Supermarket sweep Athens, or not keeping appearances during a crisis

Article published on March 12, 2012
Article published on March 12, 2012

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Her country was degraded, mocked, despised, then forgotten. What does it mean for 25-year-old student Katerina Tzekouand and Costa Andreotis, who works in a museum, to live with the crisis in Athens today?

Katerina is in a hurry. Every time she comes to university she takes a look at the list of exchange programmes displayed in the work experience office. It would only be to see which countries are affiliated with her university anyway: you’d have to join the queue behind a horde of students reaching out for that dream. 53, 000 applications for visas were submitted to the American embassy in 2011. 50, 000 CVs were posted on the European portal Europass. Candidates also applied for posts in Australia, Russia, China and Iran! It’s either that or face the highest unemployment rate since 1960 – the era of the great influx of emigration to Germany

Leave, or stay and be poor

The number of jobseekers officially declared by the Greek government has risen to 19.2%, and 22% according to the radical left coalition syriza. These figures, however, relate to the whole of the working population. The proportion climbs to colossal heights when you look specifically at the 15-24 year old age bracket: between 43.5% and 48% are unemployed.

Paradoxically, unemployment soars in the sectors with the largest working population. The most educated citizens leave first - 12% of Greek students (compared to only 1.2% of their French counterparts). More comfortable with foreign languages, the graduate sector of the population is also more mobile, and thus responds perfectly to the need for skilled workers overseas. It is always problematic for a country to watch its grey matter shrinking – yet even more so when you can’t quantify the phenomenon. Indeed, most Greek students who leave are bound for one of the other 27 member states of the European union. Yet facilitated by the schengen area, this stampede towards the west does not entail any controls at the borders, destroying any means of counting the departures.

A snip at home, on TV and in the supermarket

In the middle of the day, Costa will leave his museum. He will be able to order a half portion for lunch at the taverna, which is therefore half-price. The practice has ended up becoming a trend on the restaurant scene. Concerned about keeping their customers, a large number of restaurants – fast-food included – offer reduced prices by reducing the size of their dishes.  'I lowered prices by 25% so that the restaurant isn't empty, but any lower and I'd have to close!' says Nikos Korakas, the owner of an exclusive restaurant in the swanky Kolonaki district.

Prioritising expenditure in Greek households does not allow for any luxuries. Dinner dates are increasingly organised at home. Even shopping chips away at consumer morale. The crisis causes abnormalities: will meat become more affordable than vegetables? In AB supermarkets (Alfa Vita says), pork chops are 5 euros per kilo and cabbages are half that; fresh mushrooms are 3.60 euros per kilo – cheaper than tinned at 5.50 euros per kilo. 'Large suppliers want to maintain their profit margins to the detriment of quality,' observes Nikos.

Such is daily life for the Greeks. When they return home, the television channels which are not on strike remind them again and again of their economic difficulties and the risk of bankruptcy. That's when they change the screen for a digital one, to sites where the resistance of conscious citizens, the silent majority, is organised, and where they attempt to find alternative solutions to the angry groups or aganaktismeni ('the outraged' in Greek), as well as neighbourhood co-operatives: 'I do it myself” 'don't throw it away, give it away...' Tonight, Katerina and Costa can fall asleep with some positive ideas for a better tomorrow.

Read part one in this series, 'Alfa Romeo Athens, or not keeping appearances during a crisis'. Read the official blog from cafebabel Athens

Images: main(cc) czar; in-text young boy(cc) Charloote Spencer!/ both courtesy of flickr