February 5th, 2012
03:53 PM GMT
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New York (CNN) – I love a New York breakfast.  Eggs over easy, hash browns, whole wheat toast – and diner coffee, which seemingly may never have actually seen a coffee bean. Now I add to that mix a robust discussion about the Greece crises.

When I came to New York I had thought I might escape from the woes of Greece and the eurozone, if only for a weekend. I had not reckoned with the owner and manager of the local hotel diner, where I was staying – part of the large and ever-present Greek population in New York.

Some of them, like the manager, were born in Greece, and even though they haven't lived there for decades still have family there and visit once or twice a year. Others, like their sons and daughters, have an interest in the place, as if they had just got off the boat.

Forget the U.S. election – every one of them was obsessed with talking to me about what was going to happen to Greece and the battle of austerity over growth.

Enjoying eggs over easy while arguing the merits of the PSI debt relief package ain’t easy, especially when they believe that Greece is being pushed mercilessly towards bankruptcy and default by its heartless eurozone partners.

The Greeks I spoke to recounted tales of relatives and friends back home who were out of work and could no longer afford the basics of life. They were worried that all Germany and the European leaders were concerned about was cutting Greece down to size.

Ominously, they warned me that Greek people would rather be bankrupt and free than bankrupt and under the lash of the eurozone cuts.

So what did they think should happen?  They told me Greece should be given more time to restructure and sort out the economy – that the Greek people should be helped through this over a period of years.

Pointing out that the IMF and troika have criticized the reform program for being "off-track," or that there needed to be a boost to the reforms, does not go down well.  It will take time, they say. Germany is the beneficiary of the low interest rates, and it is in Germany's interest to make sure Greece survives. Germany needs to do more, they argue.

As for the role of the ECB: The bank should stimulate growth and do what is necessary, they say. Arguments about “moral hazard” are not high on the agenda at this diner.

What did I learn over breakfast? That the Greeks here believe there is a serious risk of instability – and ultimately civil unrest – if the downtrodden people of Greece are pushed too far. That they view the euro as a dog with fleas, and most of all, that whatever Greece does to solve its own problems, its eurozone partners must do more.

I may have hoped to forget Greece for a few days – but instead, in an unlikely place, I ended up with a lesson in perspective and how things are seen from afar.

More coffee?



soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Dan

    Richard
    While you and the rest of us in the Western World get up in the morning at 6am, get ready to go to work, get our children ready for school / pre-school, drive them through hectic traffic, work a 8+ hour day with a measly half an hour lunch break, the Greeks were relaxed with their siesta's and not nearly worked as hard as us Westerners whilst recieving EU benefits. Believe me, I went there for a month while the times were really good 5 years ago and I even contemplated living there instead of the hectic world we live in.

    Now they are scratching their heads in what to do because welfare has stopped and they are not productive,

    February 5, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  2. Neo

    @Dan
    Just as the Greeks in this article are in too much contact with Greece to be objective, you are too out of touch to be objective. Just because you spent time as a tourist does not make you an expert in all things Greek. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

    February 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  3. john

    @Dan

    Indeed, in Greece there are no such thing as traffic, schools, or jobs.
    For the past 20 years the Greeks have been hanging around,
    exactly like the tourists at that hotel you stayed at, 5 years ago.

    February 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  4. Georgia

    All I have to say is that you are far away from the Greek reality, therefore there's no need for such unfounded opinions. Enjoy your breakfast all.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  5. Vasilis

    @Dan
    I have little to add to John and Georgia's comments above, but I had to write something.
    It is very late here in Greece, and like many other Greeks I have to get up early tomorrow to have a day similar to your's my friend Dan. Being a visitor to my country you probably never got to see the Greek people who were working, apparently not near your hotel. Nor experienced Athens's traffic btw. Yes you should come and live here as you contemplated. Lets see how long it will take before you become mad on the everyday Greek experience (and I am referring to things you probably can't even imagine).
    And one last note: We never were aware of our countries debt. It was hidden from us (by the same politicians you "westerners" negotiate with right now. We still don't know what these loans were taken for (apparently not to improve infrastructures or productivity). What do you think you know about YOUR nation's debt?

    February 6, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  6. Has

    No free lunch and no more siestas.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:50 am |
  7. despina

    hey listen im fully greek and only 14 i live in greece for the summer and america in the winter i am more free and more relaxed over there here we have all kinds of rules . I HATE AMERICA!!! I LOVE GREECE!!!!!!

