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The Truth About 'Lazy Greeks'

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The Truth About 'Lazy Greeks'

Postby Londonrake » Tue Dec 01, 2020 7:53 pm

A (paywalled) DT article this week:

"The truth about 'lazy' Greeks
The idea that Greeks don't like work has been hard to shake, even though statistics tell a very different story


I first heard the label 'lazy Greek' a few years ago from a cab driver. "I had this German passenger who said, 'I don't need to pay this taxi ride because I've already bailed out you lazy Greeks with my taxes'," he told me during the three-hour ride from Heraklion to Sitia.

Tugging his shirt with thumb and forefinger – an eloquent Cretan gesture which means everything from 'creep' to 'asshole' – he sighed. "Ti na kanoume? What can we do?"

Launched in the midst of Greece's interminable economic crisis, the 'lazy Greeks' label was a subtle manipulation of national characteristics aiming to prove that the fallout of the global crisis which started in 2008 was 'made in Greece'.

In a post for the Social Europe blog, Sandro Scocco, chief economist for Stockholm-based think tank Arena Ide, said that the idea was launched by politicians in order to justify "being tough on the Greeks". "Using simple and erroneous explanations to single out scapegoats does not bode well for the future, or for the EU," he wrote.

Harvard professor Michael Herzfeld went even further. "Foreign governments, banks, and monetary institutions... would prefer a humble Greece to an economically self-assertive one... therefore [they] prefer the negative stereotype that these characterizations produce," he stated in a detailed paper exploring the issue.

Fired by politicians and fuelled by caricatures like Nikos Kazantsakis' carefree Zorba – a womaniser who spends most of his time drinking raki and dancing the sirtaki – once it had been launched the idea that Greeks don't like work was hard to shake, even though statistics told a very different story.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Greeks work the longest hours in Europe and take fewer holidays than most of their counterparts in the EU. But the notion that 'work' equals 'misery' – or, to put it in simpler terms, 'if you are enjoying it, it can't be work' – is deeply ingrained in the psyche of many northern countries, so it's hardly surprising that visitors from the EU often have difficulty understanding the Greek mentality which says that work is not apart from life, but is an integral part of it.

As a friend of mine recently joked: "The real problem is not that Greeks don't work – the problem is that they enjoy it so much that we don't believe they're really working!"

Later that summer, as I sat sipping treacle-black elleniko coffee at a kafenion overlooking Sitia's seagull-serenaded harbour, my friend's words were confirmed by an irate Dutch tourist. "Why are the shops closed until 5pm? These Greeks are so lazy – always sleeping!" he fumed as if – as a fellow foreigner – I would surely empathise.

I explained that most Greeks work from 8am to 2pm and then – after that much-needed siesta – they start a whole new day of work, often ploughing through until 10 or 11 at night. "You call that working?" he bellowed indignantly. "They are always standing in shop doorways talking – how can they be working when they always have their friends and children wandering in and out?!"

When I told this to Kosta, the tavern owner, he stared at me in disbelief. "Einai trelos? Is he crazy? I work long hours – it's important for me to leave a thriving business to my children, but my family works with me and my clients are my friends. I like to make money but I also like to enjoy my life, what's wrong with that?"

A few evenings later I got chatting with Stelios, who owns a café high on the Lasithi plateau. As the imperative slap and rattle of tavli (backgammon) tokens rang from tables around us and sugar odours of custard-cake bougatsa – mingled with country smells of feta and goat – filled the air, he told me his life story.

Like many other islanders, Stelios was a victim of the poverty that dogged Greece before tourism brought money into the country in the Eighties and Nineties. Forced to find work overseas, he left Crete when he was 16 years old and travelled the world for 20 years as a sailor. During that time he married a local girl and had two children, but for 15 years he only saw his family twice a year. "They were grown-ups when I finally had enough money to return home and buy my cafe," he told me.

I asked Stelios what he thought about the label 'lazy Greeks'. He laughed a shade bitterly. "I worked overseas for years without seeing my family or my children, do I sound like a lazy man? Do you want to know what I think?"

He spread his arms wide. "Here in Greece we everything we need – we have blue skies, clean seas and healthy food. These people calling us lazy? They're just jealous
."
Londonrake
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