Urban culture, public space/time and other stories.

After years of traveling, this is the most typical question that pops up in my mind every time that I visit a new place :”What is so different here compared to where I come from?”. In the majority of the cases I catch myself even looking for it, especially the last years this question kept on coming up in an effort to explain why Greece is in ”crisis”. What do we do wrong here in Greece and which are the characteristics that distinguish us from the rest of the world? I am referring of course to sociological characteristics which are result of the development of the society the last centuries. The idea of being able to guess what the person that sits across me in a cafe thinks always fascinated me (and in a more extended level, how a larger group of the society thinks and acts). Following the signs that lead to the discovery of existing patterns of social behaviour is not easy though and it is not a rare case the revision of everything you thought as typical behaviour.

The main difference that I keep on spotting is a massive lack of urban culture in almost every Greek city. Manifestations of this lack of urban culture is the way that Greeks drive, follow a queue, respect public space, speak, participate in politics and a lot more. You almost have the feeling that all these people came to live in a city completely unwillingly, and till a certain point this is true. The average Greek does not lose contact with the countryside by visiting it as often as possible, when they can do it physically they are doing it mentally. This keeps them from becoming real members of the city they live in though. They live their whole lives as visitors and they can not wait to ”return back”.

The majority of the Greek cities were shaped in their current form and size after the 1950-60’s. This means that vast part of the population of Athens or Thessaloniki for example were born and raised in the countryside and moved there later in their lives, mainly for economical reasons. Supposing that we need at least one generation in order to embody the change of culture, we can say that it is the current generation that starts having all these social characteristics that someone can see in other big European cities.

So yes, I am optimistic about the years to come. We had to cover the distance (of urbanisation) in a really short period but things are changing. The European space, the last two decades, got unified in an unexpecting level and there is more to come. The key in this process lays in political participation (and to be exact, healthy political participation). And yes I will use once again a quote (promise you this is the last time) :

One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
― Plato

Have a nice weekend.

Michail I.Lafkas

One Comment Add yours

  1. the division bell says:

    Yes, maybe our generation will demonstrate a different behaviour, but not in greek cities, because the majority is already abroad (for life)…

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