    February 6, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  8. NT

    As someone who served the US Government in Greece for eight years till recently I can empathize with Vasillis' comments.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  9. karan

    Greeks were living a lavish life of an american ,a typical 212 pounds/person/year and this is the result.Americans live their unsustainable life style by selling war machinery to the rest of the world.

    May be Greeks should understand their inherent financial limitations and start a program of eating less meat , as a true& meaningful austerity program, which will bail them out.May be they should ensure Olive growers pay taxes

    February 6, 2012 at 4:28 am |
  10. sadat

    What happens if Joe threw hot water ice
    http://upload40.com/10794.html

    February 6, 2012 at 6:32 am |
  11. marina

    I have been living in Greece for over a decade, i am very upset at the comments written by people who make a statement based on their own theory rather then facts. it is very easy to speak when you are whatching the news on televison rather then living in Greece day in day out. The Greek people unfortunately have a voice that is not heard. The greek people are paying the price for a handful of greeks being politicians and wealthy business men who "curtsy" to their friendly neighbors. So, before you open your mouth, open your mind, because you are not speaking about one person, but of a nation and in the US you should know what that feels like, to be judged as a nation. So Dan, when you were in Greece, i am sure you left with a great big smile on your face and that the lazy no good for nothing greeks did a lot if not everything to make you feel at home, by the way how is the homeless situation in your end of the woods? how many people to you know who have lost their jobs? are you one of the lucky ones from wall street? Maybe you should focus on your nation and leave the greeks to theirs, unless you have nothing better to do, or no one to listen to you. By the way, your more then welcome to visit Greece again, because i am sure that when you come back the least you will feel is guilty for your comments.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  12. marina

    PS i am sorry for spelling "whatching" instead of watching.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  13. jack

    I assume that cynicism is not the way to go, especially when wrapped with ignorance. I agree with Vasilis' thesis and I want to add that generalizations, stereotypes, jokes for the sake of being smart are not appropriate when you see a country suffering. Especially GREECE suffering. A Westerner, and even more an American, a person growing up in a continent which apart from 2 or 3 states has nothing but empty, over simplified people, has to remember what my country 's civilizations has given and taught.
    X

    February 6, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  14. william

    Stereotypes can be "dangerous". The financial crisis in Greece has little to do with the majority of Greeks. However, I could not say the same for their politicians and the overall political system. I have worked in this country and I don't recall siestas and such things......Greek people work longer hours than average Europeans do and have less benefits altogether from their "welfare state". It is rather unfortunate to judge a nation from a week's holiday. It is also useful, to read a few things about Greece's modern history, especially following WWII, in order to have a deeper understanding of things, as well as overall European "balances". Finally, let's not forget that history repeats itself and judging from how certain, financially strong and powerful European countries deal with this crisis, the signs are there......I would like to conclude by saying that the Berlin Opera is staging one of Wagner's masterpieces "Rienzi" which was Hitler's favorite. The premiere is scheduled to coincide with his birthday! Enjoy!

    February 6, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  15. quax

    @ william
    History will repeat itself? This are the words of those who try to force other people to think that actual problems are the fault of others. Do you really want to fight stereotypes with stereotypes?

    Please visit http://www.deutscheoperberlin.de/?page=spielplandetail&id_event_date=8823018&language=en_EN to educate yourself about "repeating of history".

    Any further questions?

    February 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  16. Grekos

    Dear western friends.

    I read your comments and i think that many people are narrow minded in the Greek case. Everyone should look at his nation actions that have led us to this crisis. As a Greek citizen i can accept that we made only ONE mistake. We were not complaining if the state employees did not pursue but instead bend the existing laws. Everything else is just a consequence of the above primary problem.

    As a citizen of another nation did you ever considered how much of the money given to my country were given back to you for military equipment? have you ever thought the thousands of unemployed people you would get if we didnt buy german tanks – french frigates or usa f16? Did your countries ever helped us feel more safe with our neighbours so as not to spend so much money for arms? Did Germany payed the reparations cost of ww2 to Greece estimated for 163billion without tax?Do you remember that usa threatened not to send athletes in athens olympics if we did not install the siemens surveillance system? Hmm. Now if you want to spend some time calculating how many billions are these money (not including those under the table) you will see that PSI is just a penny.

