Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Land that Sense Forgot

I got a comment today asking me why I haven't posted in so many days and I am touched that someone noticed! I have been recovering from a nerve shattering trip to the UK. On Sunday at the airport I bought a book which I settled down to read on the flight to discover that I have not only already read this book, I already own it. So you can understand my frame of mind after a week of rain and grey in the UK. I need to take a week off with my head buried inside a giant watermelon.

On Sunday I sat in an Olympic airways flight stuck at the hell hole that is Heathrow, in pouring rain, one hour delayed, in 14C in July and waited for the golden moment the plane took off and took me away from my increasingly despised birthplace. When the captain gave a speech in Greek over the intercom about how hard they are trying to keep Olympic going despite fines and bans on chartering flights and thanked us for helping their fight by flying Olympic, we all clapped. When the flight touched down in Athens to a July night of 25C, we clapped. I swear, I have tears in my eyes thinking about how happy I was when we landed and left the airport to the warm embrace of summer and the scent of life.

I was right about moving to Greece and on this trip I felt it more keenly than ever before. I feel like a stranger in London being swept along the anonymous faces, the constant rushing, the mind-your-own-business attitude which leaves me scared to get caught up in any trouble because I know people are less likely to help me than they would if I were in Athens. In my one week in London, five young people were fatally stabbed. The sixth died the day I landed. Six young people dead for no good reason - the nation should be on the streets in disgust and yet they do nothing.

When I got a humiliating dressing down from a bank clerk for being in possession of my father's card because my own had stopped working, this in spite of the fact that I was at the counter to replace the money I had used during the week and not to withdraw funds, I boiled with frustration.

"Do you expect a father to leave his daughter without any money for a week? He was trying to help me and you can call him now to check, I have his permission to use the card."

"No one except your father should have the card or the pin number, it's breach of contract."

"But do you understand what I'm telling you, it was an emergency situation and anyway I am putting money into his account not taking it out."

"If we catch you using this card again we will have to remove it from you. Your father is in breach of his terms and conditions by you having the card and the pin number."

"But I'm his daughter and he knows I have his card! Why is it such an issue for a father to lend his daughter his card?"

"Next time get him to write a letter or add you onto the card or we will have to cancel it."

"Why should he write a letter, I'm only here for one week! Can't you understand that I have my own bank card but it has stopped working so I needed this in an emergency till I get the replacement?"

"You shouldn't have his card."

What I see in the UK is the slow death of common sense and mental flexibility as everyone tries to cover their own backsides and screw you if you get in the way. Morons are slowly taking over the country. I fired off an email to Mr Zeus saying I hoped the UK got global warmed into oblivion and sank into the sea, which I admit is a little harsh and I do take back, but I don't apologise for how my one week in London made me feel like I was constantly banging my head against a wall.

So yes, it feels terrific that I was right to leave the UK. I took a gamble and I hit the jackpot. I always hated life in the UK and I am eternally grateful that I took up the opportunity to leave. Otherwise, what would I be doing? Turning green from the lack of sun, doing my nine-to-five and eating my watery tomatoes, sobbing onto my Prozac in front of a light box as a I tried to fend off my annual four month winter depression. If you are a young person living in the UK, reading this and thinking of leaving, let me tell you: Leave. Do it now by whatever means. There's nothing left in the UK any more.

And also, now I am part of respectable Home Country society since I had my religious marriage over the weekend. It feels great that now I can give out my number to friends in the Home Country and not have to worry about Mr Zeus picking up when they ring. More on the ceremony in another post.

Image: http://www.psychopanic.com/images/imwithstupid.jpg


deviousdiva said...

I feel this post !

And congratulations...

Looking forward to pictures and words on the ceremony...

Anonymous said...

Ooooooh congrats on your Home Land wedding!
Also, your post impressed me madly. I was one of the people living in Greece, feeling increasingly frustrated by my own country and the ways it treats me. But reading this, I reconsidered, and started thinking about what this country and its people gives me, despite the problems.
When thinking that my British friend asked my why we don't have swimming pools to go to on weekends, as a response to my saying that we go to the beach each weekend, and that he found it more fun to go get drunk instead of go swim and enjoy, I end up being rather happy with my Greek life!
By the way, thanks for the post, I may not have had company for my morning coffee, but I did for my lunch break!

itelli said...

