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Greece Makes You Suffer: Into Reality

Updated on January 30, 2008

“Greece is like a mirror. It makes you suffer. Then you learn.” -John Fowles, The Magus

If you’ve ever read The Magus, by John Fowles, the author who wrote the more famous “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” you’ll understand what the above quote means, even if non-experientially. If you’ve ever spent much time in Greece, you’ll feel the meaning of the quote way, deep, down, inside the marrow of your bones.

The story is an excellent one, if at times long and a bit over-searching. It is the perfect metaphor for Tantalus in Hades, unrequited love, or the goal never achieved. It is Greece, through and through, for both Greeks and foreigners who have or would live in that antique land. For our purposes here, however, we’ll not go into the plot of that story, but merely state that The Magus is well worth the read.

As regards Greece making a person suffer, this is true of so many different lands throughout the world. “Suffer” may be a strong word in some cases, though highly bothered will certainly fill the marquis appropriately. In India, for instance, I once had to wait for 20 minutes to purchase a stamp at a post office. I drew the post office attendant’s attention almost immediately away from her conversation with her friend, she looked at me, and resumed her conversation, only getting up nearly half an hour later to help me with what took the whole of 30 seconds to accomplish. This is the same attitude commonly known as the “mañanasyndrome,” in which “tomorrow” is the promised day that a plumber or other service person will come, and “tomorrow” arrives (if at all) only many weeks later.

Of course, this is cultural, and Greeks are well aware that asking for a specific service to be attended to on a certain day holds little or no value. More often than not, they accept this attitude without complaint (though this is slowly changing, especially in the larger cities, where it is not tolerated so much). For foreigners the situation can be even worse, especially if they are not up to snuff on their Greek, and explaining their frustration to the inattentive serviceman may only lead to more frustration.

Yet, coming to the third part of the quote, “then you learn,” comes the real wisdom of the situation. As time goes by, foreigners living in Greece (known collectively as “barbarians” in ancient days, hence the word) learn to compromise or accept outright that which they really have little power over yet which might have thrown them into conniptions in the past. Life becomes calmer over-all, and the mirror becomes the man, or woman.

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