    So take a time and consider. We all have arguments however we also all have a share for what is happening to Greece now.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  17. william

    @quax
    Thank you for your post!
    Do I feel some agitation here...? Hmmm......interesting! Happy to see though, that the Berlin Opera people realized this unfortunate symbolism and decided to change the premiere date, better late, than never.......right?
    I promise to get more educated (sic) however you must promise to do some history reading as well......
    After all, great nations & civilizations are remembered for what they contributed to the world history and culture over the centuries....and here, there is clearly not enough room for stereotypes.......if you know what I mean.
    "Deutschland über alles", mein freund!

    February 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  18. Kon

    Perspective, something we should have on everything in life.
    I am currently living in Greece the last for 4 years and coming from Australia believe me I see things differently, both from others here and abroad.

    All I ask of the readers before putting a strong point of view (either for or against what is happening) is to spend 5 – 10 minutes of their time and do some research. Not only as to why Greece is where it is, but to look more outside of the problem. Like what is the average monthly salary, working hours, cost of living, health care and education in Greece. By knowing more , we may also begin to better understand what others are going through at these difficult times, while also being critical on they way their country got to where it is.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  19. ana

    sure, more coffee...enjoy your´s meal and don´t worry too much! Thx for the excellent article Sir Richard!

    February 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  20. Jeff

    Dear Dan

    I am a Greek citizen and i start working in the age of 14 during weekends and hollidays .
    When i completed my studies i start working in the industry as an engineer, spending at least 10 hours per day and sometimes much more.
    I pay on time my taxes and i never requested a loan from a bank. I know what work and conservative life means like most of my friends/collegues.
    Unfortunately i am traped i pay for "mistakes" that others have planned!

    So my friend Dan, what you thing that you do better than me?

    February 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  21. Angela

    Agreed that there is fault to share all around. Greece never should have been part of the single currency, although certainly part of the European community. It's economy is just too different from those of the huge exporters, such as Germany and France. The use of the Euro abruptly stopped Greece's ability to adjust currency values to deal with deflation and recession. It drastically cut tourism, as Greece was no longer a bargain destination. And it provided a huge boost to Germany, in particular, by importing German products that it could not have afforded when it was on the Drachma. And yes, William, there is some agitation from Germany's recent suggestion that the Euro Zone would have control over Greece's taxing and spending powers. Memories are too long for that kind of domination power play. Germany has overplayed it's hand, and it's very unlikely that the people of Greece will allow it.

    Why Greece wants to continue to be in the single currency is simply astonishing. Of course, there will be a short period of extreme financial pain if Greece converts back to Drachmas and defaults on it's debt. Probably one to three years. But then, in the long run, Greece will be far better off. Better to take the pain in one blow, get it over with and then move on.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  22. Gaspard

    Greece could be a sustainable case had it not been for the Greek politicians. Corrupted to the bones, they are the middlemen between a small number of financial oligarchs and authority. In the past decade, Greece borrowed some 300 billion Euro. For a country the size of Greece, had this money been driven to the markets, which where it should, now the local economy should thrive, independent of the state economics. Instead most of this ended into the -wrong- pockets of small number of fat cats who prefer to keep their money in Switzerland.

    In any country, politicians are usually corrupted. It was the responsibility of the Greek electorate, that they tolerated corruption on the grounds of "I am too small to change the world", and now they have to bear the price. Point is there should be zero tolerance on corruption.

    As for the Greeks being lazy, am not aware of any employer who would tolerate his/her employees to 'under-perform' without feeling the strong temptation to fire them. Do you?

    I can see easily some of those who post here, claiming to be authoritative on the matter, they can barely can find Greece on any map. What is the matter with you guys, did you have a fight with your wives or what?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  23. Alex Povolotski

    You know what's the main theme of all those defaults that we seem to forget? They are superficial. OK, Greece defaults tomorrow. Restart. Life is back to normal. What difference will it make for a country who defaulted? Countries default regularly every 20-50 years. So what? They keep on doing stuff and keep on their existence.

    So what's all the fuss is about?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  24. sadat

    very influential Stand lion dying

    http://upload40.com/11711.html

    February 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  25. Iskren Uzunov

    Why should the western countries support Grece given that the Greeks say they don't want it. The condition of my country (Bulgaria) is much worse than that of Grece despite the fact that we are financially stable (only in theory).

