The Modern Greek People, their Character and Racial Mix Page 6

Something that goes with all this is a different sense of time, which can be maddening to foreigners, who expect everything to proceed as in their own countries. For months the clock in the post office didn't work (and still doesn't). The first response given by a postal employee when asked why the clock didn't give the correct time, was this it was up too high on the wall. It was in fact, perhaps ten feet above the floor, requiring only a small step ladder to reach it . The second response (from a second employee, when asked maybe a month later about that same clock) was that someone had to come from Athens and replace the clock, as it was broken. The fact that the clock had been nonfunctional for months, despite the arrival twice daily of boats from Athens, seemed of absolutely no importance to anyone who worked there.

Similarly, electricity can stop suddenly in a village with no warning, and with no one having any idea why it quit, to come on again in a little while. Or the bus fails to show up one day and one later learns that it broke down on the way into town from one of the villages, but the driver didn't think to phone the main bus office and have them check to see if someone was waiting for it at the bus stop. When reprimanded for this, the man at the bus station states that he was just about to send a taxi for the passenger, who had been left wondering for a half hour if it would ever come, before finally phoning the office. Such things are typical occurrences in Greece, though less so in the cities. All of this goes with a looser sense of time that comes from living very much in the moment. The wonderful exception to this is the very modern and immaculate metro system in Athens, in which only a child could get lost, and with the trains running absolutely on time, with stops announced by a most pleasant voiced woman in both Greek and unaccented English over the sound system.

Something should be said about the relation between village and city that explains so much of modern Greek life. The present population of Greece is somewhere over 11 million, with some estimated 4-5 million people living in Athens, and another half million or so in Thessaloniki. Other smaller cities absorb much of the remaining population, making Greece, a largely rural country up until World War II, a very urban country. Massive depopulation of villages followed that war and the horrendous Greek Civil War that followed (1946-49), with more people leaving the villages for the big cities (mostly Athens) during the decades that followed, and huge numbers emigrating to North America, Australia, West Europe to find work and a better life. The devastating effects of these wars upon Greece cannot be overstated, and it would do well for travelers to Greece to read some of the excellent historical information offered in some of the better books about Greece, in order to better understand the Greek people. The rapid building of characterless high rises in Athens is also explained by these historical events.

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