“It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” is a longtime familiar description of Greece by many Greek-Americans who vacation there, although at least as many – and probably far more – lament: “I can’t believe I’m leaving paradise to go back to the daily (American) grind.”
My family and I visited Greece this summer for the first time since 2019. It was my 18th trip there, and as is often the case, I didn’t want to leave, but for different reasons than in previous years.
What appealed to me most this trip was not the sea – breathtakingly beautiful though it is – but the supermarkets. Far smaller in size and limited in inventory than our American counterparts, the Greek groceries nonetheless have more interesting and tastier selections.
I brought along two Amazon Firesticks, gleefully planning to watch some of my favorite TV shows from time to time, only to discover that they don’t work in Greece. That same day, I decided not to watch any television at all. Already happy that I have unplugged from much of social media, it was far more enjoyable to eat, drink, swim, walk, and listen to music than to stare at a rectangular screen for hours on end.
A cab driver struck up a conversation with me about mass shootings in the United States, and it occurred to me that in Greece, they really don’t worry about things like that (and hopefully, they’ll never need to).
Though the cost of living has gone up in Greece and the glory days of American tourists spending drachmas by the thousands a distant memory, it’s still cheaper to live there than here.
On most islands, you can vacation anytime in the summer months and not worry about a single day of rain – in fact, not even a single minute. Contrast that with Florida, where we live most of the year: if you set aside a few days for a summer trip down here, it’s hit-and-miss whether you’ll get sunshine or thunderstorms. Not the case in Greece.
What, then, makes living in the United States so special nowadays? Freedom? Not so much. There’s cancel culture, social media police, and ideological harassment in the classroom. Safety? Sure, we don’t fear Canada attacking us the way Greece is wary of Turkey, but criminals are running rampant again – not just in ultraprogressive West Coast cities, but in my native New York. The Big Apple is fast resembling the lawless days of Dinkins – as if Giuliani and Bloomberg never cleaned things up. And let’s not even get started on Chicago.
The United States is about extravagances. The luxury car. Siri and Alexa. The Rolex. The house in the Hamptons. If bragging about excesses is your thing, then America’s the place to be. But there’s joy in eating a simple salad, or a bowl of freshly picked figs, and for the U.S. to try to compete with Greece in that regard would be embarrassing. The French fries don’t need ketchup and the shrimp don’t need cocktail sauce.
I’m not a caviar connoisseur (I don’t know any, and apologies to any readers who are), but I’m perfectly happy with some red roe in a toothpaste tube from the aforementioned Greek supermarkets, for a scintilla of the cost.
A friend described to me his late father’s journey from his native Greece to the United States, until “he figured out that living in Greece is what life is all about” and returned there.
There’s also education to consider. Though I’m not sure about American schools anymore. When teachers won’t make the tough but necessary choice of failing underperforming students and professors use their pulpits as opportunities to shape their unsuspecting students’ ideologies, not to mention the criminally astronomical cost, where’s the advantage?
The advent of online learning, though, and online working, makes it far easier to live in Greece and attend an American school or work for an American employer.
To be sure, Greece still has plenty of quirks. The bottle opener that’s too loose and makes opening bottles a chore. The pulltab cans of Nounou milk that rarely fails to spill upon opening. The perennial backaches from mattresses that are more like slabs of concrete, and the clumsy stumble from a deceptive single step that divides a large room. The gaps between balcony walls and floors, just big enough for a frappe glass to slip through. The wooden planks built at beaches to keep your feet from getting sandy, don’t fully extend to the shower, thus defeating the purpose.
And worst of all, throwing used toilet paper into a wastebasket rather than flushing. Sorry, I’ve never done that, and never will. If ever there was a need for infrastructural improvements in Greece, I’d start with better plumbing and also place some bona fide guard rails on winding mountainous roads.
When first-time travelers to Greece ask me “where’s the best place to go?” I respond:
“well, what do you like to do?” That may also well apply to the question: “where is it better to live, Greece or the United States?”
By the way, that beach with the wooden planks that comically stop short well before the shower was Zephyros, on Rhodes, hardly one of that island’s best beaches. And the showers spew hot water which the wind carries everywhere but where the user would like it to land.
But the sea there is more beautiful than any I’ve seen in the United States. Better than the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, California, Hawaii, and even better than Florida’s Gulf Coast. What’s a little sand stuck to you anyway? Not a bad tradeoff.