Greece and Greeks



The thing that jumped out at me in reader comments on my article in Sunday’s NYT Magazine about how Greeks are living in the midst of crisis, and in emails to me, was how much raw and ugly vituperation there was directed at ordinary Greeks.  E.g.: “tell me again why i should care about the plight of (lazy, socialist, tax-evading, corrupt, lying, incompetent) greece?”  And: “Profligate, irresponsible, perfidious and immoral: that is how I would characterize the actions of Greece and its people.” More than a few people made comments about the weight of ordinary Greeks I featured in the story (who were also photographed).  The vitriol certainly seems to highlight how interconnected we all feel ourselves to be. What struck me most during my time reporting in Greece was the divide between the people and the system.  Greeks as a people (if one can generalize about any people) are hardworking and almost embarrassingly generous and friendly.  The Greek system is a failure.  Surely the Greek people are responsible for their system. Then again, whatever country you live in, look at your neighbors and at the system you live in; you will surely find discrepancies between the two.  The neighbors will probably seem fundamentally more decent than the system. In the case of Greece that discrepancy is particularly vast.  Yet so many people who reacted to my story went right at the people: at ordinary Greeks, not politicians or bankers.  The quality of mercy is…strained!

The comments from individuals seem in general much more angry and personal than those posted on blogs and websites.  Here is a sampling of the latter…

http://thesilicongraybeard.blogspot.com/2012/02/while-greece-burns-middle-class.html

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/2012/02/16/greece-collapsing/

http://www.neatorama.com/tag/greece/

http://www.daily49er.com/opinion/americans-should-be-more-knowledgeable-on-world-affairs-1.2701375#.T0F0XpgUqAs

http://snohomishobserver.com/2012/02/14/the-minotaur-screwing-the-greeks/

http://www.soxfirst.com/30394498/is_greece_facing_the_biggest_collapse_in_history.php

http://www.athenswire.com/the-decline-and-fall-of-greece/

And how it’s playing in Twitter…

http://topsy.com/www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/the-way-greeks-live-now.html

Greek to Me



What’s it like to be living in an economy, and a country, that is imploding?  That’s what I tried to get at in my story about life in Greece in this week’s New York Times Magazine.  We have had endless reporting of the Troika and the dysfunctional Greek political elites.  I was after another kind of reality.  Like the banker who told me a customer had come in that day and handed over cash to be deposited: a block of bank notes that were frozen together, from having been kept in his freezer.  Or the construction foreman who sat in his living room, surrounded by family, and described how the company he had been laid off from has had its payroll cut from 900 employees to 2.  But most surprising are stories of weird hopefulness: a winery and an herb business that have taken off in the very midst of the crisis. The suicide rate in Greece shot up by 40% in the first half of 2011. At the same time, the main feeling Greeks expressed to me was relief: relief that the weird fantasy/nightmare of their eurozone experience to this point is over at last.