Few years ago, I had rented a car. At some point I parked it somewhere, but the rear overhang (behind the wheels) was on a double yellow line. That is, four fifths of the car (including all four wheels) were parked legally and the entire car did not obstruct any access to any other vehicle.

But I got a ticket. That is the common sense in the Land of the Black Cloud. They are all sheep. They are worse than the Germans, no matter how much they love laughing at the Germans. There is no scope for a law to be interpreted with the human dimension; the law is the law and everyone must follow it to the letter.

And, finally, everything has a price. Money must be exchanged even if it is for the most useless thing in the entire human history.

Do u see any room for human-ness?

bollybutton said...

dd- no elaboration needed, you know where i'm coming from

anon - I have a lot of optimism for Greece, and I pray you guys don't lose your human ness along the road to progress

itelli - you hit the nail on the head. You even have to pay to take a dump in most places, surely that should be free.

betabug said...

Congratulations to your marriage!

Of course we notice when you don't write... something is missing without your excellent articles!

Blackbird said...

This post really got to me, as I've been torn between going to the UK (where my father is from) and staying here. It's undeniable that life here in Greece can be difficult for a xeni like me but I've never wanted to live in England and I didn't know why.

The news lately is giving me more reasons, though - like the all-too common youth violence. I always ask friends over there if that's just what they show on the news and if things are actually better than they appear... and the answer I get is 'No, it really is like that here'. It makes me sad to know that I am justified in not wanting to go, I rather hoped I could be proved wrong.

I know Greece has more than its fair share of problems but the one thing it has that England doesn't have is my heart. I can see the harsher realities of life here alongside Ellada's beauty and warmth and I accept both. For some reason, I can't do the same with the UK.

Anyway, sorry to blabber on. I'm glad you're posting, your blog is one of my daily reads and as essential as sunshine!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading and enjoying your blog for a while bollybutton, but this is the first time I've felt compelled to post - this was my favourite entry yet.

Born and bred in London to Greek parents, I've always felt torn between London and Athens, especially recently. To the neutral observer, there should be no comparison between the two - London is London, right? Epicentre of the hip and happening universe. He who is bored of London... etc. While Greece wrecks my head.

And yet, and yet... Athens has heart and soul. Beneath the surface, London is dead inside - a cold-hearted bitch of a capital. I've really had enough of its frightened and frightening teenagers, its cutthroat careerists, braying City boys, stony-faced posers, unapproachable and sullen-looking fashion victims, harrassed secretaries, and miserable, lonely oligarchs. This is surely the most socially dysfunctional city on earth and probably has the biggest concentration of utter tossers too.

Athens may have its irritating, shouty people, its self-declared anarchists, its casual racists and zealous nationalists, its rude, surly shop assistants and inconsiderate drivers, not to mention that ghastly machismo that pervades so much of Greece, but underpinning it all one does at least get the sense that people still value the things in life that matter. It has a humanity that London lacks. You can reach out to people and they will respond. In London you have to peel away layer upon layer of guardedness. It's too much like hard work.

Increasingly I'm drawn to Athens... now if they could just sort out their graffiti epidemic!

smaro said...

Like the previous comments, I really loved this post. You hit the nail on the head in the eloquent way that you do. I love reading your blog and when I drove past an IKEA last week in Pireaus, I smiled thinking about your adventure walking to IKEA!

I grew up in Botswana, Africa in a society where being different and of mixed heritage was normal. I was surrounded by my Mother's Greek family with its traditions, loudness and love. I moved to Dublin 10 years ago, where Dad's from and it wasnt the same. I was always Irish, just with a romantic background, but Irish to the core. That has always irritated me and I found myself stiffled at school. I love Dublin as a city but on a recent trip to Greece, I didnt miss it. I didnt miss the familiarity. I definitely didnt miss the weather, and my palate is protesting against bland food, routine boring sandwiches for lunch and sub-standard bread! The weirdest is, I didnt miss my family either. To me, they belong in the Greek environment I was inhabiting, it felt like they lived just around the corner. Maybe I should move to Greece!!?