    February 6, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  26. Iskren Uzunov

    In addition I want to say that Bulgaria has proved to be a reliable partner of the EU but despite this none of the West European governments has contributed to our economic development.

    February 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  27. Lex

    As an American, it's said to see CNN repeated posting blogs or articles hinting Greeks are lazy and living a lavish life. The constant negative image fed by media did a very good job brain washing general public while ignoring it's actually the government and politicians who brought the country down.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  28. DONNA

    oh thank you nice..to stay far..me too..not coffe..after not sleeping..GREEN TEA..

    February 6, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  29. don

    The greek politicians who masterminded this financial mess by intentionally hiding it's real balance sheet to the creditors and general public should be prosecuted and put in jail. It would be nice to see some of these politicians be put on trial for treason for allowing the greek debt to go out of control. I would say put your politicians in jail. They deserved every minute of it.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  30. Mike

    Hey Don I am Greek and there is only one thing I can say after your comment. AMEN !!!.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  31. marina

    Well said and stated Don and Lex.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  32. postmann

    Dear Richard, you're supposed to tell us whether Greece really is the dog with fleas, not whether the dog continues to whine, on or off the Greek mainland.

    February 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  33. Tomas

    I see the European issues from a Spanish position and the Country is also in turmoil. The workers are not in the bars having coffee before going to work as before because there are no workers. Prices have gone through the roof, there are no jobs for the young even very educated, qualified young. Petty crime is on the increase, families are breaking up as never before and political corruption is rife.
    The Euro was a flawed idea from day 1 as tighter regulation was required but the politicians wanted to keep their positions so forced it through without the necessary thought being given. It has turned into a double tiered monetary system
    looking after Northern Europe..
    The cost of living is very similar in Spain and Portugal as in Germany and France however the average wage of the Southern countries is in general far below that of the Northern countries generally approximately half no matter what the official figures state and thus the average person struggles to make good in these hard times.
    The Soviet Union learned in the recent past not to group Countries together thus we now have independence in much of the old USSR, Europe should learn from that.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  34. Mike

    Let me also say that the above logic does not absolve us of our responsibillity, which was to borrow more than we could pay off.
    In defence who dips his finger in the honey jar and does not lick it?
    It's human nature.

    February 8, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  35. Axel Larsson

    Richard.

    About Greece and their debt.

    Could you – hopefully tonight – ask this simple question to the Banks which will get the "Hair-Cut" of 50% or more.
    WHY DO THESE BANKS NOT DEMAND PROPERTY EQUAL TO THE HAIR-CUT.
    They could take the Greek water-works, electricity-works, the railways, a big piece of land with permit to build, some nice islands, a part of the Athen's land, Athen's underground. Just anything to be equal to the Hair-Cut.

    See you (or your stand in) tonight.

    Best regards
    Axel

    February 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  36. sameh

    very influential Stand lion dying
    http://upload40.com/11711.html

    February 8, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  37. Sai

    Didn't the Greek politicians promise to deliver austerity measures? Just saw the Greek finance minister transported most elegantly to a critical meeting in a luxurious BMW. Now, that's not what I would call a good example. Indeed, I understand that the Greek politicians have just recently voted down a proposal for a 30% cut on their own salaries/benefits/pension-plans in favor of a 30% cut on "other" workers instead. "Do as I say, not as I do" anyone?

    February 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  38. Floyd Burgoz

    Wow...

    February 10, 2012 at 5:21 am |
  39. Chris

    Dear Dan,
    I read with great interest your comment on Mr. Quest's article and the debate you provoked among the readers . I ask you-rhetorically-the permission to lay my two-penny thoughts on this. To make a long story short,I saw in your lines the effect of the brainwash you've been through these last years regarding the topic. You unearthed your experience from being in Greece for a WHOLE month and picked up anything that would match the sarcastic,cynic comments,articles and blog posts you seem to enjoy reading and seeing. Doubting whether you walked off the beaten route while in Greece (where ,really? Athens,islands,mainland ) ,I wonder what traumatic experiences did you acquire contacting with the Hellenes in this month period. Reading your hostile lines one can think that you were harmed ,attacked or ripped off.
    Siesta? You tell us ,Dan,how a shop keeper can run his/her business from 8 in the morning till 9 at night without a break.(Not all of them, many they keep them open all day)
    I am more than certain ,Dan,that you don't like generalizations when they include YOU ,referring to your country.Don't tell me you are not aware of what I refer to. Why shouldn't I repel the caustic implies you leave shine through your comment?At the age of 52,I have studied,worked for 30 years 70-85 hours per week( yes,weekends too!),learned yours and another seven languages in order to approach countries,people and traditions with RESPECT, and of course I continue. The loans (topped with exhausting interest rates) Greece was given did not make till me but to the long pockets of a corrupted minority (of politicians and enterpreneurs)which I declare to you I have not the slightest relationship with. The mud you throw ,Dan, should be more careful and more focused,let alone be more based in knowledge,critic mind and intelligence.
    Our difference ,Dan,is that you would be the person # 1 I would like show my hospitality to,if you do us the honor to visit us again.

