“You’re crazy,” they tell me. “Everybody is trying to get out of Greece and you are trying to go back?” “What are you going to do over there? There are no jobs, there’s massive unemployment. The country is in a major crisis. What are you going to do with your kids? How can you cut their future by taking them there?”
Yadda yadda yadda. Yes, fellow Greek Americans, I’ve thought about it long and hard. But I have come to the long-sought conclusion: I am happier, more balanced, and ultimately more successful across the Atlantic in Hellas than I am in America. These are the reasons that I am leaving:
- ONE: The American Dream is dead. Whoever thinks we roll across rose petals on silk sheets, sipping champagne, while an army of servants cooks gourmet meals for us, washes our dirty clothes, and shops for groceries in America is seriously mistaken. Lets face it the crisis is not just in Greece—it is everywhere. America, and especially New York City, has taken a turn beyond the rat race; it is like some post-apocalyptic survival challenge with scenes from The Hunger Games. The struggle to survive economically in the US, especially as a new immigrant, has become gruesome. Middle-class families such as mine are barely making it. No, we are not all born with an entrepreneurial flair. Not EVERY Greek owns a diner or a construction business. Some of us are middle-of-the-road kinda folks; some of us are creative types. We don’t all drive BMWs. While it is true, as an immigrant group, Greek Americans have made advances in this country, and have become prominent leaders in business, politics, and civics, that’ has taken a few generations. It is the sons and daughters, most likely grandsons or even great grandsons and great daughters, that have reaped the harvest of their ancestors rewards in this new country. I am sure that an off-the-boat immigrant coming to America today, in 2015 or 2016, will have a much harder time making it successfully. The golden age of opportunity, that golden dream of avenues paved in dollars, the chance to own a two-story house in the suburbs with a picket fence, is a memory at best, or a false advertisement of propaganda at the worst.
- America too is in crisis. When I as a teacher, educated with a double Masters, can’t pay my exorbitant ($2000 plus) Con Ed bill; when my husband has gone through three years of unemployment because construction has been down; when I had to refinance my house three times in order to keep from losing it; when I get slammed with “speeding tickets” at $125 a pop for going beyond the 25 mile an hour city limit; when I had to work three jobs at one point, just to maintain a middle-class standard of living—a standard we have been hyped up to expect in this “land of opportunity”—I can tell you brutally that stop it, the crisis is not just in Greece, it’s everywhere. The last 25 years has witnessed an erosion of the middle class and a spike in income inequality that places the nation back to the days of the robber barons era in the “Gilded Age” or some present developing countries. There is the 1% and then there’s the rest of us. (the top 35 wealthiest people in the world own more than 30% of the world’s assets) When Mark Zuckerberg can announce that he will make a foundation to give his worth which at present is valued at $45 billion on the occasion of his child’s birth, while homelessness in NYC has peaked to the point it was in the 70s—it is clear that the American Dream is dead. There’s no making it in America anymore.
- TWO: Even Sisyphus would give up in America. Because of the fact that it has gotten harder to make a living just to stay in the same place, living in America has become a monotonous Sisyphian struggle. As if it already didn’t have a reputation for overwork, now it has become unbearable. Everyone is working all the time. The native-born Greeks who have come over to visit the States say it plainly, “All you people do here is go to work, come home, repeat. You only know it’s the weekend because you go to church.” This is not a life. Two weeks’ or even three weeks’ vacation is a mighty short time to look forward to when you spend the whole rest of the year working like a dog. The work-life balance is off-kilter. My cousin, an attorney, leaves before 8 am each morning and gets home after 8 each evening. When does she have time to eat? Do her nails? Work out? Oh yeah, Saturday, when she is catching up on all the other errands she didn’t have time to do during the week. The weekend is just a catch-up period for doing the regular life-sustaining stuff like food shopping, house cleaning, bill paying, sleep, etc. And if you have kids, faggetaboutit! That’s when you horde any free minute like a crack addict. That’s when you will give up ever having a life, going for a coffee, dancing at the bouzoukia, or enjoying a concert with your friends.
