Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Métro, Boulot, Dodo*

Sharon is English and she lives in Greece with her Greek husband and kids. When she realised I was working in her hometown, she contacted me on Facebook to ask if I could suggest anywhere suitable for summer teaching work over here. ‘Get your CV to the university,’ I said. ‘The pay’s twice what any one-eyed language school would pay, and you’ll have a fair bit to take back home.’ So here she is for a five-week stint, slaving over writing skills and what-not with the rest of us.

‘I’m knackered’ she said this morning, the day that marks the half-way point of the course. ‘I don’t know how you guys stand it, week in, week out.’

Well, indeed. In the four years since I came back from Greece I have been financially much better off, but have felt almost permanently rushed and chronically sleep-deprived. There’s also the dreary Thank-God-it’s-Friday / Oh- Jesus-Christ-is-it-Fucking-Monday-Again syndrome that is endured by most of the population of the English-speaking world, but which I hardly ever experienced in the years I taught at a teacher training centre in Athens. The three years I subsequently spent at a school in the Peloponese had something more of the treadmill about them, but to be spared this dull loping from weekend to weekend for twelve years, well, that definitely spoiled me. Don’t imagine that I didn’t find other things to complain about, because I did; I like a good moan as much as anybody. Greece may seem laid back to holiday makers, but in fact it’s total bloody chaos if you work there and there is plenty of scope for grumbling. Most of the ex-pats I worked with in 1990 had gone by 1992 and were relieved to have escaped.

Ah, but the edge, the intensity of Athens! They got to me. And what gets to me even more, especially now it’s too late, is the importance the Greeks place on conviviality and leisure, which are valued far more than work. ‘Job satisfaction’ was a concept few people could understand. Satisfaction in working for a boss? Satisfaction comes, surely, from family and friends and leisure, all the things you are concerned with when not working. Your job and any other commitments must therefore take second place to these in terms of the time and importance you are willing to accord them. I used to get so exasperated if trainee teachers missed deadlines or input sessions just because they happened to coincide with the same week as their father’s name day, but I have belatedly learned to see things their way just a bit more.

Sharon goes back to Oropos in two weeks. Another friend of mine, an old Greek hand who has reluctantly lived in England for five years, is in the process of selling up to return to Kalamata. She is happy to sacrifice a British salary for more opportunity to enjoy just being. And me… shall I? Shan’t I? I need the money, so I can’t up stakes and sod off quite yet, but in the not too distant future, I have to get the hell out.


* French expression 'underground/subway-work-bed', i.e., the daily grind, the same old same. I don't know a Greek expression for this and can't imagine many people there would be willing to put up with such a lifestyle

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