Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some semi-sophisticated banter

It’s 2:39 AM here, but I’m wide-awake. I’m alert. I’m restless. Life has been going on like “normal” lately- but I find that “normal” is a fluid concept these days. I expect the unexpected- therefore surprise is the norm. For example, on Tuesday there was a bus strike. That’s right, public transportation stopped. Highly inconvenient having to hail a cab (due to the significant price difference)- but still, Thessaloniki makes due. I’ve come to find that most of the major public service providers go on strike a few times a month here. In the ten days that I’ve been here I have already seen a taxi strike, a bus strike and a police strike. The unions alert the press of the date they will be on strike weeks in advance and the press releases the information to the public in a calendar format. Way to plan your month! However, the strikes here aren’t designed to devastate an industry like some American strikes (see the current WGA strike). The strikes here are meant to highlight employee rights and raise awareness of grievances. Once these issues have been addressed, it’s back to work. Hellenic society is based on ancient values of collectivism, not the individualism of the modern era. Greeks realize that by ceasing to work, they hurt many around them- thus they try to keep things relatively succinct. The primary assumption behind protest is that everybody should have a voice. It is not based solely on receiving extra compensation or benefits. I guess this philosophy makes sense in the land that is essentially the birthplace of democracy.

Everybody has been picked on at least once in their life. It’s inevitable. Maybe you were smaller than someone; maybe you were a “geek”. Maybe you were bad at sports or you were just disliked for no reason. Either way, it’s happened. And when you came into the house downtrodden and dirty from sometimes quite literal mudslinging, what did your parents say? “People only tease you out of jealously. If they don’t like you, you have something that they want.”
I never believed that crap. I always thought it was a load of BS- a euphemism meant to appease me in a situation that had no right answer. I operated under the assumption that some people are just viscous regardless of motive. However, I’ve recently been able to draw a real-life parallel that has allowed me to examine more thoroughly the idea that hatred is fueled by jealousy. It’s no secret that Americans abroad are viewed as arrogant, overconfident and materialistic. It’s a fact that we get a bad rap for being greedy and manipulative. Why is this? Is it because we really are all these negative characteristics that people describe us as? Or is this broad generalization of American culture linked to envy in some way? In the short time that I’ve been here, I have met people from all over the world: Greeks, Albanians, Bulgarians, Poles and Nigerians. They of course ask me if I’m from America, and when I say yes they proceed to tell me how lucky I am. They tell me that they wish they could live in America. They express an interest in my stories about home and seem willing to do generally anything to get into the states. And this phenomenon can be seen on a worldwide basis. Mexican citizens jump fences, hide in trucks and stow away on ships to get into the US. Cubans paddle to the shores of Florida in tiny Styrofoam boats that often capsize and are usually turned away jut to have a shot at living in the States. It seems like many easily criticize the “American Way”, yet many want to live the fabled “American Dream”. If people are willing to die to come to the US, there most be some virtue they see that they can’t find elsewhere. Of course my view is biased based on my nationality, the time I have spent in the states and the media I have been exposed to- however I can’t help but get the impression that America is envied, especially since I have gathered corroborating evidence overseas. Of course, not everybody wants to live in the US and undoubtedly millions of people are happy in their country. But maybe, just maybe some of the hatred for the US is fueled by jealousy. It’s just a thought.

Wednesday was an interesting night. We all wanted to go out to this reggae bar, but I wasn’t drinking. Before hand, my friends decided they wanted to “pre-game” which means to basically arrive at said location already semi-drunk. Their beverage of choice: cheap white wine. Bad choice I thought, but whatever. So we arrived at the bar, talked, played some cards- had a good time. But by the time we got back to the apartment, my roommate was so sick he could barely move. He spent the whole night throwing up. I hate to say I told you so. Tonight we are going out again for Valentine’s Day. It’s entirely possible to go out every night here. The classes are so ridiculously easy and slow paced I feel like I’m in 9th grade again.

A little update on my voice- it’s back! I would say 85%, but that’s good enough to scream “Help!”, “Rape”, or “Pickpocket”- so I’m happy. Today I went to the φαρμακείο (pharmacy) to conquer this cough/runny nose because it’s gotten a little worse. My general policy on sickness is to always get medication within the first 48 hours. I know, I’m a wuss. Yes I know my immune system is probably weaker for it- but here’s my philosophy: if there’s a medicine that can fix my problem now, I’m going to use it. If I can feel better now, why shouldn’t I? So any way, I headed up to the pharmacy armed with phrases from my Greek phrasebook such as “it hurts here” and “cough”, but by the time I got there I had completely forgotten everything. One big blank. So I relied on the tried and true standard: “Milate Agglika?” (Do you speak English). Thankfully the pharmacist did and I described my symptoms- nasal drainage, light cough etc. Then she proceeded to write me a prescription on the spot and give me prescription antibiotics and nasal spray! That’s right, walk in, cough, get prescription drugs and walk out. This is definitely not America.

I’d like to say one final thing. I’ve come to realize how non-homogenous America really is. It’s not like that here. There isn’t a spectrum of colors and cultures here. Maybe in the university (as many universities have)- but in general the country is one big Hellenic race. It’s strange.

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