Δευτέρα, 10 Οκτωβρίου 2011

Death of a Greek middle-classman


Granted, in the financially turbulent times we are going through, our “prayers” should be with the most needy. Globalisation has finally brought what the odd romantic economist had been warning us about. In the global village, competition was going to get out of hand, leading to a unique redistribution of wealth where the super-rich would become hyper-rich and the rest of us would suffer.

And that was no exaggeration; reporters on Greek television have never before paid so many visits to vegetable markets, capturing for posterity the puzzled expression of a pensioner standing in front of a stall and struggling with the impossible dilemma of whether to buy a bunch of parsley at those prices. Anyone watching Greek television could form the impression that the whole country’s economy is based on parsley; and I don’t really know how far from the truth that would be.

What the romantic economist should have used was an American phrase many of us had been pouring scorn on for years. We should have known better. There is no other phrase than “when the shit hits the fan…” to describe the present situation more graphically. Well, the “shit” finally did “hit the fan”, and, save the wealth-insulated individuals, we are all in a pretty bad mess.

The pensioner’s dilemma has been recorded. But no one will ever dare to show some sympathy for the dying breed of the middle class. Especially those who spent years devoted to a chosen profession, battling it out on their own, working extremely hard and deservedly earning an honest well-being. Fear not my fellow middle-classmen; it’s time we made our plight public.

The world used to be our oyster. Three-week holidays at such faraway places as New Zealand never broke our bank. European destinations were reserved for long weekends, and we could walk around London without a map. I, personally, never felt any guilt answering my colleague’s questions of where I had spent the weekend with: “I saw Maggie Smith in a wonderful monologue at the Strand”. And I didn’t need to explain that Maggie had never performed in Thessaloniki. Some of the staff at the Athens Intercontinental actually remembered me from my previous visits, as I could afford to make it my “home away from home” every time I needed to renew my fading “capital lustre”.

Now our ouster rarely extends further than our couch. What wanderlust still remains is satisfied by sharing the complimentary travel DVDs we find in newspapers and magazines. We sigh secretly when we watch them and pretend to remain “cool” when we claim to have “done that, been there”. In reality we yearn for that kerosene smell that infiltrates the aircraft cabin as it prepares for take-off.

Our visit to the food hall of our supermarket was ritual. We nonchalantly passed by the imitation Danish Blue and gestured our helpful assistant to be generous with his cutting of our favourite Saint Augur. I, personally, felt sorry for the poor chap trying to cut my €38,00 a kilo favourite soft cheese in one piece.

It must be his curse that I no longer need the connoisseurship of distinguishing a good Pinot Noir. Why should I? Now I choose my wines by the price tag. It is only because of habit that I glance at the label. I didn’t know that they make a palatable Cabernet in Chile; and at €1,79 a bottle you could almost promote it to fine.

No matter how hard you try to blend in my fellow sufferers, I can spot you out from a mile in a discount store. You walk around in a daze among all that hitherto unknown costume jewelry of consumerism. You behave like a child on his first day at school. The regulars angrily push your trolley aside as you hopelessly try to fathom whether the vile-smelling €0,79 giant-size concoction you’re handling is shampoo, conditioner or bubble-bath.

It all boils down to one thing. Relatively speaking, we are the hardest hit. The rich have sizeable nest eggs to help them weather the storm. The poor have developed fight-mechanisms through years of experience. How are we pity souls who traveled in life’s economy class but stayed in life’s discount five star hotels going to cope?  How can we go from living a life of luxury by proxy to living a life of poverty by proxy? We have been turned into life’s financial outcasts; fitting nowhere and belonging nowhere.

Maybe our Nobel Prize winner Odysseas Elytis found the secret when he wrote:

Then suddenly I realized
and let them think it folly
that out of nothing
you can make paradise

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