Archive | May, 2010

What’s Your Ikea of a Good Time?

21 May

It was inevitable.  Things were getting too good.  Confidence?  Check.  Self esteem?  Check.  A closet (somewhat) full of clothing I actually wanted to wear?  Check.  A solid look in the mirror that didn’t result in an overwhelming desire to up-chuck?  Check.  But the world has its way of balancing things out – what my English professors would call The Wheel of Fortune (and no, not of the Vanna White variety).  And that’s why Sweden exists.

Sweden is where beautiful people from the rest of the world go to feel bad about themselves.  Sweden is where girls go to try to land a gorgeous man with a square jaw, broad shoulders, trim build, and piercing eyes.  Basically George Clooney on his greatest day ever.  Sweden is home to the tall, skinny, big-breasted, blonde, tiny-waisted women that every man besides Tiger Woods would sell his soul for the chance to be with.  Sweden is where said gorgeous men and desirable women pay you absolutely no attention since, considering they have one another as counterparts, they don’t have to.  Sweden is where people are effortlessly fashionable and chic and stylish, and somehow seem to wear exactly what we lowly Americans will be wearing next year.  So if you’re a 5-foot brunette with an ass and a backpack filled with jeans, old t-shirts, and distressed Uggs, you’ll obviously fit right in.  And by “obviously fit right in”, I clearly mean feel like a Mexican in Arizona on the first day of immigrant hunting season.

I must say that I’m surprised the Swedish haven’t taken over the world.  Having perfected the human race, what’s holding them back?  Not only are they a land of beautiful people, they are nice, friendly, and helpful, all speak perfect English in addition to the gibberish that is Swedish, and manage to run their country efficiently and effectively.  Unlike Greece, things actually run according to schedule in Sweden, and they seem to actually understand the idea of a normal workday.  Stockholm is clean, pretty, and well kept, and it takes pride in its past while emphasizing the importance of an advanced future.  So can somebody please tell me why this land of perfection stays hidden in Northern Europe, with nothing to offer the world beyond meatballs, Absolut Vodka, and ABBA?

While I spent three days being completely in awe of these gorgeous specimens, I also spent three days being in awe of Stockholm as a city.  I really didn’t know what to expect from it, having only decided to go there because of the remarkably low price tag attached to the plane heading in that direction.  To be honest, I didn’t even know it was a city made up of islands.  As a result, everything was new, exciting, entrancing.  I spent my days wandering around Gamla Stan (the old town), perusing the shops along Drottninggatan (the major pedestrian street in the city), scarfing down delicious vegan cuisine (thanks to a wonderful tip from an American turned ex-pat and Stockholm local), witnessing the over-the-top changing of the guards, and touring select museums.  Most noteworthy was the Vasa Museum, a museum that is dedicated to, and actually current home to, the Vasa, a Swedish warship that sunk not even a nautical mile out to sea in 1628.  Around the mid 20th century, it was rediscovered and, due to the water’s cold temperature, was completely maintained while underwater.  The ship is almost entirely intact and on display at the Vasa Museum, and without a doubt a must-see while in Stockholm.

But Stockholm wasn’t all greatness and perfection.  True to form, the Wheel of Fortune must keep turning, ensuring balance in the world.  We scoured the streets and skimmed every menu we could find, but found no trace of a Swedish meatball.  When I got up the courage to ask the unbelievably stylish retail attendant who sold me glorified Keds where I could find a nice plate of the famous dish, he laughed and replied, “IKEA.”

So maybe Sweden has the beauty and the fashion and the perfect ingredients for making perfect babies, and maybe they are choosing not to take over the world so that they can keep their secrets for eternal perfection from us lowly creatures, but we have Swedish meatballs at our disposal in America, to be eaten whenever we fancy.  And despite all those secrets they are maliciously hiding, they let slip the biggest one of all: how to build a fully functional chest of drawers from scratch.  Who needs physical flawlessness when you can have an affordable DIY bed set?

May Day = Mayday!

