Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lessons From Greece

Travel is certainly a way to broaden horizons. In North America as much as anywhere else on the planet we tend to become egocentric towards other cultures, often thinking our way is faster, more advanced; in a word- better.

In a society that is so regulated and rule (law) driven, it was very interesting to gain an appreciation for how in many cases the letter of those laws tends to trump the spirit.

Example: Driving in Greece
We rented a mini-van for the occasion, and were shocked at how poor the signage was, the condition of the roads, and the seemingly insane behavior of the drivers. Pulling into on-coming traffic against a double solid line is common practice, as is speeding by a good 30 - 50km/h (20-30mph). Citing driver safety and accident prevention, we have far more signs, slower speed limits, and better maintained roads in Canada and the United States (not to mention, someone pulling in to oncoming traffic to pass on a busy street or highway would have their licence revoked!). The problem is, I witness accidents almost daily in Calgary, and did not see one accident on the islands of Crete or Santorini, or the city of Athens (with a population 5 times that of Calgary).

Could it be that when we try to think for people they assume we will do it all the time? Are our governments coddling our citizens to the point where we need them to think for us?

Example: Culture
Admittedly, art isn't really my thing. If I see a portrait I like, I buy it, and my appreciation of what is art ends there. I tend to relate with the unassuming, rather than 5 bright splashes of color on a canvas that costs ten grand. I have to give a lot of credit then, the the Greek community, as for as much credit as The Akropolis gets (pictured), places like Knossos on the island of Crete don't make it onto the radar of a guy like me, yet there is so much history and culture wrapped up in every histogram that date back to 7000 BC or before.

There is a great and diverse artistic and cultural side to life in North America, but one cannot help but be moved wondering if they are standing on the same ground Plato or Socrates may have while contemplating the cosmos.

Example: Family
My favorite example, of course, stemmed from the fact that I was married while in Greece. With divorce rates at about 50% here, 2004 statistics have the Greek national divorce rate below 24%. After my wife Maria and I tied the knot in the beautiful town of Chania, restaurant owners, passers by and other tourists stopped to congratulate us or clap; and an Italian news crew even filmed us reciting their catch phrase... there is just a different importance on family and marriage displayed by people's actions there versus what any of us say we feel. Work trumps family here and we see it all the time.

I could go on, but it is important to take everything above with the proverbial grain of salt... the economy, diversification, tolerance, and relative safety we enjoy in Canada every day are luxuries we take for granted.

I may border on the side of national offense by pointing out where other nations may be strong or stronger than we are, but it is only to serve as a reminder that we can never get too big for our britches, and there are always ways that we can improve...

This is from one PROUD Canadian to all the other proud North Americans who want what's best for their country- having all of it's citizens constantly strive to be better without acting like they are.

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