Friday, March 9, 2012

It’s nice to be a ...pi(i)g!

Erwan had just had his forty birthday few weeks ago, he is handsome and athletic, his native language is French, but he introduces himself as ‘Breton’. He is a Geologist, doing research on estuaries for the University, he has a very clever dog, Dexter, and he lives in a small and humid place, right in from of Faro Beach. He is a nice guy, and a friend…

Inside his place you will find all kind of tools and various athletic equipment, most of which seem old and used hundreds of times. He has a van, a scooter, a bicycle and a boat; it’s very unlikely to find more than half of them functional at the same time and he is constantly engaged in the activity of repairing them, with a bottle of beer somewhere nearby. If you ask him, he will tell you that he doesn’t care about cars and motorbikes and all that is important is ‘to go from point A to point B’ (and he seems to be serious about it).
I am spending one week of holidays in his place, enjoying his company, the barbecues on the beach, doing some surf, throwing sticks so that Dexter would fetch them and all sorts of such vitalizing activities. Of course Portugal, like Greece (but hopefully not as much) is burdened by the economic crisis. People are complaining about their jobs, or the ones they lost and they are thinking to go abroad. My body itches when I hear this, since I am automatically transferred from the sunny Faro Beach back to Hannover, where a different concept of fun and relaxation is prevailing. One that most south Europeans would simply describe ‘not a life’.
Erwan knows that since he is well travelled and has lived in England, Germany among others. For him better salary, cars and security worth nothing compared to good weather, fresh fish, the view of the ocean and a lot of space for Dexter. He knows well what he wants… And he talks about the crisis as less as he can, because ‘it doesn’t affect him’.
There is no doubt that South Europe is corrupt and inefficient and to some extent deserves to be poor and less developed. On the other hand, nobody can really doubt that small poor countries can be easily exploited by the larger and more powerful ones. It is the duty of historians to show which mistakes and interests allowed or helped this absurd consumer culture to emerge in the poor South European countries, during this EU experiment. Back in Greece of the 90s another friend was telling me: ‘They are out of their minds… How many kilos of tomatoes do we have to sell, in order to buy a BMW? How can this work?’. My friend still doesn’t own a car and he also avoids the crisis, because ‘it doesn’t affect him’ he says.
Poverty, when it is not extreme remains a problem, but is not tragedy, especially as long as the social structure is not collapsing. Unemployment is tragedy because it doesn’t let people ‘go from point A to point B’ and this crisis brings to the south unemployment and social collapse. There will be consequences from this situation, we are all facing them already. If there is some justice in the world, the ones who let this paradox grow, will face them even more sometime in the future…
Living in more developed societies like in the North of Europe you enjoy being part in a more sober, more fair and less corrupt system, surrounded by people who often have a more intricate and better structured way of thinking and functioning. On the other hand, when you are sitting under the sun, eating sweet, juicy Algarvean oranges after a good surf; thoughts get buried under the avalanche that your senses create. What you are doing, or will do becomes less important when you are immersed to the beauty of nature. You feel insignificant and alive at the same time, especially if you are born in this latitude.
So, it’s not bad to be a …PIIG after all…
As long as they let you ‘go from point A to point B’.

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