Setting – Breakfast Bar, Greek Island Hotel. Male American Tourist and Female Greek Waitress.
“I see you here all the time, do you work all morning?”
“Yes, I work all day, morning to night.”
“Really, I thought you said you had children?”
“Yes, I do.”
“So what do you do with them if you are always here? When do the kiddos ever see Mama? You know, children need their mothers.”
Dear American Tourist Gentleman,
I hope you are enjoying your vacation on an idyllic Greek island. I hope you are enjoying the sun and sea and that you are experiencing the incredible hospitality of the Greek culture. But in the beautifully constructed tourism bubble that the locals of these islands do everything in their power to preserve, you may have missed the reality for the every day Greek citizen.
These islands are particularly talented at making sure the veil of perfection never slips so it is understandable you wouldn’t know the real Greece. I mean we still have refugees arriving on our beaches – which you will likely never see as they are hidden away as soon as possible. We have earthquakes which within 24 hours we will ship the dead and injured away, clean up the streets and make videos about how perfect life is so you need never know anything ever happened. Oh and then there was just that little thing of the Greek financial crisis, but that’s old news, it doesn’t still affect everyone in their day to day lives – except it absolutely does.
So here’s an interesting statistic, the current Greek unemployment rate is 22.5% of the population. The highest in Europe, double the European average. I am British and I saw the effect of unemployment in the communities I lived in there, but on investigation the UK unemployment rate is 4.1%, so compare that.
And it’s not just unemployment, it is working conditions. Yes, the waitress will work long hours and probably for a very low wage, and she will do it to support those children you mention. Last year before tourist season I was looking for a job and was offered one in a similar role to the waitress you were so incredibly rude to this morning.
The working hours were 10 hours per day, 7 days a week for, wait for it, 650 Euro a month salary. Let’s work that out, 70 hour working week, resulting in a 2.32 hourly rate. Perhaps while you’ve been here you’ve popped into a supermarket and you will see how little 2.32 will get you in Greece. Even the “cheap” supermarkets like Lidl are almost twice as expensive as they are in my hometown in Scotland.
To note, this is not the wage everyone working in hospitality will earn in Greece, but in large it is very representative of the industry here. I personally applied for a number of jobs with the best wage being 3.50 per hour of them all. To add, the tourism industry only has 6 months of business a year, the rest of the year these islands have very few employment opportunities in the empty winter streets.
But your lack of understanding of Greek finances is not what made me fill with rage upon hearing your conversation this morning. No, the rage was ignited by one single fact. No man, should ever reprimand a woman by suggesting she is not spending enough time with her children in order for her to make a living.
You may not have noticed that she may have kept her smile fixed during your conversation but the minute she turned around that smile instantly slipped after a complete stranger judged her on her parenting abilities. I would say that in Greek culture this could been as particularly hurtful, but I believe this extends to every woman in all cultures I have ever experienced.
I was raised by a single working mother and at no point in my adult life have I ever looked back and thought, “But why didn’t I see my mum every minute of the day?” In fact, I look back and think that my mother was a superhero for facing the challenges she did and keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table whilst raising us to be respectful, independent and kind humans.
Your ignorance and brash attitude may have touched a nerve with me personally but it is nothing compared to how you made this woman feel this morning. I saw her face as she walked away, and I saw your face, as if nothing had just happened as you shoveled another sausage in your mouth.
Greece depends on tourism, yes, it is people like you that keep people employed, that bring these places back from the brink of the crisis. But that gives you no right to be that patronising, judgmental human you were this morning.
I live a strange kind of life as Scot in Greece, something between a tourist and a local. I see the benefits of tourism and I see and meet tourists from all over the world who are nothing like you. People who come to Greece and respect the culture, who respect the people. Maybe in future you could be a little more like them?
But, let’s be honest, this is not about tourists and locals, this is about men and women.
So when you have finished getting the perfect lobster shade skin upon the beautiful beaches and you head back to the US of A, maybe you should treat the women of your own culture with a little more respect too. How would you feel if someone said that to your wife? Or maybe you would say that to your own wife, who knows.
In conclusion, Mr rude American tourist man, I saw you make a Greek woman really sad this morning and in turn you made me very sad.
Women are more than mothers, and mothers are women who deserve your respect not your judgement.
The girl with the skin turning the same colour red as her hair – and not from sunburn.
To all the Mamas out there, I respect you.
To the Mamas who choose to stay at home to raise their babies, I respect you. To the Mamas who choose to go out and work whilst raising their babies, I respect you. To the Mamas who wish they could stay at home and raise their babies but have to work to support their families, I respect you. Whatever your choice or your situation, you know it better than anyone else and you need never justify it to anyone. You are all incredible human beings, never let anyone make you feel you are anything short of heroic for all that you do for your tiny humans!