Friday, 31 July 2009

It's Greek to me - do you understand why?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Greek is not an easy language to learn and I strongly advise anyone thinking of moving to this country on a permanent basis to at least get a basic knowledge of the language.
But for Greeks English is not an easlier language either. Most (particularly young) Greeks, speak English to some degree - the younger the better the English. I know many many Greeks whose level of English I would estimate as excellent. Yet, no matter how good, Greeks have difficulty with English prepositions. i.e. "to, at, on, in" and mix these up very easily. Why?
The answer is simple, Greek has one preposition "se" which means "to, at, on, in". On the beach is "se", in the town is "se", "to the restaurant is "se". So it is extremely difficult to a Greek to understand why we say "in the town" and not "at the town", "I saw it on television" Not "I saw it in television","I am on the island of Paxos" and not "at the island of Paxos". Indeed can you say or explain why we say in English "at the beach" and not "in the beach" or "I am in the mountains" and not "I am at the mountains"?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Well thank goodness, Greece, help is on its way

Reports that Greece has a full-scale action plan against the swine flu virus are comforting. As for my own experience, I can only hope they aare indeed true. Anyway, rest assured Here you will be able to read all about it.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Greece, swine flu and me unbelievable - see Greece and die

In earlier postings I had mentioned the shortcomings of the Greek public health system. Well, this past 10 days I had the disputable honor of experiencing it myself.
Having returned from a short trip abroad on 17 July, I took suddenly ill in the evening with an unbearable headache. It continued on Saturday, accompanied by a raging temrparature of 39,7C and other typical symptoms of swine flu - sensitivity to light, muscle pain..
First visit is the public hospital in Nrthern Greece for treatment of swine flu. BUT ....
this hospital only accepts patients who have visited another hospital and have been referred by them. So off I go to the hospital on duty that particular Saturday. They decide quickly that I am a case for AHEPA - the hospital in northern Greec responsible for all swine flu tests.
In contrast to the media hype that preparations are complete for any major epidemic, AHEPA as center for diagnosis and treament of the virus did not have a doctor on duty - but they did have a doctor on call, so I would have to wait......outside in 37C as they could not find the key to open the isolation ward! Anyway, blood tests were eventually taken and I was sent home - the drug is only given after the virus has been confirmed!!
So off I went home trying to find a taxi that would take a passenger wearing a face mask. I was told to return the following day which I did. No results on Sunday as the laboratory was closed. Returned on Monday - still with 39.7C fever - and was told I may get the results that evening - 48 hours had passed. Monday evening the hospital called me at home - reults were negative. I asked what I shoudl do now as the symtpoms remained. Answer? "We don't know we are only responsible for diagnosis of swine flu." To be continued when I feel a little better.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Greece - asylum seekers - human rights?

In an earlier posting I touched on the issue of illegal immigrants to Greece and pointed out that the geographical situation makes it extremely difficult to control immigration form Albania in the north and from the sea border with Turkey in the east.
Now the head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the region has strongly critised Greece for law changes which will make the situation of illegal immigrants more perilous. For a start the whole business of deciding on their fate will be decentralised to 50 police agencies. Secondly these agencies have no expertise in such matters and even lack the language skills to communicate with immigrants. Thirdly, and worst of all, the previous right of appeal has been abolished.
All this I see as signs that the government in the current economic crisis is coming under increasing pressure from the country at large to stop the influx of immigrants which many Greeks believe are now taking away their jobs.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Link exchanges wanted for my blog

By the way, if anyone has a blog related in any way to this one, ie. travel blog etc and is interested in exchanging links, please leave your details in the comments box below and I will be right back to you.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Last post on Christina Onassis and the rich life