3 May

Labor Day in America means barbecues and that last chance to soak up some sun at the shore before the work year commences.  Labor Day in Greece is an entirely different ballgame altogether.  I don’t mean that they prefer soccer to baseball (though they do).  Their Labor Day is May Day, or May 1st, or International Worker’s Day.  Basically, May Day means, as does nearly every other holiday in Greece, “Let’s break out the signs and start a riot!”

May Day landed on a Saturday this year, which probably wasn’t the most opportune day for all those workers who wanted a day off.  That’s like when Rosh Hashanah landed on a weekend when I was growing up.  What’s the point of spending the day outside the sanctuary talking with your friends in formal wear for 5 hours if you’re not getting the day off from school to do it?  For me, this past Saturday was nothing more than a sunny 77˚ day.  It’s just starting to get warm enough in Greece to hit the beach, and so I spent all last week tracking the weather and getting excited for the high weekend temps.  As someone who spent 4 years attending university in Los Angeles, I was getting pretty frustrated with the level of paleness my skin managed to achieve throughout the winter months, and was in dire need of some UV rays.  As soon as Saturday morning rolled around, I jumped out of bed, hopped in the shower, and pulled on a bikini and sundress before boarding the bus to the metro line.  And that’s where things got a little tricky.

The bus and metro rides went as planned, and we disembarked at Syntagma station ready to catch the tram to Glyfada, a coastal town.  We climbed the stairs out of the metro station to find the streets surrounding Syntagma square, the central hub of Athens, blocked with a large marching group of Athenians.  They chanted and held up signs, plowing through the streets like patriotic Americans on July 4th.  Except this parade of sorts was anti-government, and lined with policemen standing strong and in large numbers behind body-length plastic shields, just waiting for a Molotov cocktail to be thrown their way.  We eyed the march, noticed the police, and snapped a picture for the books.  In Athens, this is nothing out of the ordinary.

Then we noticed the main street was blocked off.  We were a little concerned, but saw that the tram lane was still without interruption, and regained some hope.  We joined the growing crowd waiting at the tram stop, and figured that if these local Greeks were waiting for the tram, it must be coming.

We were wrong.  After an hour of waiting (and soaking up some sun, at least) we headed for the metro.  Not ones to give up, we figured we would take a metro as far as we could toward the beach and then grab a bus the rest of the way.  Luckily, I happened to ask someone at the information desk which buses we could take, and found out that if we took the red-line metro 2 more stops, we could catch the tram there.  Turns out because of May Day, the tram was avoiding Syntagma, but was still running per usual the rest of the regular route.  Americans – always the last to know.  So, no sooner than at the stroke of 3pm, we arrived at the tram stop ready for the beach and officially sick of the protests.

The day wasn’t an entire loss.  At the tram stop, we randomly met up with some friends who also happened to be going to the beach, and joined them for a day of fun in the sun.  The sun didn’t set until around 8pm, and so we had a good few hours of lounging by the sea before feasting on a seaside meal at the nearby beach taverna.  I didn’t get as tan as I would have liked, but I managed to work up a nice base.  The best part of the maritime refuge?  Unlike Athens, where the people still dress in leather jackets and boots in summertime weather (they dress for the season, no matter how hot it is) and ooze pent-up anger for the government at every street corner, people by the sea waltz around in loose, springtime clothing without so much as a care, other than where their paddleball paddles have gone.

It’s nice to get away from it all.  It’s just a damn shame it takes about 3 hours and a year’s worth of stress to do it.

On The Eve of Destruction

2 May

As a small, elite few may know, there has been some action in Greece lately.  While I haven’t ever addressed any political issues thus far, and don’t really plan on doing it in the future, the questions about the Greek financial crisis and what it’s like to be in Athens during such a turbulent time have piled up as the months have rolled by.  To be quite honest, I am not, in any shape or form, an authority on Greek current events.  Yes, I live here, and yes, I work with Greek people and come in contact with Average Yannis’s everyday.  But considering I can’t read or speak or understand the Greek language, it makes it hard to stay up-to-date on the news, leaving American/British newspapers as my only source of information.  This is completely fine, but it means that I don’t know anymore than any of you who ask me questions after reading the same exact articles I’m finding on the web.  But, in an attempt to quell the questions, I’ll put in the two cents that would probably be better spent at a taverna to help the Greek economy.

