Saturday, April 20, 2013

Parting is Not Sweet Sorrow.

This week I received a note from a Greek American who’d moved her business to Athens some years back.  “I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be staying in Greece.”

That shook me.  Greece was as much a part of her as breathing.  Her life, indeed her career was spent glorifying Greece to the world. But I can’t blame her.  She must make a living and although her prodigious public relations skills are in demand, not so much any more in Greece.  And even those with the most optimistic take on how long it will take for Greece’s economy to rebound put it outside any meaningful time frame for my friend.

Not current, but instructive

Greece’s young, facing nearly 60% unemployment, are indeed hardest hit, but it is the older workers—many of whom carry the load for family members under twenty-four—who seem most disheartened.  They see their peak earning years evaporating, their property threatened by a predatory tax structure (hopefully changing), and out of touch politicians acting like a bunch of Neros fiddling their own separate, selfish tunes while Rome burns down about them.  If they could leave, many probably would. Like my friend.

Anyone with skill, talent, ability, and a willingness to work hard, wants to be in a place where what they offer is appreciated and encouraged by the opportunity to succeed. Rightly or wrongly, few perceive that as available to them in Greece today.  Many are leaving a land they consider heaven on earth conscious that by so doing they’ll likely be resented by those who remain behind, and branded “not as Greek as us.” Just ask emigrants from past waves driven out of Greece by difficult economic times for tales of their receptions upon returning “home.”

Maybe things will be different this time. After all, many parents are telling their children to go elsewhere to make their fortunes, even while they choose to remain behind riding out the crisis.  I’m sure most hope that someday their children will return to Greece, bringing with them skills necessary to rebuild Greece as a modern competitive state.  Whether that happens depends upon on how those who do not leave chose to act.  If they see remaining in Greece as an opportunity to personally profit in the short term, rather than a time for improving the overall prospects for their country, then perhaps the pessimists’ take on Greece’s turnaround time is more accurate: It will be the generation of the great grandchildren of those now leaving Greece who first see better times return to their homeland.

This week I also received a letter from another friend, a life-long Athenian whom I deeply respect.  It summarizes what I believe to be the attitude of many: “We are moving on to dangerous times, full of uncertainty, unsafety, with no more guaranties for anything.”

As in all things Greek, there is a lesson in what my friend wrote for the world. 

God bless Greece.  God bless Boston.



  1. I too intend to leave Greece later this year. I came here as a qualified teacher of English as a foreign language nineteen years ago. I worked for a wonderful headmistress in a private language school. About seven years ago the Greek authorities took my licence to teach away since I could not pass the University level exam in Greek about Greek history. It is a disgrace that students can pass a proficiency exam and become a teacher here when I have a BA Honours in English and TEFL and I am not allowed to teach anymore. We are being double taxed on our income from the UK (my husband's pension) and taxed again on the house and car we bought with that pension. It is a disgrace. The very people who contribute to this country are being driven out. I am going to Turkey or Thailand to teach. I loved living here but enough is enough.

  2. I too have left my beloved Greece in hopes that my 17 year old will enjoy a future like I dreamt of hen I moved to Greece following my heart. I spent 30years of my life trying to do what's right and to give back to a country I truly love. I even made a successful bid at politics trying to help make the lives of women, immigrants and children better. 15 years lobbying for immigrants' rights, believing in a political leader that not only broke my romantic idealistic heart but extinguished every ounce of faith that I had in Greek political virtue. He betrayed youth, immigrants and most importantly Greece. So sadly after losing almost everything I too have returned to my home away from HOME!

  3. Anonymous and Yvette, there is a lot of confusion in Greece about what is best for the country. Not that I have an answer, but it just seems intuitively counterproductive to drive talented lovers of Greece, such as you, away. I also appreciate your sense of betrayal, Yvette, when a messianic political leader lets you (and the whole country) down. Sadly, Greece is not alone in affording its young that experience.

    And yes, Lil, you're right on, as usual.

  4. In the apartheid years in South Africa many people of various ages - black and white - left the country either for political reasons or - more often - because they saw no future for themselves and their families. When things changed, some came back but many were settled overseas and still dubious of the long term future. We need those people, but now it is too late...

    1. Interesting that you say it's "too late," Michael, but I think I understand why having read Stan's post last month, titled "Impatience."

  5. The last time around in Southern Italy, my grandparents all left. Life got good there again after two generations, but not one went back to stay.

    1. The same sort of thing happened to Greece at about the same time, which is why there are so many vibrant, successful Greek communities in the Diaspora. By the way, I once read that from an entrepreneurial perspective Greeks were the most successful "minority" in the US! Too bad, many say, that same spirit is not encouraged back home.

  6. This is sad, that so many people who have contributed to Greek society have to leave.

    However, given the state of the world's economy, where will they be able to earn a living? With youth unemployment so high in much of Europe, where can young people find jobs?

    So many are low-wage and part-time or temporary.

    In the U.S., it's really tough for young people, including college graduates to find jobs at decent wages, which reflect their educational level.

    A friend's son who has a Masters Degree in Physics can't find a job using his degree; he just got a job -- after looking for two months -- as part of the wait staff at a popular restaurant chain.

    Many of the young people who started and joined the Occupy movement in the U.S. and their fraternal groups in Europe could not find jobs, using their college degrees.

    Many are now working low-wage service jobs.

    The so-called recovery over here has mainly brought low-wage jobs. How can young people have careers with the current economic situation and lack of opportunities?

  7. Good points, Kathy, but the state of the economy in Greece is far worse than in the US. Predatory taxes are drying up many of the businesses that employ workers and pushing home owners toward bankruptcy. As for the low paying "wait" jobs, it's my understanding that even those sorts of low wage service jobs are unavailable to young (even college educated) Greeks willing to do just that. Times there are really tough.

  8. Too painful to see those good people leaving Greece. I can't blame them but I hope later or sooner, Greece can improve their economy.