The last time I was in Athens I was almost hit in the head by a Molotov cocktail.
Well, ok, maybe I wasn’t in the thick of the riots, but I was in the neighbourhood. It seemed to be everywhere. Police sirens, young people running in packs. Older people who had given up running but still looked angry.
Pension payments hadn’t gone through. Financial institutions were fending off a run on the banks. The police were on rolling strikes. So were the rubbish collectors until they got paid.
It was mayhem. Greek civilisation seemed to be on the brink of collapse.
‘This is going to get ugly.’
But then at 3pm, it just stops. Peace and quiet descends on the city.
It was a long weekend. The ferry for the Greek island of Paros leaves at little after 15:10. Seemed like all the protestors were on it.
Rebellion, anarchy, the over-throw of capitalist oppressors. All that could wait until Tuesday. The forecast was for beautiful weather.
‘Oh those lazy Greeks.’
This is one of the narratives that have emerged from the ongoing Greek crisis. The Greek people are just lazy. They’ve been living beyond their means and now that it’s time to pay they bills, they’re just crossing their arms and having a hissy fit.
This is the lecture a friend of mine was trying to give me – though she knew nothing about the Greek situation or international politics.
But that’s when you know you’ve won the battle for the narrative – when people who got no idea about it suddenly have very strong opinions about it.
This is the PR game.
And right now, it’s the game the Greek people are losing. Who’s winning? Their creditors. Germany, France, the IMF – and a bunch of private enterprises.
I’m not saying they don’t have a legitimate claim to the money they lent – but constructing a narrative about “Lazy Greeks” helps you convince your people to let you play hard ball with the lives of an entire nation.
So is it true?
The first mistake is taking a reading on an entire race of people based on the actions of their government. How far do you identify with the decisions of the Abbott government? Or the Rudd/Gillard government?
How would you feel if Hockey stuffed up the books, and now suddenly all Australians are lazy and incompetent?
The other point is that it just isn’t born out in the data.
If you look at Average Weekly Working Hours, based on OECD data, Greeks actually have the longest working weeks in the EU!
Those Dutch folks only work 30 hours a week, but you don’t see anyone waving the ‘lazy’ finger at them!
They’re even working 7 more hours a week (almost a full day) more than those uber-industrious Germans!
A lot of these differences are structural. There’s a lot of self-employed people in Greece. And farmers. Both tend to work long hours.
Also part-time work is less common in Greece. It’s much more common in busy-bee Germany.
But even if you strip out the part time difference and only look at full time workers, Greeks still work 10% more a week than Germans.
And that’s because the Germans take more holiday, sickness leave and maternity leave – on average four weeks more than the Greeks.
Sorry, what were you saying about laziness?
Or what about the claim that Greeks retire at ridiculously young ages? They shuffle off in their early 40s to long and indulged permanent holidays?
Again, it’s just not born out in the data. On average, Greeks take their pension a little earlier than the rest of Europe, but the difference isn’t huge.
But then, what does this have to do with laziness? It’s a product of the system. Are you telling me that if the system allowed you to retire at 40, you wouldn’t? You’d just keep working?
No thanks. I prefer to spend another 15 years in the Lederhosen factory because I have a righteous Western European work ethic.
Give me a break.
And that’s what gives me the craps. It’s like the rest of the world looks at us and sees us having a great time. Enjoying the Mediterranean sun, drinking ouzo, playing music, talking crap with our friends.
We’re known for our lifestyle. We’re a lifestyle people.
But then they make the grand logical leap that because we have a reputation for fun, then we must also have a reputation for not doing any work.
I’d say that this is a particularly western idea. The idea that work and fun are incompatible.
The only virtuous life is one where you slave away in misery for 60 years, and then enjoy a few quiet years under a tree when you retire.
It’s an idea that has a good hold in Australia too.
It’s garbage. Work and fun are not incompatible. In fact, one energises the other.
And look at me. I like my lifestyle. I love it. And I’m wiling to work really hard to make it happen.
So just because we’re not buying into your misery mantra, don’t go calling us ‘lazy’.
That said, Greece is pretty stuffed. It’s in a world of pain. GDP has fallen by 25% in the past 5 years. Poverty rates have doubled.
And their budget is a total mess. And only getting messier.
(Military spending hasn’t been touched though! Probably because Greeks like buying German war machines. Does Greece really need new submarines at a time like this?)
And the property market is still shell-shocked, though it seems to be stabilising. You’d hope so. Prices in Athens have fallen 40% since the GFC!
And even though prices are falling, rents are going south too, and yields are still a pissy 2% in a lot of places.
Time to snap up a bargain?
No freaking way.
It’s a renter’s paradise. You could rent on a different island every year, and landlords would be tripping over themselves to have you.
I’ll stick to the Aussie market thanks.
Greece is in trouble. No doubt about that.
But just don’t tell me its because Greeks are ‘lazy’.
Will the Greeks exit the Euro and make it “the place” to holiday?
Does Australia need to have a more ‘Greek’ work ethic?
Will you be going to Mykonos this year?