I don’t live in Athens.  I know, I’ve been lying to everyone for 8+ months now.  I live in Palio Psychico, a sleepy, leafy (for Greece, at least) suburb of the major city.  While the center is simply a bus and metro ride away, the culture is entirely different.  I live in the Bel Air equivalent to Greece, where the wealthy reside and the rich kids sip their Starbucks and discuss which Ivy League school they’ll attend if they decide against Oxford or Cambridge.  Psychico is not exactly a great representation of the rest of Greece.  The children I teach are privileged, and their parents are swimming in money when they’re not off vacationing in America or their island homes on Mykonos.  There are of course students on scholarship, but my school is known as the most prestigious school in all of Greece in one of the chicest suburbs, so you do the math.  What I’m trying to say is that, no matter how much these kids may act like they are affected by the crisis, or how much they may bitch and moan about the EU and Germany and whatever else they overhear their parents say, they are still wearing their Abercrombie outfits, they are still traveling over the summer, and they are still living the same exact life to which they have grown so accustomed.  Leave it to Serena Van der Woodsen to argue for the plight of the people while munching on an overpriced salad after a shopping trip to Barney’s.

I’m not saying this to put down my school or the students and their families.  I’m saying this to show that I’m not in the heart of the action.  I usually find out about protests the next day from my mother who watched Brian Williams report about chaos erupting in Greece.  Unless I happen to venture into the center of the city on the right day and at the right time, I am completely oblivious to the riots, the protests, and the discontent in Greece.  There are only a few times that I am truly affected by the current situation, and these all revolve around strike days.

Greece has strike days.  Greek people love to strike.  They consider it their right and they feel that everyone should realize how hard they have it in the form of them not working for a day.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to sympathize with a people who have one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe, who as a society praises tax evasion as the 2nd coolest thing to hit the country after fanny packs, and who overstaff their offices with idol workers who don’t truly value the idea of customer service.  Not to mention that women must take leave in their 8th month of pregnancy, and then are rewarded with a year off after birth, equaling a grand total of 14 months maternity leave.  But to Greeks, they are overworked and underpaid, and this calls for striking.  To be honest, most of the strikes don’t affect me personally, except for the worst strike of them all: Transportation Strikes.

The transportation workers (bus, trolley, tram, and metro…and sometimes taxis too) have pretty much been striking on a weekly basis, garnering absolutely no sympathy and instead stirring up annoyance in the rest of the population that cannot get to work or run their errands as a result.  On two occasions I’ve lost pay after not being able to make my tutoring appointments, and I’ve had to live with an empty fridge due to my inability to get to the supermarket.  I’m not sure what striking will do, considering nothing is coming from it, and they are just, in effect, taking a day without pay, but as it causes a major burden to everyone else who relies on transportation to get to work and make a living, I personally think it’s pretty damn selfish.  I’m pretty damn liberal, and will protest with the best of them, but to me, this is simply absurd.  I believe one should protest to effect change, not keep change from happening.  A protest should show discontent for the present and a drive for a better tomorrow, not a complacency for the broken system that is the present and a discontent for the realization that said system must change.  As for the transportation issue, not only is there basically no bus schedule, meaning they can show up at the stops whenever they’d like, but they also smoke while driving and talk on their cell phones.  Add to that the previously mentioned early retirement age and evading of taxes, and it suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.  Yet they complain that they need more money from a government that has none.  Hey Greeks who are up in arms about pay cuts, or simple non-pay-raises: If you want a better tomorrow (or in Greece’s case, a mere chance at a tomorrow), you have to realize it’s time for sacrifice, not greediness.

I’m no expert, and I don’t want to get political.  I’m just trying to say what I’ve noticed throughout my time here.  In my opinion, there needs to be an acceptance of reality, rather than blind striking and the mentality that “it’s not my fault this happened, so I shouldn’t have to deal with it.”  If the country is to truly make a comeback, it’s not Germany or the IMF or any other outside sources who can make it all better.  Bailouts will come and go, but the stubborn and passive Greek mentality, it seems, is unfortunately here to stay.

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