Monday, August 6, 2012

Greece 2012: Part 5 - Miscellaneous Other Stuff

There are few things about our trip that didn't really fit into a day by day recount, so I figured I'd write a summary post with all the other stuff. It may seem long overdue, but here it is: My 5th and final post about our trip to Greece.

Greek Language

I know a little Greek and have been practicing with John's Mom to learn Greek.  We do weekly lessons when the Hansens are in the US.  While we were in Greece, I could understand a little of what people were saying in Greek, but I wasn't very good at saying things back.  When I did say things, like "I like this food" or "Thank you" or other simple things, people smiled and seemed very impressed at the little I did know.

Most of the time though, I relied on John and his Mom to do my talking.  I was generally pleased with myself if I could keep up with what the conversation was about.  For example, I would know when they were talking about politics, but I couldn't tell you where they stood on any issues.   

Here's a little Greek for you: Με λενε Μαρλήτα Χανσεν (Which is pronounced "me lene Marleta Hansen" with all short 'e' sounds in "me lene")  It means "My name is Marleta Hansen"... well, literally, it's actually "They call me Marleta Hansen," but that's sounds odd in English.

Passing the Time

We kept ourselves pretty busy, but there was some down time.  Since I've been learning to crochet, I brought a couple of simple, "one-ball" projects to work on during flights and other free times.

The 2 scarves I started on the trip.  Green is a North Texas, "manly" scarf for John and the Purple is a fun light-weight scarf pattern.
We also brought several books.  On the trip (mostly while we were on the beach), I read the first Game of Thrones book and started the second.  I wish I had more time for reading when I'm home... it's been almost 2 months since we got back and I'm still on Game of Thrones book 2.

Greek Politics

While we were in Greece, most of the news and a lot of the conversation was about the election coming up on June 17.  Forgive me if any of my Greek Politics explanations are slightly off, but I thought I'd give a brief overview of what's going on because that seems to be pretty interesting to folks I talk to in the US.  Here's what I understand from my time there and some very limited research to fill in a couple holes:

Greek government is a little different than in the US.  They elect parties, not individuals; then, based on percentage vote, the seats in Parliament are portioned out.  The party (or coalition of parties) with the majority of Parliamentary seats (at least 151) leads the government.  Previously, Greece has been a predominately 2 party system with a liberal party (Pasok) and a conservative party (New Democracy).  In the first election of 2012 however, new parties entered the scene, which split the vote in such a way that no party had enough vote to secure enough Parliamentary seats, and the top vote getting party (New Democracy) was not able to form a coalition with other parties to reach the majority (151 seats) before one of the new parties on the scene (Syriza) called for a new vote.

Top 7 Parties in June 17th Elections - Depicted left to right as far Left-Winged to far Right-Winged - Click to Enlarge

The new vote was set for June 17th, about a week after we returned from Greece.  Here's a little bit about the parties running in that election:
  • New Democracy - One of the original 2 party system.  Think Republican Party in the US (maybe not the same politics, but the major conservative party in the country).  Got the most votes in May 6th elections, but couldn't get enough seats to "form a government".  New Democracy also won the June 17th elections and the second time around, they formed a coalition with 2 other parties to successfully form a majority, but we didn't know any election results while we were there.
  • Pasok - The other party from the original 2 parties.  Think Democratic Party as a similar party in the US.  Pasok, despite being one of only 2 parties previously, came in 3rd in the June 17th elections.  Pasok is one of 2 parties with which New Democracy joined as a coalition after June 17th to secure a majority.
  • Independent Greeks - I explain this one next because it also has a similar counterpart in the American parties - the Tea Party.  Again, like New Democracy, not necessarily the same politics, but similar in that Independent Greeks split off from New Democracy (major conservative party) to form a more Right-Winged party. (Though, unlike the Tea Party, which is more like a sub-set of the Republican party, Independent Greeks is a separate party.)  Independent Greeks came in 4th in the June 17th elections and is not a part of the coalition majority.
  • Syriza - This is a new and fairly popular party that split off from Pasok to form a more Left-Winged party (basically the opposite of how Independent Greeks split from New Democracy).  This is the party that lead the charge for a new election after no majority was achieved in the May 6th election.  Syriza is also important because their stance was that Greece could pull out of the Euro Zone if that's what it took to end the austerity measures. Syriza got the 2nd most votes in June 17th election, but they are not a part of the coalition majority.
  • Democratic Left - This party falls between Pasok and Syriza on political issues.  One of the lower vote getting parties on June 17th (6th out of the 7), but they are the 3rd party in the coalition with New Democracy and Pasok that currently holds the needed majority to form a government in Greece.
  • KKE - The Communists.  They got the lowest vote count of the top 7 parties in the June 17th election, but they have a lot more representation than a communist party would get in the US.
  • Golden Dawn - This one is the most shocking to me... They are the Neo Nazi party.  Not exactly Hitler's politics, but probably not that far either.  Many people we talked to in Greece seemed surprised by the following this party got.  They've been around in Greece for a while, but they were more like a club (I think like you might find some Neo Nazi gatherings in some homes in the US), but it is new for them to be a reasonably popular political party - They got 18 seats in the June 17th election (coming in 5th of the 7 parties).  The bigger news for Golden Dawn while we were in Greece was that the Golden Dawn representative (who was on release from prison during the election - go figure) hit the KKE representative 3 times during a live TV interview/debate between the 7 parties before he was restrained by others.
The economic troubles were visible wherever we went and there were political posters splattered about offering their promises of delivery.  We saw lots of empty store fronts - In non-touristy areas, you couldn't go a block without seeing an empty store and malls once full of stores were a third full at best.  We came across a few stores with notes on the doors from the previous owners thanking customers for years of patronage and apologizing for having to close.  We even saw an electronics store down the street from the apartment in Holargos close while we were there.

