Friday, February 17, 2012

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...

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