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Anna Muszyńska


Stories of emigrants may be surprising, moving, shocking, and perhaps mine will not be like that, but it will be certainly peculiar. Why? Well, the motivation for my departure was not the economic situation, but the desire to improve my language skills, and with the development of events also a need of the heart. The destination which I chose does not belong to the most popular ones because it is Greece - the direction of holidaymakers rather than emigrants. My story is distinctive also because of the time, the era of the Greek crisis, and specifically its very beginning - 2008. Who emigrates to the country with an uncertain economy? Get to know my story, and you will understand the reasons for my departure, as well as the reasons why I decided to stay here – outside the borders of my homeland.

The first emigrant

My family have always been very attached to one place and no one emigrated, apart from my father and his family’s displacement from the eastern borderlands. But I could never stay in one place. Everyone in the family wondered who I took it after, but I just loved to travel, and once I said, as I say today, that I could live on the road. When I was a teenager, I went hitchhiking eight years (and mostly on my own) in Poland, but also we went with a couple of friends hitchhiking abroad. So I took the decision to leave for Greece without hesitation.

The reason for my emigration was connected with educational aspects, namely I wanted to be fluent in a not very popular language, which Greek certainly is. I believed that language skills will be my advantage on the Polish labor market. I studied Mediterranean Studies in Krakow's Jagiellonian University, and when I found out that the same subject was going to be open at the Warsaw University, but with the possibility of learning Modern Greek, I changed the university. However, two years at university is definitely not enough to master a foreign language fluently. That is why I decided, almost immediately after graduation, to go to the Hellas itself, to learn Greek on the spot. Actually, I was going to leave only for two or three years, during which I would learn and gain the expected level of proficiency, but also the knowledge of the Greek culture. After such practice I intended to go back to Poland.

I started from looking for a job on the Internet and I found an agency which instantly answered to my application. It was January 2008 and I went to Athens in the unknown, because although I had checked the agency before, I was not sure what would await me on the spot. I was not afraid, I was rather excited. And, anyway, I knew English and the basics of Greek, if there were any problems, at least I could ask someone for help. Besides, I've always been a brave and confident person, not a single tight spot I managed with my head held high. But now I was primarily led by one thought: to learn the language as soon as possible.

Demystification of Greece

Greece where I came to work was much different from the one I knew from books, but also from the one where I had went before a couple of times traveling as a tourist. I was impressed with omnipresent dirt, mess and narrow streets, especially in Athens, the cradle of European culture. The center of Athens resembles a ghetto, walking here (which is difficult because all the cars park on the narrow sidewalks, leaving no room for pedestrians), you can meet few Greeks, who have moved to the suburbs and reluctantly go to the center. Right here, right in the center of Athens, near the famous Omonia Square, there is a Polish neighborhood with a Polish church, school, shops. At the beginning of my stay in Greece I got to know it quite well, here was located the headquarters of the agency where I went in order to change a job for a more profitable one. I was not fussy or overly demanding, but it turned out that the Greeks are not always nice and hospitable people. Unfortunately, the men here are often intrusive and the women vulgar; it happens that these are people who, by their ignorance and disregard for other nations, overestimate their national merits and identity (an often heard opinion of many Greeks is: "Our culture is the oldest in the world"). Fortunately, not everyone should be measured by the same yardstick, during my stay in Homer's homeland I met also many Greeks, who surprised me, for example, with their knowledge of the Polish culture and history, lovers of Kieslowski's films and Polish jazz.

