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A tale of two cities or why Greeks are the ‘wealthiest’ Europeans…
How much does a Greek citizen pay to enjoy the culture of everyday life?
Lisbon is a European capital that could be easily compared to
Because the Portuguese capital is a city in human dimensions, with lots of parks, open spaces and pedestrian ways, which are getting more each year, and with an historical centre that maintains full respect of its architectural heritage. All this has its reflection on its inhabitants as well: They are calm, polite and serious people, who deal with numerous and serious problems in their daily lives, namely financial. Indeed,
The inhabitant of the Greek capital on the other hand lives in a city with scarce green spaces, which are getting less each year, with an almost entirely destroyed architectural identity in its very centre, noisy with an extremely high number of automobiles, and in general dirty (excluding maybe the main streets and avenues downtown).
Athenians themselves follow the norms of their city. They are nervous, rude and shout too much. They too are rather poor. And although they deal with many daily financial problems and additionally they’re in deep debt up to their nose since they owe more than they can handle in bank loans and credit cards, they somehow survive the hardships. And they do so in a way that would leave a foreign neutral observer speechless! Their nights out are indeed fewer than what they were a few years back but still they manage to have fun out of the house 2-3 times a week (more in summertime), dine out up to 10 times a month (taverns, restaurants and eateries in general are never in crisis in Greece), and spend their summer holidays in the islands (extremely expensive anyway) or abroad (this is one of the very few places in the world that banks officially provide the service of “holiday loans”).
But let us see some absolutely comparative stats and figures that are directly related to the cultural identity of the two peoples, which will help you all draw your own conclusions:
- Some ten daily newspapers of national circulation are published in
. In Lisbon , they are more than 50. Greece is the home of approximately 80 magazine titles you can buy all over the country. More than 250 are published in Lisbon alone. Athens
- Five television channels broadcast nationally from
. Some twenty broadcast from Lisbon . Athens
- In greater
there are some 25 long-range radio stations. In greater Lisbon they are more than 100. Athens
alone each theatre season some 40 theatres present their productions. Lisbon is the home of approximately 140 theatres that present more than 180 productions. Athens
there are some 60 institutionalized big festivals of all genres all year round. In Portugal ? Ha! More than 500! Greece
Let us not proceed with counting the number of nightclubs, discos, entertainment venues, cinema theatres, museums, art galleries or any other place of cultural reference.
We would really like to avoid telling you what we really think about this but the temptation is too strong to resist. Greeks are a people characterized by exaggeration on all levels. They care not for tomorrow but rather for today. They are also a people who functions on an individual level and not on a collective one. They want to do things their way, no matter whether this is at the expense of their neighbour, fellow citizen, the municipal authorities, the state, the environment, the rest of the population. Therefore…
- They will buy a car even though they have no place to park it. They can always leave it on the pedestrian passage, blocking access to by walkers or people on wheelchairs.
- When on escalators, they will stand calmly at the left side blocking those in a hurry behind them from moving faster.
- They will not bother to sort out their garbage for recycling and refuse to keep them at the balcony when the city’s cleaning personnel is on strike; they’d rather take them out in the street and pile them up on smelly mountains of trush around the corner of their house.
- As consumers, they will not restrain from consuming overvalued products in order to help bring prices down. On the contrary, they keep consuming as normal as ever, even though the price of the product is going up.
- If they are public works contractors they will certainly want to buy themselves a newspaper or a television channel.
- If they are recognizable actors, they will surely want to have their own theater, which they think they deserve
- If they are football team owners they will press for their very own stadium.
- If they are mayors they will wish a subway like
’ for their city (even though it is not necessary) Athens
But all this costs money. Well, who cares? In this magical country, there is always an equally magical way for everyone to survive. At the end they all do. Newspapers which sell 2,000 copies a day (including the subscriptions by state-run institutions) survive. TV channels that get less than 1% in ratings also survive. Magazines that no one reads, survive. Theatres with no audience, survive. They all survive with their inflationary numbers in a tiny market that is
What’s more, it is not just them who survive but the same goes for all those who see prices going up because of the inflationary trend. Thus, in
Prices are the highest in
It is also the same when Greeks travel by bus, train, boat or air. To fly from
Now that the state monopoly of OTE Telecom has come to an end this is exactly what is happening. This is also what happened with the super market chains, which coincidently have the same prices for the same products wherever they are around the country, although they should be competing. This is also the case for the four mobile telephony companies, which bill the same, and for the banks, private or state, which provide the highest rates for loans and credit cards and the lowest in accounts (the banking sector is the only that is really thriving in Greece).
All these, even though they seem irrelevant to our subject, are indeed describing what happens in an area called “free time and leisure economics,” which includes all the sphere of activities related to the culture of every day life. These are the things that a citizen must have access to in order to feel happy, even when they have not resolved their basic living problems (employment, education, health).
A simple surfing in the internet can help anyone see by themselves what is going on in other parts of Europe and compare prices of the same products or services in the area of “free time and leisure economics” in
So, we get back to the question: what happens in this small country that stands out for its impressively high inflation of services, a fact that does not strengthen competition but instead pushes prices to the skies and makes Greeks seem as the biggest suckers in
The answer might be found if we look deep down into the cultural heritage of the Greeks, namely the teachings of the ancient Athenian philosophers who were the first to talk about the individuality of the citizen and the value of the person as a unit within the community. It's just that the people who inherited this very land, with tons of Roman, Ottoman, Middle Eastern and Slavic DNA in their blood, mistook the whole thing and interpreted it in modern Greek with the you-know-who-i-am-dude question. And this is not what happened to the humble, ordinary and "dull" Portuguese of our story. They, like any other citizen in the western world, were taught the ancient Greek ideas at school but kept more than the individuality part. They emphasized further into the part that defines the role of the community or "demos" and its power or "kratos," which is what we call today Democracy, a term that commonly refers to a political system but also means much more than that.
Conclusion: Contemporary Greeks might be