OPINION

Living with myth, not truth

However much we insist that what we are what we see ourselves to be, our persona is determined by what others think of us. So, if others call us whingers, dirty, uncouth, it is one of the worst things that could befall us. Almost any fate would be worse than incurring the disdain of foreigners with respect to our honor, cleanliness and level of service. I remember one particular evening in a taverna on a popular Ionian island. A middle-aged British couple have given their order and are waiting for their food. The wine they have ordered – red house wine – arrives. The lady tries it and returns it, asking for white. The white house wine is brought, and then returned. A bottle is brought, only to be rejected. Finally, the woman chooses a bottle herself from the restaurant’s cellar. Then the salad comes but is returned. «It is not cool enough,» they say. The pork casserole is served but is also returned, for not being hot enough. The waiter returns with the food warmed up. But the woman returns the plate again on touching it. «It is not hot enough,» she says. The waiter, red-faced now, withdraws from the table and then reappears with the restaurant owner. «It is not hot enough,» the male diner ventures. «It is boiling!» the restaurant owner exclaims in Greek. «If you don’t believe me, see for yourself,» he adds before plunging his finger into the food. Astonished at the sudden abandonment of manners and customer service, the Britons accept his demonstration and continue with their food. For a certain category of tourists from the largest European countries, it appears that Greece is doomed to have problems. Indeed the verdict – for many – is one of unequivocal condemnation: the Greeks are charlatans, uncouth, self-interested and arrogant. They are not to be trusted. They need to be monitored constantly. Our bad name was enhanced significantly ahead of the Athens 2004 Olympics but it was sullied once more following the deaths last year of two children in a Corfu hotel as the result of a faulty boiler. The tourist board’s slogan «Live your myth in Greece» became the subject of the most bitter and sarcastic criticism and the «objective truths» of the situation in Greece – as Europeans reveal in their insightful and unforgiving tourist guides – shed light on the lies put forward by Greeks in their efforts to attract tourist revenue. It is difficult to challenge impressions that have been formed by others over centuries. But instead of trying to do this, we aggravate the picture on almost a daily basis, offering fodder to the international media in the form of user-friendly stereotypes. We should stop flattering ourselves with the popular philhellene drivel and spend some time worrying about the criticism we attract. We should start putting our credibility before the quest for profit.