THREE: America is miserable place to live (excluding some sunny patches like California). Because of the fact that there is no healthy work-life balance compounded by the ever-drifting chance of financial security, living in the US has become an exercise in depression. What’s the latest statistic again—the mortality rate for people 45-65 is the highest in the world in the US due to suicide, drug abuse, and alcoholism?! Middle age is hard enough, but when you are surrounded by a culture that is miserable, that is trying to escape its misery by shooting up, getting high, or getting drunk, well that just puts a damper on everything. Why are Americans so miserable? Because they have no connections in their lives; they live 3000 miles away from their nearest relative or source of emotional support. Don’t underestimate the weather too. For Mediterranean people who have “sun” coded in their genes, living in a cold, cloudy, miserable climate does not do good for the soul. I wake up to darkness most days to get ready for work; the days when it’s raining, I don’t bother to go outside for a walk, so I return home in darkness. Especially now in the deep dark December, I am so sun-deprived I feel like one of the Sleaze-stack (those slimy brown bogey-monster types that lived in dark caves in “The Land of the Lost.”) After weeks of going through this cycle of darkness, I wake up crying. “WTF! I’m Greek! I need the sun! I need the light!” No normal person can be depressed in Greece. The bright sun seeps into every cell recharging your soul and body. When you feel a little down, take a walk to the local plateia, meet a friend for some frappe, take a dip in the thalassa, and you’re cured. Greeks make it a point to put human relationships over work; so when life gets a bit too hard to live, they retreat into the warm circles of friends and family that are really the important things in life. Americans know this too, but they don’t act on it. One of the longest running Harvard studies of all time followed men from college to the present day. George Vaillant commented that [in regard to happiness and life satisfaction] “There is 70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in this world.”
FOUR: America is a moral free-for-all. Disclaimer: At the risk of telling the truth, I will offend some in the following passage. As an Orthodox Christian, who believes deeply in the morals and values of my ancestors, I take offense to living in a place where “anything goes.” I can’t live on a street where I smell pot coming from all directions because the drug is getting legalized across most states. It passed in the capital city, Washington DC, for Christ’s sake! ( I dare you to walk down the streets of San Francisco or Denver without getting mastouromeno by osmosis.) Where I have to explain to my 7-year-old that that strange funky smell is not cigarettes but marijuana. I can’t live in a city where everyone is gay or transgender or having affairs with their cat and dog. It is a sin to be a homosexual in our church. How can I stand living in a country that has actually legalized a sinful practice and made it the law of the land? Panagia mou, tha mas kapsi o Theos! Where else but in America you can change your sex as easily as you can change your costume for Halloween? I heard last week of a woman who was pregnant, but half-way through her pregnancy felt like becoming a man, so was given hormones to transform her into a man. Now what the hell is that about? What is the child who is born to this mother/father combo supposed to think? “Dad, you were also my Mom?”
Anything goes in America. If you can afford it, or make a loud enough protest about it, start a “cause” or lobby a campaign, it can become a rule of law. But God forbid, you can’t offend anyone if you don’t agree with their lifestyle. You get labeled a hater or racist or bigot, etc.
FIVE: Greece, for all its financial problems, has a better quality of life. I don’t need to argue this point. Anyone who has lived in Greece knows it’s a fact. Fresh organic food, not processed, factory-made
Frankenfood that we have here that is loaded with toxins to ruin your waistline. (The only industry that the fast food industry is feeding is the pharmaceutical/health care (that’s if you have access to health care). A cleaner more organic environment (minus the smog in Athens) that fills your eye and lung with ocean air. For all its bureaucracy in public health, people live longer healthier lives in Greece as many a news article about those octogenerians in Lefkada, Ikaria, and Crete has recounted. It does not take much to live there either. Give me an organic, sun-ripened tomato, a glass of wine, and fresh, wood-oven baked bread from the chorgio and l am happy. I’d rather live without the “luxuries” we have in America, fancy cell phones, luxury cars, destination vacations, so that I could live a saner, healthier, happier every day life there.
There is more time to live in Greece because the pace slows down. You actually can count the hours in a day. In New York City, five years go by so quickly, they jam into each other. What have I done with my life these last five years? Where does the time go? Ironically, you can run around like the Tasmanian devil and still have nothing to show for it but the same old day, work, home, work, home, repeat. What kind of life is that?
“You will get bored,” people tell me. To that I say, “I’d rather be bored than stressed. Boredom never killed anybody; stress does, every day.”
For all these reasons, I have already purchased a container at my local Hermes Movers and am slowly shipping the necessary objects for my trans-Atlantic moving. The decision to move to another country is massive. Everyone must ultimately choose what’s right for his or her circumstances. But in my case, it has been clear for a long time. There is no comparison: even at its worse, provided you have a source of income, Greece has a higher quality of life, more time to cultivate relationships, and a warmer/sunnier climate that keeps you healthy, happy, and alive for a long, long time.