Difficult yesterday and today

Greeks as employers leave much to be desired. In most of places where I worked I met with exploitation: work 15 - 17 hours every day with a break only for lunch offered by the employer – often leftovers after somebody else ("I would throw it away for a dog, but actually an employee can eat it"). The guaranteed place to sleep is often an old, dingy, room, terribly hot (because the employee does not have to have air conditioning, which, nota bene, is in Greece a standard), and all this for ONLY 600 - 800 euros per month, usually without insurance ("black economy"). But that’s not all. I quitted my first job because my boss was more interested in me than in my work, in addition his daughter all the time bullied me and took vengeance because her parents constantly held me up as a model (in fact, a really poor girl with a clear mental retardation, certainly aggravated by the attitude of the parents). In the next work the agency screwed up, they sent me - I do not know if intentionally - to work in a bar, not indicating that a bar in Greece is actually so-called night club, usually with escort girls. Immediately after arrival I started packing my bags to return to Athens. In the next work I was treated dishonestly, the employers didn’t pay me 2/3 of the agreed monthly salary, not to mention the overtime. I didn’t use services of job agencies anymore, the next job I found with the help of a Polish women who I met in Athens. I worked as a waitress and maid in a small, family-run hotel on one of the Greek islands. I worked here two seasons, spending the winter in Poland (where I also worked). The employers were relatively nice, the conditions were a little worse, but it did not matter to me because it was my last chance to remain in Greece and learn the language, I was just disappointed with work in that country. Besides, I was always cheered by customers of the hotel, who for sure also remember me, because I really love working with people and they certainly could feel it. And it was during the second season, and again through the same friend who got me the job, that I met a Greek who I started a relationship with. Together with him in October 2009 we came to Athens. His family received me very warmly and helped acclimatize. I decided to look for a job, this time a specific one, in a Polish travel agency, I wasn’t interested in any other offers, because at some point in life you have to take the course and drift in a particular direction. I, after all, have a higher education, I know the language and I know my value.

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Uncertain tomorrow

And what is the effect? It is 2011, I am unemployed, I live in a country sunk in crisis, with the uncertain future. Educated Greeks emigrate abroad, strikes have become commonplace, and crime paralyzes with its size (I also fell victim to it, in Athens I had my bag snatched, I lost money and documents). Someone can ask: "What am I still doing here?". I also often think about it. My partner, however, has a steady job, he cannot leave, and we - we cannot part with each other. I decided to stay, despite the enormous homesickness. In Poland I have a wonderful family, loving parents, precious siblings, who are always open for all my needs, which works two ways by the way. We're very close to each other, which I think is a rarity in the today's world. Fortunately, the modern emigrant is in a much better position than decades ago: we have the Internet and mobile phones, we can contact even every day. And although it is not the same as to be close, certainly it facilitates the difficult life of an emigrant.

In Poland I also left many friends, who I also miss. Here I do not have friends, I have some acquaintances - in the vast majority Greeks - but we are not close to each other because we are simply not "on the same wavelength." I live quite far from the Polish neighborhood, I do not have too many contacts with Poles in Greece, but I do not know if I wanted to, because those who I have met here so far in most cases let me down. As they say: "A Pole is a wolf to a Pole." And abroad, I think, it is particularly visible.

Old stereotypes

What I think is important in the relations of Poles with Greeks is the change of stereotypes. Greeks believe that our countrymen are people from one of the so-called the third world countries, where people live in miserable cottages, no roads, the technology is far behind, with a monthly average income of 100 euros per capita - that's why the only hope for us is emigration. In fact, they value us very much as employees and believe that we are the best educated people of the former "Eastern bloc", but it is not enough to be treated on a par with the citizens of the rest of Europe, I mean the so-called "Western" Europe. On the other hand, we, Poles, appreciate the Greek hospitality, sociability, we are impressed by the ancient Greek culture and its great use by the Greeks as a tourism product, but often we find the modern Greek a lump, who spends the majority of his time having fun, in other words, is the largest parasite of the European Union, living at its expense (such opinions can be often found among Polish Internet users in posts about the crisis in Greece and the EU). Besides, many of us believe that Greece stopped in the antiquity and since then nothing interesting have been created, and in addition, the Greeks did not appreciate their rich past, which, by the way, they have no idea about. Meeting frequently with such stereotypes and generalizations, I decided to fight them, and I think this is one of the objectives of my stay here, since for so many years, it seems, the embassies of the two countries have done nothing in this matter. My constant references of one culture to the other sometimes irritate my partner but I, as the bridge of these two worlds, know them both, can look at specific problems with a certain distance. And the current crisis may bridge the gaps and bring the two nations closer to each other.