Trying to describe what the financial crisis is like here is hard. There’s the obvious signs, like the closed businesses, the slashed salaries and pensions, the unemployment, and the media and economists with their very disheartening estimations and future projections.
But the truth is, you feel it the most through the little things.
It’s in the fact that half my phone contacts are out of date, because the friends and acquaintances they belonged to are currently dispersed all over the globe, in search of greener pastures and employment.
It’s the fact that for the last two years, my apartment building has not had central heating because half of the residents simply cannot pay for the gas. And before it gets all a bit Dickensian, I’m personally fine thanks to air conditioning and more layers than a nineties teenager discovering grunge, but I suspect the old pensioner lady living in the third floor is not.
It’s my favourite dive bar, that has slashed all drink prices to ridiculously low, even by today’s standards, amounts (God bless old anarchist Exarcheia bar owners and their social conscience) no longer bringing you the mandatory for Greece complimentary crisps or nuts for frugal reasons.
It’s a friend telling me how people go back to the supermarket to return an extra packet of pasta they bought just so they can offset the price of buying some (cheapest selection) meat.
It’s young people stating, without a hint of irony, that they’re not doing ‘too bad’ on a 360 euro a month salary (partly due to not paying rent, because moving away from your parents’ house, even in your thirties, is unthinkable, for survival rather than some old quaint Greek ‘family first’ concept).
It’s walking fast and trying not to make eye contact with the countless homeless people in the city centre, which is something I’d become used to in London, but used to be unthinkable here: even the extended family/friends safety net we used to have here in lieu of a proper social state has become shredded to bits.
It’s older relatives/family friends/people in the neighbourhood, from the pharmacist to the baker, meeting my announcement a few years ago that I planned to move to the UK with a brief ‘good for you’. And while this might sound reasonable, one thing the essence of Greece has never been is that. Just a few years prior, I would have gotten meddling, ridiculous and often hilarious comments ranging from “But what will you do, all alone abroad” (ignoring that a) I grew up abroad and b) I’m a grown woman), to “But what will you eat there” (again, adult perfectly capable of cooking for myself), to “They are different from us there” (I know. So am I) to the gist of those arguments “But why would you ever want to live anywhere else?” That question is unthinkable now. And while I never had that absurd certainty, of living in the ‘best place on earth’ due to my own inability to fit, the loss of that absolute, almost religious certainty by those who had it hurts more than I ever expected it to. Like the older generation’s non-reaction to most of the younger generations pouring out like blood surging from a mortally wounded person is just confirmation that we are a dead country walking, that’s still breathing and moving but has lost something that will never be regained.
It’s the absolute absence of hope.