Two accounts of battle for survival

«I have been managing the family’s budget for the last 30 years,» says Aspasia, a typical Greek housewife. «Mind you, I am not a person to be impressed by shop displays. I always take a shopping list with me to the supermarket and I watch my small change, not like young people these days. But for the last two years, I haven’t been able to plan for anything. We are always in the red.» Aspasia’s comment says more than any official statistics about the high cost of living in Greece today. She knows the market, how to choose, to compare prices and what her family can afford on her husband’s pension and the rent from a small apartment they own. «The market picture is a false one. In the central market, for example, lamb costs 7 euros per kilo, but no one goes down there to shop. But at my local butcher’s, I pay 12 euros per kilo.» Aspasia always shops at her neighborhood’s weekly street market. «No one goes there to get cheaper food any more. When did we ever pay 270 drachmas per kilo for potatoes? After midday, prices fall, but so does the quality. You can find potatoes for 0.80 euros, but they smell of pesticide.» Aspasia has also observed things she had never seen before. «You see women picking up fruit and vegetables that have fallen on the ground. People you have known for years, mostly elderly, bending down among the rubbish.» She has also noticed the higher prices but a lower quality of clothing. «You can find cheap clothing but it is rubbish. In fact, cheaper clothes are more expensive because you soon need to replace them. On the other hand, if a girl who earns a monthly wage of 550 euros buys a suit for 150 euros, what is there left for her to live on? That is why you see people on the verge of collapse. I saw a girl in tears in the bank the other day because her credit card had reached its limit.» Christos, a 23-year-old student who shares an apartment in Patissia with another student and works as a sales assistant, said that young people are soon in debt these days. «You can’t do anything else. If you earn a minimum wage, which is 500 euros, and you have to pay out half of that on rent, life is difficult. And the pressure to have a certain lifestyle is enormous. That is why many students take out credit cards, but then they have a hard time paying them off.» He himself has not yet given in to that temptation. «Abroad, young people live independently from the age of 18. Here, we still need our parents’ help.»