We also heard stories of lengthened hours, cut wages, and very few available jobs.  Most people seemed to think that the major decision facing the country was whether or not Greece should leave the Euro Zone.  The new coalition government (as you probably know since the Euro has not collapsed) supported staying in the Euro Zone, which for the time being means a continuation of the austerity measure and no near-term relief for those feeling the economic struggles in Greece.

Greek Culture

A statue of Pericles down the street from the apartment in Holargos.  Pericles is one of John's favorite historical Greek figures and he is from Holargos, which is why there's a statue in the neighborhood.  The full body statue replaced an older bust of Pericles.
Being a Guest
There's a lot of culture to being a guest in Greece - You have to expect to eat - A Lot!  Everyone was very welcoming.  We never went to someone's house without them insisting that we eat, and some were upset when we couldn't come by a meal time so they could feed us more... not that it being non-meal time stopped them from serving us lots and lots of sweets.

By the way, if you've been wondering why I've been saying "sweets" a lot in my posts about Greece, it's because that's what the Greeks call them.  They'll eat cake and ice cream and cookies and pies any time of day and call them "sweets" (well, actually, they call them "Gleeka" which is the Greek word for "Sweets").

The decor was also interesting. Some decor is like what we see in the US, some is what you'd expect of Greece from movies, but others had elaborate and ornate decor that I didn't expect at all.  All the flooring in Greece is marble, which already makes things seem fancy.  There were times when I wondered if we were supposed to sit in certain chairs because their style was so fancy, but on closer examination, you could tell they use the fancy furniture daily.  It was interesting to observe in the houses of all the family and friends we visited.

Driving is a little bit like an extreme sport in Greece, particularly the parking.  We saw one car that had actually smashed in the bumper of the car in front of it to park.  Any time we were walking near roads, we'd have to get off the sidewalk once or twice a block to go around the car parked on the sidewalk... some people just walk in the roads to avoid this problem, but then you have to look out for the moving cars that squeeze through all the parked ones.  Apparently, when the streets were laid out in Greece hundreds or thousands of years ago, no one planned for car parking space.

Time in Greece is more of a General concept than an exercise in precision.  Arriving "on time" would likely catch someone off guard and unprepared, and nothing started when it said it would.  Also, dinner is very late.  Most people don't even think about eating before 9 or 10 at night and most restaurants are open until midnight or even later.


All in all, John and I were glad that we were both able to get away from work for 2 weeks and make the trek over to Greece.  I enjoyed getting to meet family and see the sites.  I'd been to Greece once before, but we were only in the country for a few days that time as a part of a trip to Italy and Greece.  I got to see and take in a lot more on this trip... and this time I spoke a little Greek, so that helped too.  We may not be able to take many more trips like this just the 2 of us (*wink* *fingers crossed*), so we're glad we got the chance to enjoy some time away. 

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