The Plumber and the PM

Our apartment didn’t get functioning internet until late last week. Our text books, while shipped in the last week of August, and made it to Greece in the first week of September, did not arrive in our hands until September the 17th. And this after having paid hundreds of euros to get them out of customs. 

What may come off as a litany of complaints is intended to be anecdotal evidence: it is hard to get things done in Greece. For nearly a half a millennia, the country was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, a government whose concept of civic culture revolved around patronage, nepotism, and bribery. When we think of the aftereffects of imperialism Greece does not quickly come to mind. Africa and India are some of the most obvious cases; in Africa, borders drawn with caprice have produced unsettled tribal rivalries, while the British civil service system in India left institutions and attitudes which bred and maintained the world’s largest democracy. 

The ghost of the Ottomans lingers in Greece, as the ideas of dutiful civil service and bureaucratic oversight have still refused to take hold. The other day I met a Greek named George, who, to my surprise and delight, felt like talking Greek and American politics to a foreign stranger (or strange foreigner?) for twenty minutes on the sidewalk. “You have probably already figured out how it is here,” he said, telling me that to get anything done in Greece, you either have to have personal connections or acute knowledge of tactful bribery. “If your package is stuck in customs, you can probably get it” if you hand the right person a twenty euro note. 

In America, bribery is far less widely accepted, but our corruption is of a different sort. Business interests dominate government, and lobbyists ghostwrite legislation; “rigged elections” (his words--n.b. George is an Obama supporter, who worries that the Republicans will try to rig the upcoming election in desperation, a scenario which he believes would prompt revolution--your author is more optimistic/naïve). “In Greece,” ruminates George, “everyone is corrupt, from the plumber to the prime minister.” 

That explains the leak in the floor. 

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