Wednesday, 27 March 2013

An email from Petros

Hello. My names is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I had an email from Petros this morning. He is one of the other two Greeks in the department and he is spending his Easter vacation in Greece. He is spending time down at his wife's family home in the rural Peloponnese and he says it is glorious there at the moment with all the spring flowers coming out to brighten up the countryside. Unlike the big cities they seem to be withstanding the terrible economic crisis quite well. Most people have their own patch of land where they can grow vegetables and perhaps keep a few chickens. They are not exactly self-sufficient but being able to supplement what you buy with what you can grow really helps.

All the talk in the kafenion is about economics and politics. Things are very bad. Unemployment in Greece has now reached around 27% - that is worse than it ever got in the Great Depression in the USA. GDP is down by over 6% on last year, when it had also fallen by over 7%. Effectively GDP levels are back where they were in 2001. Petros says that the local news has been reporting unemployment amongst teenagers at around 50% for males and 80% for females. And now we have the crisis in Cyprus too.We really are lucky to have our jobs at USE.

Of course we Greeks should have seen this coming. Some people blame the Germans - some think that they should be more generous after what they did to us in the war. But the truth is that this crisis has been building for years and people have been paying themselves too much and avoiding paying the taxes that need to be there to support all the public spending. Even the vet in my home village will keep his transactions with local Greeks off the books. I remember when my mother had to take our dog in when he hurt his foot. The vet said he only needed to record payments by the northern Europeans who had settled in the area and who brought their pets in for him to treat in order to provide an acceptable business profile for the authorities. And there was the time when we had the census and the local mayor heard that there was a special EU road building grant for communities with a population of over 20,000. He offered free food and accommodation for the week of the census to students from the University of Patras if they would come down and register in our village. They got the grant and built part of the road up towards the mountain villages.But it was never finished as, somehow, the money ran out before it could be completed. Bribes and kickbacks I expect.

Petros said that he was planning a trip over to my village later in the week so he could go to the fabulous Five Brothers taverna that I was always on about. The fresh fish, grilled meat and oven dishes are to die for, not to mention my favourite spanakopita (spinach pie). I remember Gus telling me after he and his wife Heather had been there on holiday that the gin and tonics served at the Five Brothers are legendary. Heather even refers to the strength of any G&T that she drinks in terms of how many brothers it has. Normal British pub strength is two brothers, what Gus serves her at home is three brothers, but at the Five Brothers you get the full five brothers!

And the view across the bay as the sun goes down behind the mountains on the other peninsula. How I miss that. Yes, I thought, I must go back home this summer. I should see my parents as I know they miss me. And I wonder if my old girlfriend Maria is still single!

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