There are a lot of things I experienced on our 4th day (I’m writing on the morning of the 5th) that relate to the pace of Greece as a country. The way they live their lives is incredibly interesting to me.
Cooperation is a challenge for the people and for your groups. They are very passionate by nature, and it shows when they have to work around one another (like when the tour guides battle it out as they end up on the same route). It takes a lot more work to cooperate on a group tour than most would think. You have to temper your opinions and your feelings to keep peace and stay on pace with the tour. It’s a big challenge, and I think we are all doing well. No fights have broken out, which is good.
Traveling in a big group is just as much of a learning opportunity as any of the cultural experiences. I’ve learned that a little patience goes a very long way, and refraining from negativity while in a large group setting makes the activity a lot easier (even if you aren’t happy). I think this is a big part of travel that many don’t consider when they sign up for a big tour, whether it’s with a school or not. It isn’t exactly a vacation. In fact, this particular trip is a class for us, so it’s imperative that we focus and follow well. Cooperation and attitude are everything.
That seems to be a theme I’ve noticed throughout the country, however. They have a negative view of their circumstances, but a positive view of their culture and lifestyle. They focus on the good a lot of the time, but many of our tours have included some comic remarks about the government corruption, negativity toward the refugees and problems they cause, as well as humor about the poor economy here. The people are getting along so far, but this country feels close to devastation.
Even the history we learn about is filled with stories of destruction. We went to the Acropolis and saw how it was destroyed over and over again. It’s a testament to how the Greeks have been able to bounce back from tragedy, yet it is also a show of how difficult life has been here. They seem to look back to these times fondly because of the way they have rebuilt each time.
I don’t believe that Greece is a wonderful place to live right now. Prices are low, but jobs are also scarce. In a city of 5 million citizens, 1 million immigrants have flooded in because of the crisis in the Middle East. In a nation that is trying to restore itself to its former glory, this situation is not helping their cause. It’s unfortunate because, according to the guides who have brought it up, the immigrants (refugees) are illegal and cannot find work without papers, so they resort to pick pocketing and create an unsafe environment. Culturally, the Greeks are incredibly hospitable and love tourism. Their new challenge is trying to relieve the debt situation, jump start their economy, and manage this threat to their biggest money maker (tourism).
I feel saddened for them as a people because they are so welcoming. I think one of the things that endears them is their passionate patriotism. When you hear of American patriots you would imagine that, as a country, we love our nation more than most love their own. I believe that the Greeks have far surpassed us because they are passionate on a different level. They love their modern nation, but the things they defend are cultural elements like their mythology (even if they don’t literally believe it), their food, and their monuments.
Ancient history is spoken of as if it was yesterday. They seem to feel connected to it the way many Americans feel connected to our revolutionary period. Athenians regard Pericles the way we talk about George Washington. Most of their history has been explained to me through their mythology, which is near to their hearts and culture. Even their food is almost sacred. One guide told us that there are only 3 McDonald’s restaurants in the whole country. It just didn’t catch on because they liked their own food better. To me, this is a sign of how connected they are to their heritage.
Overall, it’s been a great few days. The Greeks are a people of resilience and passion. These characteristics bleed through into almost everything they do, and it makes for a very interesting adventure. We’re exploring and adjusting to the way of life pretty well. I’m finally used to their coffee, which has made my mornings much easier. Until tomorrow, adio!