My Greek Army Service Summer ’13: talented people in failed institutions

There is a scene this summer during my Greek army service that I won’t forget.  About 200 of us had returned to Kalamata Military Base, after a four-day break at our homes and having completed our five-week basic training.  Today was the day we were going to get our transfer papers, to be redeployed: some would be sent to the border with Turkey, others to the Greek islands, perhaps an inland army base or to Athens- where the cushier postings were, back in the capital. After our 7AM roll call, a sergeant began to call out the names of the first group to be sent off.  Most of us were a bit anxious, because we had no idea how far and for how long we would be gone for.  On that list was our destiny in the surreal adventures of Greek military life. The first few soldiers of this first group gathered in a small circle, in front of the rest of us as they heard their names.  I quickly recognized a couple faces, a mental connection sparked in the back of my brain, and I recollected a new word I learned this summer: “visma.”  Visma is not one of those eloquent Greek words that a Philhellene professor at an American university will ask you if you recognize its ancient Greek roots.  Bit less sexy.  Visma means plug-outlet.  But it wasn’t being used in reference to where you charge your iPhone.  A visma, in the world of the deep Greek bureaucratic state, is your connection, your contact, that “plugs-you-in” to the connected world. The sergeant called out a few...

Deciding between Mediterranean lifestyle or expat career?

I met up last Sunday with my Greek-American friend, Evi.  She, like myself is from the US, but has now made Athens her home.  Fresh from her two-month trip to Boston, I was looking forward to hearing some new perspectives from New England.  I haven’t been back to the US in a year, and after my surreal 3-month army experience at Kalamata Military Base and the Defense Ministry in Athens this summer, I am getting a small dose of Greek cabin-fever. I barely let her take a sip of her coffee before I started with a barrage of questions: “So, what is the vibe like in the US right now?  Did you want to stay more or are you glad you’re back in Athens?”  I asked her, like my one-year stretch in Greece had given me amnesia to thirty years of living in America. “Yeah, I’m glad to be back here.  But it’s really good over there too.  You know; everything works. Everything is easy.  Customer service is good.  You do things online.  You run errands in like fifteen minutes.  It’s not like here, where you spend a half-day, running from office to office, paying bills in-person, getting signatures, asking for sealed-stamped certificates, like we’re still living in a 1970’s cult TV comedy series.” “I took my mom to General Mass Hospital to get an x-ray on her wrist.  When I asked the nurse when we should come back to get the diagnosis, you know what she said?”  My lower lip quivered and I raised my eyebrows in anticipated fear, not so much for the results of her mother’s...