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Real Greek Tragedies. Petra’s Friends

Tom Winnifrith
Friday 27 July 2012

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you. Blah Blah blah. Well actually Petra is working as a waitress in Zorba’s taverna and after she clocked off work at midnight we hit the town. I am feeling a bit jaded as a result. It is not that I had too much to drink, just too little food before it. These days three glasses of wine and I am anybody’s. But for the record not Petra’s. Anyhow I suffered for you dear readers. It was all in the name of research.

You see the riots in Athens. You hear the dreadful economic stats. So how about a couple of real lives. You have, I suspect, no idea of how the basic rules which you and I take for granted have just broken down completely. Thus trust and faith in anything is no longer possible.

Petra is 27 and moved here from Hungary nine years ago. She has great legs. I digress. Those legs will in a few weeks be walking onto a plane to England not to come back. There will be no jobs at all here once the tourist season ends. And by the way it has been a rotten season.

Petra was let go from her last place (a hotel) and is owed wages. Not a lot. £100 (1 week’s money). She is trying to get that cash back today. She may or may not get it. The hotel is far from full and I suspect the owner is almost out of cash. He is hanging on praying that August will be better. As a result Petra now works at Zorba’s where she works on the condition that she is paid at the end of each night shift. She cannot afford another wage check that does not materialise.

Is it just Petra being paranoid? I fear not. Petra’s best female Greek friend works in a non tourist business and has not been paid for two months. The owner says that the cash will come any day now. Clearly he is out of cash and all his staff know it. But what do they do? Resign? To get another job? There are no other jobs. The tourist season ends in 4 weeks and is a washout and so all tourist venues are at maximum staffing levels already (some are letting folks go). Sue the company? Greek justice takes an eternity and that would probably push the company over the edge anyway. So Petra’s friend carries on working for free, hoping that one day she will be paid. She does not really believe that she will but what is the alternative?

Petra’s best male Greek friend is 33. He is clever and hard working. Yes I know he is Greek but he really is. In the summer he rents a shop to sell tuch to tourists. In the winter he used to organise a crew to do building work. Trade this summer is 40% down on last year which itself was a dire year. He is barely breaking even. This winter there will be no building work. Just like last winter. No-one has any cash to renovate let alone new build. But there is no summer “fat” to live off. He and his crew will get better at X-Box. Actually he will not. He thinks he is too old to leave but he recognises that he has no choice. He has a friend in Slovakia. And so next summer his shop will lie idle. There will be even less reason to come here.

We discussed going to “Stadium” – the night club. It is Greeks only. There are no younger foreigners here. At 44 I am probably the closest they have. The club now opens just once or twice a week on irregular nights. The locals could not afford more. There is no-one else. It looks like it is past its best. In fact everything does here.

And so we have three young and clever people who are all hard working. Between two and three of them will not be in Greece this time next year. The one nightclub in the village will shut for good as not only will there be no young tourists but sod all young Greeks either. There will be one less shop. There will then be fewer tourists. A society where mass migration and emigration is inevitable, where people either have no job or are not sure that they will be paid for the ones they have is a society breaking down. There can be no trust in any institution whether it be the State or your employer. When society gets to that point, despair can turn into anything.

I shall seek out other Petra’s. Not the legs, just brief stories from real people. It is sunny and I am able to sun bathe, swim and drink diet coke at will. The rough Greek salads are great. I am getting a lot of work done and have space to think about a lot of things. But it is hard to avoid how the locals are suffering. And I know that Athens and the big towns are far worse. Petra’s friends are close to despair and have lost all faith. In Athens they lost faith a while ago. The despair is already endemic. The migration is underway.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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