I do have a question though, I have struggled to learn the language spending many years on it and I would love to know how you did it? My spoken is just too bad!

bollybutton said...

Wow I am so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. How eloquent you all are in describing it! I too miss the friendliness of people when I'm in London. People will smile and act like your best friend but the moment you turn your back they'll stab you without a second thought. It also makes you lose your own openness because if you start chatting to people like I do after 2 years in Athens, they think you're crazy and slowly shuffle away. How sick is that?

And you know who I feel really are losing the plot in the UK? THe men. They are scared to even look at a woman. I swear you'd walk down the street and not even feel like the opposite sex. There is no longing, no desire, no appreciation. Everyone, men and women, are walking along with their heads down or in a book. Look up people, there are beautiful things going on around you. So many of the guys have turned into cocky bastards because of this, and don't even get me started on the city people. I have the misfortune of working in that part of town and it's all dicks at dawn down there.

Hand on my heart I'd take a crispy melon in the Greek sunshine over any caviar, champagne or pay rise.

bollybutton said...

ps. smaro, my Greek is still very much a project in working! My grammar is the problem, but I got as far as I am with a year's worth of double sets of classes, and practice. You pick things up here and there, from TV, from songs, I often rely on lyrics to help me remember grammar because their rhythm makes them easy to remember.

Must try harder though. My pronounciation is apparently very good though, because I can speak an Asian language so the sounds were not unfamiliar to me.

Psofofeggaro said...

congratulations dear, now you're 100% officially married and none can hurt/harm you with words or actions. I'm from the people who dont feel "greek", I feel like "xeni" as another commenter said, yet, every time I speak with people from the other side of the ocean or enjoy your blog, I feel that warmth for my home country and my origin and reconsider it.
Thank you for the educational info about marriage, it's interesting information. We have stuff like that here too, like when the bride leaves the house, she breaks a loaf of bread in 2, facing out, giving the one piece behind (without turning) and taking the other to the car, symbolising the breaking of her self, leaving a piece in her old home(without turning back) and taking the rest for her new life.
I can not speak much about Athens, as I am used to another city,Thessaloniki, but I know that things are a lot different from UK.
P.S. My husband belives that there are times that universe send you some not-to-miss oportunities in life and YOU FEEL IT deep inside and if you grab them by the head, it really changes your life.

GreekGoddess said...

Another fantastic and so-true post! What IS happening with the men, like you say? I've noticed it in Melbourne as well. They'll notice a pretty girl on the train and instead of going up to her and saying hello, they'll write in to the free commuter newspaper, hoping that she'll read it... Maybe us chicks are at fault too, we make it hard for them to not look stupid or something....

Anyway, great post! Hope you enjoy the hot hot weather back in Athina!


smaro said...

Grammar thankfully isnt that much of a problem to me, I enjoy it. The way a sentence is structured and the vocab used, I get an insight into the minds of my grandparents and why they phrase their English in specific ways. I have just been on this intense, linguistically overloading Greek summer course on Paros. I am reeling from all the grammar they crammed into us. My major problem is speaking. I write well, but remember none of those words when I try to speak unless I see them in front of me! Its simply an excuse to go back. Though at the moment, I am taking on German as well..my boyf and I are going to Germany to visit his parents in a few weeks....

bollybutton said...

you know, the process of learning to speak greek helped me let go of a lot of inhibitions. I had to loosen up in order to speak it to the effect that in the beginning, i would speak really good greek if I was a bit merry, of course that was a razor fine balance because being anything more than merry ruins my greek. i'm not scared to try anything now, I go around on my tavels spouting bastard versions of the local language, whereas before i would never dare to even have a bash at the basics.

It'll be a million times easier for you because you already speak other languages. plus it's probably in your DNA!