Growing up Greek
Greece is known to kiwis for its white and blue painted houses and crystal clear waters, and New Zealand known to Greeks for being under Australia ? and having more sheep than people, many Greeks aren’t exactly sure where New Zealand is but to them it’s an exotic place they would love to visit ....
For me hailing from what I believe are two very unique countries, both positioned at opposite sides of the globe I am able to have two very different perspectives of two places that are so dear to my heart.
Since moving to Greece I have had the chance to get to know the country better and while I haven’t Island hopped as much as I’d liked, I have been engulfed in the traditional culture and essence of Greek day to day life.
My father is Greek, and if you’ve seen the movie 'my big fat Greek wedding' he uses many of the same phrases at the grandfather ( “βαρύ” ). Often when we talk he’ll exclaim “that English word you just used, it’s Greek” and he’s right, we do owe a lot to the Greeks, it is more than just a place to lust after, it’s one of the oldest civilizations and it’s rich history is intwined with the rest of the world in some way. For me this gives me a magical feeling about Greece. Like it is somehow connected to the core of everything.
I suppose that’s why it breaks my heart so much that life in Greece now is so fucking hard for the people who call this place home. I don’t pretend to know about politics and banks or the current state of the euro, but what I do know is that normal everyday people here, did not single handedly rake up the huge debits they are now being taxed for.
So what is life really like for a Greek you ask?
Usually it starts with school; young Greek children attend school much like kids in New Zealand, except they break for three months during summer, and also some weeks over Easter as this is a huge religious holiday in Greece.
Everyone wants to be a teacher in Greece because you only work 6 months of the year...if you can find a school willing to take you. You see jobs are hard to find here, even fewer are the ones who pay well and on time.
However most schools can’t find appropriate teachers or supplies and it’s not unordinary for classes to be cancelled due to this. The kids, from what I gather have to fight to learn. My younger sister who is now 18 grew up in a small Greek village and her and her class mates are of varying academic ability, but the most don’t speak let alone write in English, which is a common standard even though it is part of the base curriculum.
After school it’s university or off to the army for the boys, the girls can join if they like. But the boys must go to the army at some stage in their life for 9 months, this is “paid” but after you pay your board and army supplies you make a matter of cents per month. Yes cents.
Usually you are sent away from your family unless you are well connected; either having a priest (priests are revered in Greece) or someone high up in the army in your family to sway the decision of where you will be stationed. The army is not really what we have in NZ, from what I gather they teach them about weapons, and hold drills around safety and possible invasions etc, but it’s not as hard as it used to be during my dads years. It’s another area seriously lacking in funds and supplies.
Then you need to find a job, often boys are learning to cook in the army or some other type of skill, being a chef has become glamours in Greece after TV shows like master chef were popularised. Girls depending on where they grow up have lots of options open to them many go to study abroad, my sister with go to Amsterdam next year, where she will probably work and study her way through university while staying with her Dutch grandparents. She’s lucky. however if they are from a small close minded village it’s marriage and kids. But most families will have some sort of family type business either a restaurant, hotel or similar where the kids will work and one day own them selves.
Most jobs in Greece pay from 2.50€-4.50€ per hour (yes that’s about 4.20$-7.60$ nz ) and you are lucky if they don’t just take you for a trial, fire you and never pay you. In summer the work it’s hard but pays well, if you work in service and the boss lets you keep your tips, otherwise it’s just hard. Usually during the summer everyone’s making money, tourists are traveling in droves to Greece and the sun is shining on your wallet for 6 months or so; your usually working so many hours you don’t have time to go out and spend your hard earned cash.
If you are working in winter; because you didn’t make enough money in the summer to “sit back” as many call it, it’s highly likely that your winter job won’t pay you regularly and sometimes you will be chasing your money until the next season.
'How is this fucking legal' I hear you scream, well it’s not, but everyone is tight for money in Greece and because the government is taxing everyone, especially businesses so much, there is a level of understanding between people...obviously some take the piss and too often, because so many businesses are family run (and have no business training or expertise) many simply go under or rack up huge debit.
So for many young Greeks who work in service, summer is your key to survival. Places like Santorini and Mykonos are top ticket spots for people wanting to have a good season, but you have to find accommodation running upwards of 300€ per month which is a large portion of your 900-1300€ monthly paycheck...and you know you’ll be working around 12 hour days or more for a good 5/6 months with no days off.
Most Greeks work really hard in the summer and then lay back in the winter; if they have made enough money to do so, this is becoming increasingly rare these years as taxes have risen.
If your an older person you depend so heavily on your family, as the government have also cut pensions in half, and I know many old people who are living without electricity and heat in their homes in the winter...“Ah winter in Greece can't be that bad”... it snowed last winter and the pipes in my house froze... So it is really a sad situation when you see someones grandmother begging for coins in the street or selling tissues for extra money to pay their bills.
I wanted to write about this because I had the misconception that Greece was this amazing place where all was well, and life was cruisy, but I have discovered otherwise and I had to share it with you all.
Next time your in Greece, tip your waiter, and appreciate that friendly demeanor just that little bit extra now know what life is really like here.