(Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, the original version of this post included text from a related piece about Athens.)
The city of Athens, much like her patron goddess Athena, can be both enchanting and infuriating. If residents had to check a box regarding their relationship status with the city, many would check: “It’s complicated”.
Certainly for the majority of Athenians, simplicity is not the cornerstone of daily life. Athens is a complex and difficult city and residents have many hurdles to clear on a daily basis. Life is hard here in many ways for the average Tom, Dick and Demetri, but we all know that a challenging life can be more vivid and rewarding than an easy one.
A more ‘honest’ life?
The story of Goddess Athena’s dramatic birth is one for the ages: her father, Zeus, had an agonizing headache and from it sprang Athena, fully grown and dressed in shiny gold armor, wielding a sharp spear and emitting a battle cry that could rupture a mortal’s eardrum. Athens itself, perhaps influenced by her protector’s predilection for war, can be a battlefield
Residents and visitors alike often describe the city as aggressive and an assault on the senses.
Amid the car fumes and car horns, the unsmiling pedestrians and the aggressive drivers, the brusque bosses and the moody civil servants, the barking dogs and the hydraulic drills, one can go a full day without a friendly exchange or a moment’s peace.
Road rage and random arguments break out here and there and stress levels can get quite high on any given day. However, many ask themselves: “Isn’t this life more ‘real’? Isn’t it a more honest life? Do daily niceties even matter? Aren’t they just fake nonsense?”
The answer depends on who you are, of course. Some people can’t stand what they see as a lack of common courtesy and basic sense of calm, while others would never trade the chaos and endless red tape for polite smiles and “the customer is always right” attitude ….
Rather ironically, this incredibly noisy and always-busy megalopolis can actually be a haven for the more introverted folks, because one can truly be anonymous in a city where so many are too caught up in their own little world to notice or care what others are doing. Athens is similarly often appreciated by students and other young people from rural areas who come here to work or study and are keen to live without scrutiny.
All in all, the city’s indifference is a boon for many.
Further, Athens can offer some very important lessons, such as how to stand up for yourself. Some get that very early on, whereas it can take ages for others. But there always comes a time in the life of every young Greek or expat when they tire of being pushed around or treated with dismissiveness.
That is a milestone.
When you can find a way to stand up and be counted without losing your cool, you are well on your way to a more empowered life, no doubt about it. In places where life is easier, this lesson is not so readily available and people from places like that sometimes lack the grit that Greeks and residents of Greece naturally acquire.
Another great thing about living in a “difficult” place is that you learn to appreciate a true friend when (s)he comes along. Like other places with troubled histories, Greece can be a rather insular society at times.
According to a Pew Research study from 2018, 89 percent of Greek surveyed “completely/mostly agree” with the following statement: Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.
Though Athens is quite trendy in a superficial way, customs and lifestyle are often strongly influenced by deep-rooted cultural and religious (Christian Orthodox) traditions. The extended family plays a big role and the average Greek doesn’t always have the time, need or interest to befriend an outsider. However, when you are befriended here – when you do form or become part of a circle of family and friends – the loyalty runs deep and there is great fun to be had and strength to be given.
The more open-minded among the group will also be interested in outside customs and mutual learning and respect can be had.
Beyond everything else, Athens truly is what you make of it. It will not hand you much, that’s for sure, but it will do better and make you reach for, discover and create your own life and that life can be interesting and fulfilling in a city that can be hard but is definitely rich in numerous non-monetary ways.
About the author:
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.
You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.
You can see more of her posts here.
See more about Athens in Dispatches’ archive here.