Much of Christina and Alexandros Onassis' childhood were spent living on the Onassis faily yacht - the Chrtistina O. Their family could work from there. It is said to have been second only to the British Queen's Royal yacht Britannia in terms of luxury. Like the island of Skorpios it also played host to the rich and famous of the world - Maria Callas, Sir WInston Churchill and his wife, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe are but a few examples. In fact, it was on board this yacht that Churchill first met John F. Kennedy.
During the summer days the yacht could be seen anchored off the island of Skorpios. If you are interested in reading more about the life and times of Onassis and his relationship to the great diva, Maria Callas, I can recommend an excellent book called "Greek Fire" which also contains many accounts of the travels and persons who enjoyed the hospitality of the Christina O. It had a crew of 34 and could accommodate 36 guests.
What eventually became of the yacht. Christina in her will left it to the President of Greece but as the government was unable to pay for the upkeep, it was sold to a private company. Now you can rent it to sail in luxury in Greek waters - prices, I believe, are around $300 000 dollars/week.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Tweeters of the world unite - help me save Freddy

This is Freddy - or at least a look alike. Freddy was born in the pot holding my Russian vine on the terrace about 4 weeks ago. Yesterday he jumped out and refuses to get back in to this ready built nest as his mother had assumed.
Now the mother has disappeared and when I went last night to put him back in the pot, he took a long look at me as if to say, No more step and I'll jump as he was then pearched on the edge of the terrace and I live on the 5th floor. As I don't believe he can fly, I did not tempt fate. Please ideas welcome. What can I do to save Freddy?

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Christine Onassis, Jackie Kennedy,....not a marriage made in heaven

Christine Onassis resented her father's plans to marry Jackie Bouvier Kennedy. Christine herself was ferociously loyal to her family and probably was saddened by the fact that her father was basically making a fool of himself. Jackie Kennedy, the sleek and polished socialite, stood in strong contrast to the somewhat ordinary looking Christine and she made Christine feel this.

When Aristotle Onassis was dying and was moved to the American Clinic in Paris, home of his beloved Maria Callas, Jackie jetted off to continue her social engagements in New York leaving Christine at her father's bedside. Indeed, Jackie had always made it clear her only interest was in spending her husband's money. She even had him cancel flights on his airline, Olympic Airways, so she could jet over alone to New York. Upon Aristotle's death Jackie settled out of court for $20 million plus taxes. Christine took over the family empire and proved a shrewd business woman earning $ one million a week in private income - a lot of money in the seventies.

But Christine's life was a tragic one. Her failed affairs, her failed marriages, the death of her father and her brother Alexandros when his aircraft crashed on take off at Athens airport left her scared. If you are interested in reading a great book about her life, it is written by William Wright and entitled "All the pain that money can buy". I find it a truly fascinating and well researched story of Christine's life. Even into the minute detail that Christine Onassis was addicted to Coca Cola and on the island of Scorpios she had refrigerators stocked with Coca Cola on the many walks and paths around the island. The greates happiness for Christina was the birth of her daughter Athena after her marriage to a Swiss aristocrat. Sadly when Athena was aged three, Christine was found dead in the bathroom of her hotel suite in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Greece - Onassis and how the rich live(d) - incredibly interesting

"Greece is a poor country full of rich people". I will never forget that was the first statement someone made to me when I discovered I was relocating to this country. During my years here I became fascinated with the life of the Onassis family. Aristotle Onassis - as you probably know - was a billionaire Greek shipping tycoon, whose claim to fame I suppose was that he married Jackie Kennedy, widow of assassinated US President, J. F. Kennedy. In a nutshell the arranged marriage was motivated by Onassis' claim for social status and Jackie's love of money.

A couple of years ago I went on a yachting trip from Corfu down the Ionian Coast to Lefkada. It was during this trip that I discovered my fascination with the Onassis family. On the way I came across the Onassis private island which stands in all its incredible botanical beauty (Onassis had trees and shrubs brought from all over the world) where the family would spent summer vacations. There is something errie about this deserted paradise today. In the 70's when the family were in residence there were some 300 staff in attendance - even today deserted some 30 are constantly employed in upkeeping the houses and gardens. Taking a step forward Onassis two children, Alexandros and Christina Onassis, both died tragically. The sole inheritor of the entire Onassis fortune - including the island - is the only daughter of Christina Onassis, Athena. Now in her twenties she inherited her first $10 of the estate at the age of 18! She never visits the island and is adverse to anything Greek. To be continued .....

