I am a Greek. I am truly delighted to say it. I have lived here for the past few years. I am a Greek citizen, pay taxes here like everyone else, own some land, and I would not want to live anywhere else. I can actually say that I passionately love Greece.
However, I have some thoughts, brought to the fore by the recent snow, this colossal blizzard. One does ruminate in unusual times, in times of sudden climate catastrophe, fires, floods, heavy snow, pandemics.
This is what happened. I woke up on Wednesday morning, a full day or more after the snow stopped. I donned my wonderful new snow boots that were sold all over Athens, an Athens which was preparing for the snow. In fact, the weather was correctly predicted by the meteorologists. I picked up my shovel and headed out to my street, which, by the way, is a main street in Papagou. It even calls itself an “avenue.”
I saw a lone walker and asked her, “Where is everybody?”
It was 10 o’clock in the morning! Where are my neighbors who should be shoveling the snow on their sidewalks, brushing the snow off their olive and orange trees, the trees they love so much? Where are the young people, the teenagers, the volunteers or those who ask for a couple of euros to shovel some snow off of the sidewalk? I myself did this. I was amazed to be completely alone on the street.
By now, in my neighborhood in Washington, DC, in the areas where I was born and raised, the streets would be full. Neighbors would be everywhere, along with their children, cleaning. Actually, it is a law in almost all cities in the United States and other countries as well. And I quote:
“DC homeowners who don’t clear their sidewalks and curb cuts of snow within 24 hours of a snowstorm face $25 fines. The fine is $150 for businesses that don’t clear snow within eight daylight hours.”
“Residential property owners age 65 or older, or those with disabilities, are exempt from the law. Volunteers will be on call to shovel for these residents,” etc.
A friend of mine correctly pointed out that Americans do this because they actually own the land in front of their homes, that tiny meter of space. But even so, what about civic duty? What about a sense of community? Working together as a neighborhood?
I remember another example. Years ago, when my husband and I sat sadly glued to the television news about yet another forest fire, a tragic image appeared. An elderly lady was glaring up at the sky above her, where there was a helicopter hovering and about to drench what it could. The poor woman was in a fury, her fist waving at the helicopter, shouting: “Why aren’t there more helicopters? What are you useless people doing? Where is the State?”
Turning to my husband, I asked what their village plan was for such fires. What plan did the town council lay out? Where was the “neighborhood action group”? My husband just laughed.
There is no criticism involved in my thoughts. And, as a matter of fact, Americans are hardly the most efficient in catastrophic times. But I have to say that in all the countries where I have lived – the United States, Indonesia, Australia, I have never heard people complain so much about “the State” as the Greeks do.
At some point, I wish my compatriots would think about the following:
Are not we, also, the State?
Tenia Christopoulos is the author of “Lords of the Dance.” She is a Washingtonian who lives in Athens.