Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Carnival time!

 Emma was a princess today and William looked great as a cheeky monkey
 Steph the Mexican with the kids who headed right for the food table as usual as soon as we got to the party!
 and yours truly as... Pippi Longstockings!
We had a great time!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Emma the cat

So what's it like living in Athens at the mo'?

 So what's it like living in Athens at the mo'?

Well, first of all we are expats, we live in the northern suburbs in a very residential and privileged area so we don't see much poverty around here and we have not been caught up in demonstrations as long as we have kept out of the centre of town.

We have been mildly affected by the strikes - mainly the post office, public transport but the worst by far was when the garbage was not picked up for weeks last autumn. We do see the odd person going through garbage bins (but I had seen that in Vienna too although usually it was the close bins people dug through) and at many traffic lights there are people playing violins, selling bananas, tissues or flowers, begging with a newborn in one had, or offering to wash your car's wind-screen for a couple of coins. On the other hand, these people at traffic lights are either black, gypsy, Pakistani or Indian I have never seen one that looks mildly Greek.

In the supermarket:
  • some products have been missing and after asking about the kids' favorite organic Greek yogurt I was told that it was "on order but that the producer was having some problems... " - Lucky for us it is back again -after a couple of weeks - and I have stocked up on it.
  • a Greek woman once asked me where a yogurt was from and when I said I thought it was Greek she winced at the label and asked me if I was sure it was not made in Germany! I checked and answered her that it did not seem to be the case and when I asked her why she replied that she would no longer buy any German products. Why? for political reasons and more she replied. If I have to buy foreign I would rather buy Italian, she said, they are more like us. 
  • it is rumored that Carrefour owes money left, right and centre and that they might close soon. In fact, new expats coming to work for them here have been refused a house they wanted to rent due to these "rumors"...
  • all in all I still find the shelves are full of whatever one might desire.
talk with locals here:
  • I have been told by a local that the Greeks only understood that the country was bankrupt this past week-end. As a result, they rushed to stock up on foods and took as much cash as possible out of their bank accounts. 
  • Locals have said they are frightened that the people will rebel against the politicians and come to "bomb" them (I don't think this was meant literally!) here in the northern suburbs
talk with expats: 
  • An expat Mum who was trying to pay her bills was unable to get enough large bills from the cash machine or the bank counter and it was apparently because people had emptied their bank accounts fearing their money would be taken by the bankrupt government.
  • quite a few of them have already stocked up on foods and have some cash ready at home in case they have to leave and the banks stop distributing cash. This I find quite alarming
  • A couple of expat families have told me that they now transfer all their local cash (we all receive at least part of our salaries here in local banks for tax purposes) the minute it hits the Greek account back home to their other bank account for fear of losing money.
tax issues: 
  • because nobody (not the politicians, not the middle class not the poor) have been paying taxes here for ages (why would they as it was indeed not put to good use but just contributed to making the corrupt politicians richer) tax is directly added on to electricity/heating bills (as it has been to fuel, tobacco, alcohol in many other countries) so as to ensure taxes are paid. In our case, the tax on electricity more than triples the bill!  A result of this is that people who cannot pay the electricity bill (tax included) are having their electricity or heating cut off. Another result of this is that people are hiring men who can "fiddle with the electricity meter" for a couple of hundred euro so that the electricity bill (and added tax) is much lower than actual consumption. 
  • It seems to me that whereas before people were not paying tax because they felt they were just being ripped off by a corrupt state and not contributing to roads, transport, hospitals schools etc. nowdays the vast majority of people are not paying because they cannot afford to.

An anecdote:
I have been told there is a road here (a big national highway like road) that was build with EU money. One of the conditions was that it was to have 4 lanes. To verify the road was indeed being built the way the agreement stipulated, the EU relied on pictures. PHOTOS. Indeed the Greeks sent satellite pics of a portion of the road to the EU who ticked the box and sent in more cash. It turns out that only a couple of kilometers of the road have the required 4 lanes. The rest is a 2 lane. It could have been worse - they could have only built a couple of km of the road...

As often, it looks worse on the news than in my reality but again, we are the privileged expats...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Friday, February 03, 2012

Emma at the Olympics swimming pool

At the end of November Emma started swimming lessons during art and crafts time at kindergarten on Thursday mornings. Today I went to watch Emma during her lesson at the Olympics swimming pool. She has had 8 lessons so far and is really enjoying her time in the water.

Here are some pics of today's lesson.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

I wish I hadn't worked so hard

or the top five regrets of the dying

The Guardian published an article about the top five regrets of the dying recorded by a palliative nurse. Among the top ones is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'. For my Dad, his older brother's death was a wake-up call and when he firmly decided that he would not work himself into the grave but rather do everything he could to ensure more time to spend enjoying life. And I think he succeeded pretty well. I guess I was not that surprised at this being number one. Regret number 3 ("I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings") also makes a lot of sense - I can totally relate to that. It's in our culture to be polite, restrained... It takes courage to express ones' feelings and face disapproval or hurting someone's feelings or even rejection or isolation but I think bottled up/ non-digested  emotions do damage us physically in the long run.
I am sure a lot of people regret not telling close ones they love them despite all the day to day hassle. And also taking it slow, taking the time to pause and savor the moment.
But regret number 5 is what hit home the most; "I wish that I had let myself be happier" - or perhaps I wish I had made it a priority to be happy.

Anyway, what would be your regret if you were dying right now?

I especially like the fact that happiness is a choice. In my opinion, we don't stress this enough when teaching children. I think teaching them that it is important to be happy, to listen to your gut, to go after your dreams (and support them in getting there) is paramount. I think it's important to actually TELL them that true happiness is the most important thing in life.  It's important to teach them that happiness is a choice and something to go after just as much as, if not more,  good grades or a good job.

I make it a point to ask Emma what makes her happy or if she is happy and now she sometimes spontaneously just tells me she is feeling happy before saying nightie-night. Even if she tells me because she senses it is important to me, she is learning that it is important in itself.  I think that's just the bees-knees!