Thursday 22 October 2009

Come to Dinner

Last week, I received news that a project in Ukraine that was supposed to start this past Monday was moved to Monday, November 2nd. Being in Athens, I decided to invite some friends to dinner that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

First I emailed Stratos and Olga: Come to dinner. Fifteen minutes later, I received an email from Olga: “Stratos is in Cairo this week, getting back on Thursday.”

Then I emailed Kostas: Come to dinner. An hour later, Kostas calls me: “Re file, I’m at the airport now, leaving for Skopje. I’ll be back on Wednesday, but landing at 21:30, and it will be too late.”

“OK, I said, “how about next week?” “Next week I’m leaving for Bulgaria…will be gone the whole week.” “Kala,” I said, “let’s keep in touch.”

Then I emailed Alexandros and Christiana. Alexandros could make it, but Christiana had a university session after work and would arrive later. I count myself lucky to see them: apart from a totally chance meeting in Thessaloniki last week, we’ve only managed to see each other twice in four years, despite being holiday neighbours.

Luckily, Eri and Christos agreed to join us, and I managed to get the magic number of four friends together.

But then I had to call the cleaning lady. “Jenny, hi, will you come on Wednesday?” “No Mr. Philip. I’m leaving for Canada to see my relatives.” "Great Jenny. When will you be back?" "In three months sir."

In a fit of reflection, it occurred to me that we’ve all become a bit like the Massively Productive Business Executive I knew while living in Paris, scheduling breakfast meetings two months in advance.

But writing this blog post, I suddenly realise that yes, we’ve actually become “Europeans." Our goal of convergence has been achieved:

• The spontaneous visits of friends and relatives has been replaced by rigidly scheduled meetings, planned far in advance and ending early due to the need to wake up for a demanding next day.

• The emphasis on personal contact over a coffee or ouzo has been replaced. Now, we far more available in terms of communication--we are logged on to Facebook or Skype nearly 24/7; we have email and GSM. But while this medium provides ready contact, it is impersonal and superficial, dominated by the technological channel and in some cases can lead to dramatic misunderstandings.

• The days we used to know where our parents would work until some time in the afternoon, and then leave their business and worries behind, are over. We are now in business mode 24 hours a day. If not actually working until 20:00 or so, we are still thinking about work issues. Or logged onto Internet. Or watching TV. Or doing something solitary rather than collective.

• Our vacation habits of decamping to the village for weeks on end are over. We are lucky to get much vacation time at all, and we typically split that between multiple locations over the year. As a result, we have almost no ties to the rural environments our families come from.

So we face a shortage of these two most valuable resources—time and friends—as a consequence of our professional success and our modern lifestyle.

Another irony is that in a time of high unemployment and massive investment in vocational education and training, finding skilled labour in Athens today is practically impossible. Our cleaning ladies travel to Canada and simply can’t be replaced. And if your regular plumber disappears, try finding a new one.

Don’t get me wrong: We had a great dinner! The [new] plumber finished installing a new kitchen faucet 5 minutes before the first guest arrived. We managed to pull off a cleaning job in record time. And I didn’t burn the food.

But the best part of it was enjoying the company of good friends and great people that we all too rarely see. The simple act of breaking the weekly routine and taking time out for something different, for ourselves, was revitalising. It’s a habit we will develop more of.


  1. In my book anyone that I invite to dinner and makes excuses for why they cannot come, does not need to be or will ever be invited to be in my company again. If people can't shut it down and spend time with family and friends, then they do not diserve them. It is black and white. Excuses are many, planes, trains and automobiles, dates, conferences, and appointments will always be there. If the person invited cannot commit to a social engagement as simple as a dinner, then we should be locked up and caged like wild animals because I call that primal behavior, not advanced and Euro savey. I feel it is all about respect. If someone cannot respect me or themselves to spend a little time socially with me, then they need not call or be my friend. Time is limited, who and how I choose to spend it is a priviledge to those I choose to share it with. If they do not feel the same... down the road they go... have no time for diss respect and ignorance, and arrogance. So when I call you for dinner, you best show up or else... want to see my shit list? lol.

  2. Phil I'am very suprised that you have not invited A old friend.
    If you still can remember how good the Pizza was LOLOL. Greg TZO

  3. Hey Greg! WHERE ARE YOU? Email me! P.