If anything good has come out of this whole sorry mess of a crisis, it’s that Greeks have learned to do something that most of the civilised world has already mastered.
Greeks have finally nailed the art of forming an orderly queue.
Where in Greece are you most likely to find anything that even remotely resembles a queue? Why, the public sector offices, of course! Also known as The Gates to the Underworld. Traditionally, a ‘queuing’ experience in Greece would involve one, and in most cases all, of the following scenarios: a seemingly blundering (but actually very sneaky) pensioner will slyly insert themselves into the front of the line; this would then spark at least two heated arguments – the subjects of which would not be immediately clear – and, if you’re lucky, someone will randomly start blasting profanities about ‘the system’ to no one in particular.
And yet, I’ve experienced none of the above in my multiple hours of queuing at ATM machines during the past 10 days.
‘No’ vs ‘Yes’ may have divided us as a nation. But that’s all over. We’re all in this rocky boat together now. Some of us are considering jumping ship. While others, are holding tight to the rails.
Sinking ship analogies aside, the situation is very real. We question. We make plans. We cancel plans. We’ve never been more uncertain of where we’re headed. With new developments occurring every day (nay, every hour) the phrase ‘taking each day as it comes’ has taken on a new, very literal, meaning.
My personal ATM queuing experiences have shown that spirits remain defiantly high. People jest about the sorry state. Opinions are exchanged. Everyone’s more or less in agreement (a rare thing to see in Greece).
You’ll inevitably get asked whether the ATM machine is spitting out 50 euros or 60 euros. Those who’ve walked away from a machine with 20 euro notes in their hands secretly feel like they’ve won the golden ticket. While the official daily limit on cash withdrawals is 60 euros, 20 euro notes quickly run out of most machines, meaning a withdrawal of 50 euros becomes the standard across the city. The elusive 20 euro note. It has yet to reach my hands.
And let’s talk about the machines. Taunting. Teasing. Taking their time. Insensitively asking us how much we’d like to withdraw: ’40’ ’60’ ‘100’… (as if we had a choice). We know you don’t have 20s, machine! So why are you wasting my and everyone else’s time by making me choose ‘Other Amount’?! Yeesh.
I guess this all sounds like I’m trivialising the situation here. That’s not what I’m trying to do. What I do want to draw light to is how pleasantly surprised I am at how the Greek people are handling their dire straits. This whole thing could have turned violent. It could have turned bloody. But no. For the Greeks I’ve come across, it’s just business as usual. Sun, sand and sea — on a budget.
That’s not to say that there isn’t widespread suffering as I type this. To say it’s heartbreaking to see all those cash card-less pensioners queuing in the blinding sun for their 120 euro weekly allowance would be a massive understatement. Good, honest, law-abiding, hard-working people who’ve given decades of their lives to honest work, responsibly paying their dues, forced to endure these humiliating circumstances is an injustice of the tallest order.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The image that works for the media.
We don’t know what our immediate future holds. We all await with baited breath. But whatever happens, for better or for worse, change is coming. For starters, we’ve learnt to be nice to one another in queues.