Monday, 6 July 2009

Continuing on the topic of illegal immigration to Greece

Recent polls show that 90% of Greeks believe that we have enough migrants in the country and that the flow should be stopped. Yet, as I mentioned yesterday, the fact alone of Greece's vulnerable geographical location would make it extremely difficult to stop all illegal immigration.

Recently New Democracy proposed several measures to tackle illegal immigration, one of which is to create detention centers at former army camps. Just over a third of those questioned disagreed with this but over half thought that it was a good idea. Just over half of respondents also believe that immigration harms the economy, as opposed to 32 percent, who believe that immigrants are a boon to economic growth.

A more interesting statistic is the following, however, 75% of Greeks believe that there is a clear relationship between immigration and the rise in crime in the country and even more importantly half the country believes that immigrants are employed in positions in which Greeks would not be interested. In conclusion about two-tirds of Greeks belive that immmigration is “probably” doing harm to Greece.

Now how does that tie in with the EU policy fo free movement of citizens throughout the European Union or are these not considered immigrants?

Greece and the problem of illegal immigrants

Largely on account of it's geographical location Greece has in recent years faced a major problem of illegal immigrants. On the one hand, the country has a large sea border with its neighbour Turkey. This has resulted in a booming industry of people trafficking via Turkey from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan. People basically paying their last pennies for the promise of a better life in Greece or Europe. Recently there have been too many incidents to mention of overcrowded non-seaworthy boats sinking in the waters off the Eastern Greek islands with countless deaths.

Secondly, the border with one of Greece's northern neighbours, Albania, is mountainous and notoriously difficult to patrol. As a result of the fact that Albania is a poor post-Communist country with high unemployment, the numbers coming illegally to Greece are incessant. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge there are no official figures - how can you count illegal entries? Now and again the police do round ups of illegal immigrants in Athens or Thessaloniki and put them on a bus back to Albania but in a couple of days they are back again on the streets. Although Greece has received very negative press on its treatment of illegal immigrants also from international UN agencies, the problem is a thorny one. Are these political refugees, are they economic fugitives? Mainly, in the case of Albanians the case is the latter and there have been a number of amnesties over the years allowing illegal immigrants to register and become legal, many are put off by the bureaucracy or the fear of repatriation. In general, the feeling I think is that Albanians are a boon to the economy. They do many jobs which Greeks would not consider. But now in times of economic hardship as in many other countries we have the right-wing voices claiming that they are taking away work from Greeks.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Bringing dear old Betsie with me - laws governing importation of your vehicle(s) to Greece

Why not. This is particularly releveant to citizens of any country in the European Union. Since the whole idea behind the European Community was to encourage the free movement of capital, goods and people within the Union, it would seem fair that you would not be penalised for bringing your car with you. Wrong, I am afraid. This has been a bone of contention between the Greek State and the European Commission for years and a lot of progress has not been made.
A series of complaints to the Commission and a number of petitions lodged with the European Parliament revealed that the Greek authorities are not applying Directive 83/183/EEC properly with regard to cars and that this is causing many problems for European citizens.
Instead of granting the "tax exemption" for cars laid down in the Directive, Greece
currently taxes cars brought into Greece by individuals moving to Greece from
another Member State at a rate of one fifth (20%) of the tax normally paid before a
car can be put on the road in Greece. Furthermore, only one car per family qualifies
for the reduced rate whereas the Directive stipulates that an exemption should apply
to every car actually used in the former country of residence by any member of the
family transferring his "normal residence" to another Member State.
Secondly, the Greek authorities apply a restrictive interpretation to the concept of
"normal residence". On the one hand, Greek nationals who have left the country to
live and work in another Member State for a number of years are regarded by the
Greek authorities as residents of Greece even if their centre of interest has been
moved to another Member State. People in this category returning to live in Greece
are therefore charged Greek taxes on an imported car because Directive 83/183 is
considered as non-applicable in their case.
In contrast, where non-nationals are concerned, there are cases where, as proof of
transfer of normal residence, the Greek authorities require the production of a long term residence permit for Greece. However, such a residence permit often takes
more than six months to obtain, in which case, instead of attributing this delay to their own officials, the Greek authorities attribute it to the persons concerned by
prohibiting them from using their vehicles for more than six months or even by
impounding vehicles on the grounds that no tax has been paid on them.
The Greek authorities failed to comply with the Commission’s formal request to
change their law and practices (see IP/02/1036 of 11 July 2002)."

