile, at least fake it!“).

Sure, people might dress nicer and buy nicer cars, but it’s been determined that this has been made possible more often with borrowed money, not real wealth (“Measures for borrowers,” “Hard times force mortgage holders to sell” and “Middle class momentum is being exhausted.” Again, the superficial. The core is still the same. So I agree with you that the world came to GR, but real change takes more than clothes, a metro (engineered and designed with considerable help from Frenchmen, Germans and Austrians, and EU funds) and fast food that many claim to eschew. It’s been a very rewarding discussion on a post that at first garnered no attention when first published. Thank you :)

  FMS wrote @ June 25th, 2008 at 04:57

K: To be fair to myself, I didn’t say that “nothing” has changed, Actually, I said that the situation is the same or worse. By this, I do not refer to how expensive a car the average family can afford to buy, or what Greek fashion sense is like. These and other superficial indicators merely reflect Greece’s privileged position within the EU since 1981 — longer than Spain and Portugal. It has changed in many of these day-to-day characteristics, and some of them are improvements. On the other hand, what European city other than Athens has pavements with holes and defects near-identical to those of bomb-torn Pristina? Or the general pollution of everything — noise, air, radio waves, litter and rubbish everywhere, etc etc — simply because nobody cares to do anything about it.

If you think that there is not the deprivation that can be found in India, did you visit Thraki? There is also extreme poverty across rural areas of Greece, alongside corrupt wealth acquisition by the few. The existence of massive black economic activity, political and bureaucratic corruption which is so embedded that nobody can think of removing it, whilst the lowest standard of living in Greece is still pretty low — all of this is Third World in character. So Greece has more money than most underdeveloped countries: why is that? From hard work? Astute investments? Massive exports across the world? LOLOLOLLLL

Sorry to have laboured the point, but there is no evidence to suggest that Greeks have changed much in the last decade or so. It’s just that import taxes on luxury goods were removed, people have become more adept at defrauding the EU funds, and bank borrowing (previously confined to politicians) is now a national pasttime. Oh, and the Athens metro works quite well (but people still use their cars as much as possible).

  Paul wrote @ June 25th, 2008 at 06:43

@ Kat & FMS

Thank you both for responding to my question with such thoughtfull answers. Extraordinary, isn’t it, that we none of us see any real future in Greece?

@ K

Yes, things have changed. The lives of many Athenians have been made immeasurably better by the Metro and the Attiki Odos, for example. Clearly we live in a modern 21st century city. But has anything really changed? I think that until (unless) salaries in Greece reward hard work and initiaitve and penalise laziness (instead of the other way round) and until (unless) individuals see beyond themselves and their immediate families to society as a whole (rather than factions thereof) then things will continue just as they are.

  K wrote @ June 25th, 2008 at 19:56

I also want to close and I generally agree with most comments.

I would contest a few points made above, but there is no reason to branch off into other discussions.

The bottom line for me is (and I think we are all on the same page here): certain things have improved, but the core values of Greek society are essentially the same as a decade ago.

  argikon wrote @ June 28th, 2008 at 20:41

Wow… this was an excellent discussion.

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