August in Athens; what am I doing here?

As Greece's

    August in Athens what on earth am I doing here? The city is baking, and the Greeks, who know better, have left.

    In their place are small groups of red-faced, sweating tourists, bravely staggering down otherwise deserted streets, hunting for patches of shade. 

    They move slowly from museum to ancient site, but don't really look as if they are enjoying either very much.

    Ok, there are compensations for us residents. The traffic is sparse, parking spaces uncharacteristically easy to find.

    There are no queues in banks or post offices. And then there are the roof-top cinemas, where, surrounded by potted plants and dozing cats, you can watch an old classic movie, drink a cool beer, and watch the moon rise over the Acropolis.

    I'm here, of course, because I'm meant to be working. But just try finding anybody important in Greece at their desks over the next fortnight. Impossible.

    Politicians, trade unionists, students and journalists have called a truce on their interminable arguments, and retreated en masse to the islands. 

    This is a county that still works according to older, more genteel rhythms, where high summer is a time for recharging with family, eating and drinking, and swimming in the cool waters of the Aegean. 

    Greece is not alone in this regard. Italy and France have also shut down for a couple of weeks.

    The Americans like to sneer at we Europeans.

    After all, isn't it precisely the European addiction to long holidays (not to mention other absurdities like 35-hour working weeks, generous welfare payments, and 'socialised medicine') that has led the old continent to the verge of bankruptcy?

    Shouldn't the Greeks, of all people, know better, and get back to work? 

    It's true that Greeks are in no position to lecture anyone these days. But it will take more than an economic crisis to convince people living on the seductive shores of the Mediterranean that August is a time to do anything too strenuous.  

    Besides, how worrying is Europe's situation after all?

    Slow down

    As I write, the euro is reclaiming much of the ground it lost on the currency markets this spring. 

    The IMF has given Greece's economic reform programme some cautious praise, and there's talk of recovery in Spain.

    There are, no doubt, more troubles to come.

    Greeks are bracing themselves for a new round of strikes and demonstrations in the autumn, when many of the recently adopted austerity measures will be really biting.

    But for now, the bad news is coming from the other side of the Atlantic.

    In America, economic growth has slowed right down, whilst unemployment figures continue to rise. The dollar is losing value fast. 

    So, here's some advice from lazy Greece to all those Americans, many of whom (in my acquaintance at least) tend to see going on vacation as evidence of moral weakness. 

    Slow down, take a break, and get out of the office. It's too hot to work. The serious stuff can wait till September.


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