Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Art of Complaint, and the Media Gullibility Thereof

If there’s one thing we do well in Greece, it’s to complain. And if there’s one thing foreign journalists appear to do well, it’s to listen to us, uncritically and without an apparent sense of irony or critical reason.

About an hour ago today, France 24 led with a segment on the Indignant protests in Syntagma Square in Athens. There were four interviews that I remember:

a. A lady looking suspiciously like a former TV journalist turned former parliamentary candidate for ND, who was shouting from the steps of the Grande Bretagne that these people have nothing, no hope, no future, nothing to eat, etc.

b. A middle-aged lady shopping in a laiki, who was shouting the same thing. The irony was not so much that she was shopping at the laiki, which is where you find the best prices, but that she claimed to be retired – at about 50. (She was complaining that her pension was cut).

c. A taxi driver, who was shouting that he would never again buy European products. This is a joke beyond all reckoning. I’m not sure what’s worse – that he earns his living entirely by imports, or that the best France 24 could do was to interview an Athenian taxi driver, a caricature of the species.

d. A young gentleman in designer clothing, one of the Indignant we hear so much about, who couldn’t remember how long he had been sleeping in a tent in the square. Honestly speaking, he seemed to be having a much better time there than being in university or at work.

I’m not sure quite where to start, but it’s simply amazing to me that France 24, or any news outfit, takes these statements at face value.

Since this crisis began, I haven’t seen a single interview with any of the professionals or entrepreneurs who, like myself, are out working 10 and 12 hour days, 6-7 days a week, to meet their commitments and try to keep this country going.

I have never seen a reportage based on the reality of this country, that yes, people do complain a lot, but yes, they have probably been avoiding taxes and legal commitments for most of their lives. In other words, they are hypocrites in the true sense of the word.

Instead, we hear from all the lunatics, coming out of the woodwork, who are allowed to speak without any serious questioning. Here’s what I would have asked these four people:

a. To the politician in the square: How many of these young kids are really interested in working? How many are being supported and coddled by their parents? How many of them have really been outside their comfort zone in the past 12 months? How many of them have sacrificed something for their country or their family? How can you possibly say “they have no food to eat”, when not only are they not starving and are well-clothed, but have abundant cash for cigarettes and coffee and loitering in Syntagma on a work day?

b. To the middle aged lady at the laiki: How many receipts did you collect from the laiki today? Are these vendors really reporting their income? Did their suppliers report any income? If you are in your 50s, why aren’t you still working, since you can’t make ends meet with your pension?

c. To the taxi driver: How much of your actual income do you report? Why are you taxed at a lower rate than I am, or most professionals and salaried employees are? Why is it so difficult to find a clean, well-maintained taxi in Athens with a professional driver in it?

d. To the Indignant: If things are so bad, why don’t you get a job? Do you really expect the taxpayers to feel sorry for you, if you have the luxury to camp out in a public square? Do you really think we owe you a public sector job or a university education? You complain about many things: what’s your solution?

Today, we have one simple choice before us: Accept the commitments we have made and work hard to clean up the mess. Or default, with all the consequences this has not just for us, but for the future.

Sitting and complaining achieves nothing, particularly when we have made an art form out of it for the past 30 years.

I’m still waiting for the news article, or the TV reportage. I will probably wait in vain.


  1. I've been looking for a job since I arrived in Greece in 2003. I don't cheat. I've often worked 60+ hours/week. I have excellent references, a J.D., speak 4-5 languages reasonably well. Your optimism and positive attitude are refreshing: I'll send you my CV. I am sure you will be able to give me some better explanation as to what the problem is (my research indicates the problem is structural).

  2. This is a very elegant way of putting me on the spot! :-)

    Please do send me your CV, and I will see what I can do. I came to Greece in 1995, determined to bring my consultancy experience to good use by applying for and implementing world-class projects funded by the European Union. My idealism was quickly extinguished. The largest starting salary I was offered at the time was GRD 250,000. Rent at the time was GRD 90,000 - it gives you an idea of the pay scale.

    I decided to set up my own consultancy, Navigator. It was, and is, a long hard road. But at least I've achieved some measure of independence. And I've never had to pay a bribe; I don't rely on the Greek public sector or the subsidy mafia; I by and large have had a fantastic career.

    I advise you to do the same: take whatever measures you can to be independent. Find out where you can add the most value. Do not be beholden to Greek employers or special interests, because the experience will probably be terrible.

  3. I'm 58, still working 50-60 hours a day and supporting two of my four children that are studying and can't find part-time work, while the eldest two found jobs in other countries. I will probably go from the office straight to the grave because I can't afford to retire and because retirement pay will never be enough. I agree with what you say - but not all those complaining are civil servants (who are the ones already retired at the age of 47-50 anyway), or people having the means to cheat on taxes, or the coddled young. I don't complain because I can't accept the commitments, but because it's unfair that I - and those like me - seem to be the ones whose labour is used to clean up the mess with nothing to show for it in the long run. It's not so much complaining as it is outrage that everything wrong in this society continues to operate unhindered, unlawfully and without penalty. When I see steps taken to clean up THAT mess, then I'll stop complaining.

  4. Agreed Anna - certainly not everyone complaining is a civil servant. My point is that it would be nice if the media qualified these complaints. The fact that many of us - including me - will work our entire lives and wind up with little to show for it is somehow to be expected. I faced the same problem when I was working in Paris or Germany -- not that this is any consolation.