Hide-and-seek with garbage cans

The corner of Neoptolemou and Edessiou streets in Pangrati is one of many corners of the capital city where buildings from the notorious reconstruction of the 1960s and 70s converge. These are by and large untended edifices housing a potpourri of people: a small smattering of landlords who swapped their single- or two-story family homes for a flat in a new building, young couples, middle-class families, working mothers and immigrants. On this corner (like on many others in Athens), the residents are involved daily in a little game of hide-and-seek with the rubbish bins, obviously meant to hone people’s nerves and aim. Sometimes the bin is squeezed in between two parked cars or up against the sidewalk with the foot pedal used to open it leaning against the concrete. As such, people appear not to take our rubbish bins very seriously, as they decorate them with all types of bags strewn around and above them. If, however, one were to be seized by the quirk of actually wanting to place a bag of trash within the bin, it is more than certain that within a few minutes the local scrap collector will pull it out with a long metal hook and disembowel it on the sidewalk in a search for hidden treasures. In a story published by Kathimerini on Sunday, we learned of the new trash-collecting policies, strategies, methods and funding applied by, among others, municipal officials of Stockholm, Birmingham and Dunkirk. Most importantly what we learned is that in these cities, the trash is stored in special areas, not in public view, and that there are stiff fines for those who do not abide by the rules. But Athenians, as we all know, are great housekeepers. They know better than any of their European peers how to chase the dirt away, because once it is outside our homes, it is no longer our problem. It is the problem of an Athens that belongs exclusively to the mayor and the country’s politicians; it is not under our jurisdiction; it has a different ownership status. In short, it is foreign ground and we treat it as such. Let’s not even get into more complex concepts, such as sorting trash. If we did, and if we had any sense of civil responsibility or even the most rudimentary sense of dignity, we’d be in for a lot of heartache. Until we manage to achieve the rubbish-disposing skills of our European peers, we ask you, Mr Mayor: Could you please place an employee beside every garbage can in the city to help those squeamish fellow citizens who feel too grossed out to touch the lever that opens the bin? If this measure seems too costly, could you install a sensor that reacts to a voice command such as «Open bin.» Of course, there is some risk that the command will be given off balconies just before the garbage is rocketed toward the bin. Because in Athens we always choose the easy way out. Because things are «private» when it suits us and «public» when it doesn’t.