Saturday, October 6, 2012

Here "productivity - there "life"

I was still in my teens when I first saw the movie Alexis Zorbas. That was in the mid-1960s, the post-war generation in Austria. We hadn't learned that life was about fun. Instead, we had learned that life was about serious things and about doing everything right, and - God forbid - never to commit the same mistakes again. Best of all, never to make mistakes!

Here I was watching a movie where the Englishman was proper as we had learned to be while the Greek was, in our value structure, quite a bit improper. And, strangely enough, I liked the Greek better than the Englishman. In the end, the improper Greek even acted carelessly if not recklessly, not only destroying the zip line but also endangering people's lives. In my value structure, that Greek should have been ashamed of himself. In fact, the police should have carried him away. Instead, the Greek burst out full of life, focused on the roasted lamb and nearly reached ecstasy when the Englishman asked him to teach him how to dance. By that time, it was clear to me that the Greek had the better value structure!

It seems to me that we are witnessing today a battle of value structures among European nations. Some even suspect that there might be a conspiracy to mold a uniform value structure throughout Europe. As though the troubles in molding uniform light bulbs hadn't taught them a lesson.

This is not an issue of the Greek way of life against the way of life of the North. It is the issue of different value structures and different cultures throughout Europe, not just between two countries. Read Thomas Mann's book about the Buddenbrooks and you will see that, even within Germany, there are light years between the Hanseatic bourgeoisie and the rustic, fun and beer loving Bavarians.

Many see this in the context of productivity on one hand and living on the other. Alexis Papachelas once phrased this beautifully in a comment in the Ekathimerini: "Maybe at the end of the day the problem will be that the Germans have found the perfect model for productivity, and the Greeks have found the perfect model for living (albeit funded by others)".

Peter Economides, in an article for the Greek Reporter, sees the North as a world dominated by productivity, efficiency, balanced books and the Protestant ethic to which the essential Greek DNA is the necessary opposite. He gives a beautiful description of what he sees as the essential concept of Greece:

"The spirit with which Greeks live their lives. The stuff that defines the “Greekness” of Greece. About what makes this nation tick. What makes us get up in the morning. I think the world understands what this is. It’s called life. And the amazing love that Greeks have for life. It was present in ancient Greece. The love of humanity that gave rise to democracy. The love of beauty that gave rise to sculpture. The love of peace that gave rise to the Olympic Truce. The love of knowledge which gave rise to science. The love of discovery that gave rise to philosophy. The love of wisdom that shines from the Acropolis in Athens. Life. This is Greek knowhow. You can feel the joy of Greece as soon as you land. Despite the crisis. Life is the Greek knowhow. The sea against the rocks. The sound of goats. Sea urchin and lemon. Lipsi island. In a country called Forever. Forever feels like home".

Trouble often begins when one starts thinking in terms of "either/or": either productivity or living, but certainly not "as well as". It takes great skill to be very productive but it also takes great skill to live well. Perhaps Northeners focus so much on their skill to be productive because they lack the skill to live well. Perhaps Greeks focus so much on their skill to live well because they lack the skill to be productive. When Northeners look down on the Greek skill to live well, it feels derogatory. When Greeks mock the Northeners' skill to be productive, they make Northeners feel like they are too dumb to live well.

Coming from the above-described post-war Austrian culture and being married to a Greek of the Zorbas-mold, I can guarantee that it is futile for one side to try to convince the other in "either/or" terms. Instead, one has to see the beauty in diversity (instead of uniformity). One has to reach the level where "as well as" becomes a realistic option. I often told our sons that they had the great advantage of being the product of two different cultures. While that doesn't always make life easier, it certainly makes life richer. Always!


  1. Well, as someone who is at least trying to make that work-life balance, I can attest that it is not easy.

    What I will say is this: it is not so much Germany's productivity - but the system that underpins it. Germany has an administration that is effective. That means they can afford to buy things. Sure, it goes further because Germans are ... Bavarians, Prussians and Pomeranians. Darn.

    Greece has no administration worth the name. Had it one, things might be a little different.

    Which is one of the essential problems in the eurozone, which is that half of the eurozone had a tightly-regulated economy with a functioning administration - and half didn't. That meant the half that had the money could lend it recklessly to the other half where such regulations didn't apply.

    What the North needs is to relax a little, and the South to tighten up a bit. Then there might be a balance that actually works for everyone instead of de-stabilizing it.

  2. Reading the first words I thought for a moment you were about to reference the Costa-Gavras movie 'Z'. I saw it with my then girlfriend. We got a cab home rather than the customary bus, not talking much, too many real and silent tears.

    Zemaytin's 'We', Picasso's 'Guernica' and 'Z' are three 20th century icons that reinforce the values that my Puritanical parents gave me. I'm afraid I put Zorba alongside the Sound of Music :lol:

    Statements such as those by Papachelas and Economides maybe beautifully expressed - but in the context they are presented they are useless, only serving to perpetuate irrelevant and often untrue myths. Modern Greeks no more descend from Aristotle etc, than the English descend from Boudica etc. There seems to be a myth that Greece was untouched by the mass migrations of the first millennia of the Christian Era. P & E should save they're creative writing efforts for poetry journals.

    It is my observation that the majority of Greeks who migrate to countries where the Protestant Ethic is said to prevail, soon adopt the practices of hard work, thrift, law abidance, free enterprise etc. They do this whilst retaining cultural links and practices, such as pinning money on brides, priests chanting in church, men dancing in circles etc. Migrants from so called Enlightened countries in northern Europe, seem more likely to become shirkers, whingers, strikers and drunks.

    I note that one of the reforms relating to increasing the use of generic pharmaceuticals via is being put into law. So maybe someone in government is reading the McKinsey report and the Reform Plan to which I recently posted a link.

    Now they need to stop doctors using brand names rather the scientific names, maybe by making the doctors contribute the price differential. They should also incentivate pharmacists to supply generics, especially locally made products. And disincentivate Big Pharma from handing out goodies, as in all expenses paid conferences on Bora Bora for doctors and partners.

    My latest pipedream to overcome the Greek Tragedy is to outsource it's sovereignty to a consortia of independently rich countries with a track record of running peaceful, prosperous, independent, small states. I had in mind a 99 year contract, with Norway, Switzerland and Singapore forming the consortia. It couldn't be worse than being part of the Recycled Union of Former Independent European States - RUFIES ;)