No comment!

The paradox to me about Greece - low wages and a visibly high standard of living

After 14 years of living in Greece I still have no convincing answer to the obvious paradox between comparatively low wages and a seemingly high standard of living. And yet I see myself as a fairly rational or logical individual who believes that there is an explanation for everything. I have already refered to the low average wages in Greece, even State employees like doctors, nurses are relatively underpaid in comparison to other European countries. Currently we have an economic recession and talk of doom and gloom also in Greece. Yet I fail to see it. The cafes are as full as always, hotels are mostly booked out for the summer period and the tavernas are overflowing in the sultry summer evenings. So what is the answer? The property market seems to be flourishing, OK shops seem to have started the sales earlier than usual this summer. But hardship - I can see no signs of it.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

And a response to Kat

I received this comment from a fellow blogger (whose website I highly recommended in a previous posting.)

Yes, and I think you might have sourced these Kathimerini articles from my numerous posts on the cost of living, just as you based your other cost of living article on things I compiled.

I have no problem with you, as long as you abide by the rules set forth in my policy, which is based on copyright law and journalistic ethics. Thank you :) -- Kat, author and journalist

I would wish to point out to my colleague that I am not in the habit of stealing content from other web sites. I am a daily reader of the English version of kathimerini and I would assume that I also have a right to use these articles, like anyone else. I await your reponse.

Interesting comment and thanks to Jenai

"AHAH This should be fun. I doubt they will take notice of it. I am Greek by the way too so I know the mentality well, even though I don't smoke myself..Kali su evthomatha..
Yes, Jenai it will be interesting to see how the situation develops. We had failed attempts in the past to segregate smokers and non-smokers. I had a funny incident myself. About two years ago I walked into a taverna. I counted 30 tables, 28 were occupied - by smokers happily puffing away. As I am a smoker I asked if there was room - the no smoking sign rapidly vanished from another table - leaving a total of one non-smoking table. That's what I like, flexibility.

Greece busy turning a new (smoking) page

Well, that's the way Greek health minister, Avramopoulos, dexcribed the situation yesterday. He has warned that the government is going to be serious about enforcement of the new anti-smoking laws. In terms of our health we all know it is a good idea and as the following graph shows Greece is very much top of the charts in the percentage of the population over 15 years of age who smoke. Yesterday, the first day of the smoking ban, there was the usual chaos. The ministry helpline had a total of 10,086 calls, mainly from owners of tavernas and bars asking for information. Apparently if you premises are over 70 square meters you are obliged to declare the establishment either smoking or non-smoking. Unfortunately the appropriate stickers for the windows seem to be missing! I am sure it will sort itself out in typical Greek fashion - over a cigarette.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

As of today "no smoking" laws apply in Greece

If you had asked me 10 or even 5 years ago about a smoking ban in Greece, I would simply have laughed. But today sees the introduction of smoking bans in public areas in Greece. Mind you there have been severla lame attempts in the past to try this but it never had any success. Greece has the highest number of smokers per capital in Europe, cigarettes are cheap and everybody - almost - smokes. Will the ban last, in restaurants, tavernas, clubs and bars it coudl have a negative effect with a lowering of the number of visitors and a drop in turn-over. Thsi is the last thing Greece needs at present in the middle of the current European recessions. Though it will be interesting to see how the law will be enforced.