I’ve come to Greece to give two presentations at an international conference here. I’m here for just over 5 days – 121 hours to be exact and I’m not a professional journalist so this isn’t a balanced report – it’s just what Ive noticed since I’ve been here.
1. The taxi drivers seem to think the country’s economic woes can be cured by getting rid the the 1 million immigrants “who have put 1 million Greeks out of work”.
2. The sociologist who took our walking tour thought the current economic problems were due to a combination of a “higher than average dose” of corrupt politicians, Greece being forced, as part of the EU, to import oranges and other goods it already produces and doesn’t need and Greece not paying its fair share of taxes in the past, possibly partly because of the corrupt politicians.
3. There are people living in car/tent/humpy cities in Athens – I’ve seen two such cities, walking distance from the hotel in which I’m staying.
4. On Monday I saw a young woman and a man of indeterminate age, both of whom looked destitute, inject themselves with syringes in daylight in the centre of town.
5. On Monday I saw riot police running down both side of a closed off road on which several waves of demonstrators were walking carrying banners and placards. Our host told us they were “workers” objecting to proposed or actual changes to their contracts. They included primary school teachers he said, as one group of middle class demonstrators went past. The host also told us that the riot police and demonstrators have an agreement that there is never violence beyond angry words. We took photos of the whole spectacle (and if I can learn how to put photos up here, I will)
6. Fuel is very expensive and many Greeks have significantly reduced their car use as a result. Apparently, this has eased traffic congestion. Our bus tour guide told us this while we were stationary in peak hour traffic.
7. Unemployment among farmers is around 40%. General unemployment has risen from around 11% two years ago to around 21% now.
8. Motorcyclists aren’t fond of protective clothing or helmets. When I asked a taxi driver about why so many had no helmets, he laughed and said “This is Greece. Also, the fine is not very much”.
9. People who can’t fit into car spaces along the edges of roads simply park one or two wheels on the pavement and leave the car sticking out into both the road and the pavement.
10. The food is delicious and the dance steps are not hard.
11. The historical sights are breathtaking. In addition to the Acropolis and Delphi, I saw a sports stadium that was built 500 years BC.
12. The conference has been the most multi-cultural I have ever been to in 22 years of academic life. I have learnt more about what is going on across the world of higher education in one hit than it would have been possible to imagine 4 days ago. I’ve also been reminded of the fact that humans have more in common than we have differences – the big ticket items are the same for all cultures and religions.
That’s it. 121 hours in Greece. Maybe someone will make this into a movie and I can retire.