    February 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  40. Danny

    Can't help but noticing that the sale of luxury goods ( including luxury cars) are soaring ahead. Not much austerity there for the world's top one percent by the sounds of it. Those who lend money to individuals or lend to countrys are laughing all the way to the bank. Why does Richard Quest never point this out, especially when we the voters on the ground are all aware of it and talk about it all the time. Makes it look like journalists are unable to see through the veil or are temporarily blinded.
    If a government isn't allowed to make any financial decisions anymore then they are reducded to the function of a county council. Ireland is being run from an office in New York and an office in Frankfurt. But the people of Ireland never voted for those offices. They voted for a government. Democracy has taken a nose dive in the last few years. Our great grandfathers and great grandmothers fought too hard for it, now it's being taken away and is being replaced by Lenderocracy. The top one percent seem to have lost contact with the bottom rungs of the ladder and that happened in history a few times before, The outcome was ugly. Who needs that again? If this doesn't get reversed my fear would be that the fire will start somewhere suddenly and will get carried on the wind and none of us will be able to extingush it. Please don't let that happen. Journalists have their part to play too in saving Democracy!

    February 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  41. Eva

    I am Greek. I work very hard since I was 17 and now I am 49. I wake up every day at 7.00 am . Many times I cook for my child and me in the morning (as I am usually too tired in the afternoon ) and I have to be atI work at 9.00am. Normally I should finish at 17.00pm (without lunch brake) , but this never happened all these years ! I always work 1-1.30 hours more every day. I am back at home at around 19.00pm , rest , clean my kitchen , sometimes cook. All the people that I know are working the same as me. The last years, during week-ends, yes I have a siesta! Why is this a crime!
    I learned 3 languages and I am an office employee ( not well paid – but I cannot do something now , in my age . So I have to be satisfied . ) My daughter is in high school and she is running all day from scholl to scholl in order to prepare herself for the exams to enter to the University. She wakes up everyday at 7/00 and finishes with reading at 23.00 everyday. Some days she must wake up at 6.00am in order to study ( as time is not enough). Am I raising a lazy greek citizen? All the greeks that I know are running like crazy. Who are you ? When did you became experts on other's lies

    February 14, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  42. ROMANOU LINA

    I AM GREEK AND I AM PROYD OF IT.WE HAVE SURVIVED WARS,CIVIL WAR BUT WE ARE STILL ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!THE GREEKS ARE HEROES BYT THE MOST IMPORTANT IS THAT THEY ARE FREE!!!!!!!!!!!DO YOU KNOW THE WORD FREEDOM?HAVE A NICE DAY !!!THIS IS A WISH FROM A LAZY CREEK CITIZEN WHO WORKS 10 HOURS PER DAY FOR SIX DAYS EVERY WEEK EVERY MONTH OF THE YEAR.

    February 17, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  43. GG

    Having lived all over the world including Greece, I can say that Greeks are very hard working. The difference with Greeks is that they do not bring their work home to the same extent as others do in different nations. As a consequence when they go out they let go as they are not sitting at a bar or restaurant thinking all the time about their job and their boss. That is many times misinterpreted as lazy by tourists who see Greeks in areas where they to are enjoying their time off. In fact because their social welfare system is weaker than most other Western Nations, they have to work harder in order to provide security for themselves and their families. Tax evasion is something the Ottoman(Turkish) Empire left us after 500 years of oppression. It was a common practice, not surprisingly to lie to the Ottoman officials in order to not pay them the appropriate tax. Its time to let this go and reach out to each other and resurrect the Greece that was and not what it has become today.

    February 22, 2012 at 5:59 am |
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