DG, Baile Átha Cliath
I arrived in Greece in June 2017 because I had been offered a job working for Teleperformance, a Call Centre chain with branches across the World. While I was offered a job in Dundalk for a customer care line in German, I was offered the same job for Apple through English in Athens. Without a second thought I chose to go to Athens. I received a relocation package which was basically a 1 way economy flight to Greece and 3 weeks paid stay in a sleazy hotel with a brothel at the top a walking distance from the job. Just the month before I was in 3rd Year of my Fine Art degree and now, I was 3000km away working for one of the wealthiest companies in the world. I believed I was going to make it big on my big (for post 2008 Greece) pay check of €850 a month and never have to come back to the wind and rain of Ireland.
The job was gruelling. After 2-weeks of training I worked 12-hours a days with a day off probably every 8 or 9 days with 1.5 days off a month. There was no sick pay and all sick notes had to have at least 2 stamps from 2 separate doctors. I never fully understood why. At the start of the shift you would sign into your computer to make yourself available for calls and in 8 seconds you would get a call. Once the call was finished after 11 minutes or so, it was another 8 seconds and another call. I only had 45 minutes a day for my break which included time for bathroom breaks.
Promotions were rare, but sackings were very common. Regardless of who you were, you were up for the chop, even if you were 7 months pregnant. British chauvinism from expats was rife and normalised on the shop floor because the company was desperate for native English speakers. This was to give the illusion that the call centre was in Slough not overlooking the Aegean. Discrimination and casual racism were everywhere and strangely more so from the Greek supervisors who thought it was cool to act “British”. It’s a subject for an entirely different article but this upper-class Greek obsession with London Britishness went as far as forking out almost €10 for 500g of cheddar cheese or buying British sliced pan for €5 where you can buy good traditional uncut loaf in any Athenian bakery for 50c. Other things like blaming the famine on a fictitious Irish fixation on potatoes and openly mocking non-European accents of customers while on hold happened too. I was given a verbal warning in my supervisor’s office for the thickness of my accent.
The company arranged for us to rent with a selection of Landlords affiliated to the company. I moved in with an expat from England on the top floor of a block of flats in a place called Petralona. He charged us €500 a month for a 1 bedroom flat with a living room converted into another bedroom. The kitchen was tiny and the bathroom was mouldy with no ventilation and a ceiling half a centimetre above my head. There was no air-conditioning in this €500 flat while the heat climbed to 42 degrees Celsius.
That same week I fell off of a wall drunk and bruised my heel and had to hobble around with a walking stick like House for a couple of weeks. I had to go to the Asklepieio Voulas Hospital miles away on the other side of the vast city of nearly 4 million people for an X-ray that cost me €50. The Hospital literally looked like a building from Call of Duty Modern Warfare. There were massive cracks up the walls with paint and plaster peeling off, giant queues to see a doctor or nurse bins overflowing with bloody bandages and everyone shouting. At the time I had western chauvinist notions of the inferiority of the Greek healthcare system by comparison to the NHS but now I see that this was caused by the brutal austerity imposed on Greece by the EU (European Union).
After suffering the dingy flat for 3 weeks I packed my bag and slipped away in the night to live with a group of Romanians in North Athens upon the invitation of a very good friend of mine. I left the keys to the flat with the English guy and hobbled across town. It was a good 6 weeks at that joint, one of the guys found a kitten with his girlfriend and within 5 days it had jumped off the 4th story balcony to survive relatively unscathed. I eventually had to move out but because of the precarious situation caused by the humiliatingly low wages, my own youthful naivete and my lust for craic. I crashed with another group of lads before finding a proper place to stay.
I moved around quite a bit in this fashion, it was impossible to scrape together enough money to start renting in a place close enough to where I worked. I eventually found a place on the entirely opposite side of the city for €300 a month bills included. At this time, I had been struck down with an acute infection from living in a dirty, horrible anarchist squat. The temperature in October was in the 30s until around Halloween when the temperature plummeted. We were not prepared for the sudden cold. There was no running hot water out of the shower, so we had to wash from a bucket every second day. We had no washing machine, so clothes had to be washed in the bath. I had an app on my phone that could steal my neighbours Wi-Fi, but it only worked in one corner of the main bedroom. I had begun to lose a severe amount of weight due to this infection. I felt hot and cold at the same time and incredibly weak with a voracious appetite but I could only stomach half a mouthful. I would smoke a cigarette butt on the tiny balcony and feel like I was awaiting death. All I could afford was potatoes and pasta anyway with meat 3 times a week. It was rough to say the least and the poor diet and stress probably contributed to compromising my immune system along with 2 bottles of kiosk wine every night.
After suffering for a week, I decided to call the ambulance which cost me €50, waited in A and E for 4 hours to see a doctor which was another €50. I then got my bloods taken which cost an additional €80. The medication I had to take cost another €20 which brought the whole operation up to €200. This infection has developed into a chronic condition that I suffer from to this day. I visited countless doctors for the rest of my time there and each time it was the same “I don’t know” with a shrug of the shoulders. Every time I visited the hospital it was the same heart-breaking scene. Injured and dying people lining the crowded corridors of the critically underfunded wards with doctors so overworked I’ve witnessed them smoking at their desks while seeing patients.
I moved into this new flat around January 2018. My landlord was a sly grey-haired gentleman with greased back hair and a fine trendy suit. He drove a large BMW 4×4 black paint work with cream leather interior. He later let me know that his family moved to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union to make money off the subsequent privatizations of the Soviet economy. The flat was freshly refurbished and clean on the inside with WiFi and a Netflix TV, luxuries I was far from in the months prior. It was a temporary 6-month lease spot for young professionals as he described it. I was living with a guy from Egypt and a guy from Bulgaria. Great bunch of lads to be fair.
While living there I lost my job with Apple and took up a position with JUUL, the vape pen company. The job here was pretty much the same as the one with Apple except it was responding to emails instead of phone calls. I fell out of favour by May. I arrived at work to swipe my card at the security gate to find it wouldn’t work, I was brought to HR thinking “must be a faulty card” to then be informed that I had been fired on the spot and informed that I could not get another job with the company because of the previous firing. My lease ran out and I had cleaned the flat thoroughly. The Landlord went through it with a fine-tooth comb and reluctantly agreed to give me my deposit back which took me a further 3 weeks to wrestle out of him.
I moved back in with my Romanian friend and his girlfriend while I tried to get back on my feet, free from the constraints of the 60-70-hour zero contract job I began to explore Athens. My friend lived 10 minutes away from Exarcheia, a neighbourhood of Athens that was taken over by local anarchists and turned into a haven for Refugees until in 2019 when the Police brutally cleared the place out. This is when I began to witness the true extent of human suffering caused by the EU’s crushing austerity. Men and women with crippled limbs prostrated out with open palms begging for money. Desperate men selling pens and stationery on the train in a bid to make ends meet in a country without work. Pampered British expats corralled in Syntagma square while people counted coins to buy loaves of bread a couple of streets away.