Years ago, probably around 2010, at a bar in Athens, I met with a sociologist from the USA who was researching how the Greeks (like other Southern Europeans), despite a lack of money and lack of trust in the system, will always go out and spend their last euros to drink a coffee with their friends. In these moments, you’ll see them putting their phones to the side because they want to be fully there and discuss what’s new in their lives, what they’ve done the other day or what they’re going to eat. Meaningless things to others, but to them of a great importance! Over-sharing is part of Greek culture and of course, it’s also transferred to social media. But maybe it’s something they most likely do later at home.
But is Athens really an „offline city“?
During my stay in Athens, I decided to explore this weird relationship between Athenians and the Internet a bit more. I started asking the people around me about their opinion on the matter. What in my eyes looked detached and healthy seemed to them excessive and manic. All the people I talked with told me that Athens isn’t an offline city – at all. According to them, everyone seems to be obsessed with showing off their amazing lives whenever they’re online. And while this sounds totally like 2016, I still wasn’t convinced. I looked up a study. The first one that appeared on Google was from September 2015 and published on Ekathimerini. It stated that Greeks spend more than 80 minutes online and that 50 percent of the population are active on social media. Are those numbers concerning compared to other countries? With a quick Google search, the answer is no, which led me to believe that my observations were correct – Athens is quite normal with their online lives.
As Frixos Fintanidis, Editor-In-Chief of Andro, perfectly pointed out: „Greeks are a hybrid of adopting trends, but also like sticking to their traditions“. Greeks will indeed mess around with all kind of trends, whether they’re fashion-related or technological. Athens, as the capital city of Greece, has to keep up with all novelties, both for its own people, but also for all the tourists that visit the country all year long. I can imagine that it’s also a matter of Greek pride. Greeks do not really want to be seen as „not European enough“. Modern trends take over their lives but are not necessarily adopted by them permanently, and definitely not for life. Greeks are pretty attached to their traditions and the Mediterranean savoir vivre they are taught, which pass from generation to generation. For instance, the time around the dining table is sacred. My fiancé and me almost got into a fight with my dad because we were checking our phones during dinner. He couldn’t really understand that for us, being on the phone means work and that we have to be 24/7 available, because of the different time zones and our freelancing jobs.
Shall we call it modern vintage communication?
By all means, the last thing I want is that someone reads between the lines and takes Athens as this archaic, poor city that it’s (negatively) advertised to be. With bloggers like Style Heroine, Twin Fashion by Nef & Nat, Madame Ginger & many more, as well as promising, international start-ups, Greece keeps up with the new ways very well, indeed. Speaking of new ventures, though, in 2015 an interesting networking platform was founded. It’s called Winks and it’s inviting people to “get off their screens” and interact in real life. Through it (and, well, the Internet), you find who’s around you & get some information on them. If you like them you “wink” at them, enter a 20-minute chat and then meet. It’s sounds a bit like Tinder, although it seems it’s not just used for romantic purposes. One way or another, Greeks are sending a clear message: “we like to meet, we like to talk in person”.
But it’s also in the way Greeks prefer to do business. They will meet and discuss everything. If they can’t physically meet, they call (rather than text) – phoning is still a thing in Greece. It’s believed to be more effective and direct. For example: in other countries (including Germany), if you want to set an appointment to the doctor, you will most likely have to fill an online application – something that’s not that popular in Greece, yet. People there still prefer to call somebody instead of locking a date online. I needed to go to the eye doctor and I had to call his assistant, which I have to admit I found kind of… vintage. While at the waiting room, the phone didn’t stop ringing, which made me think that, apart from the fact that obviously many people wished to get their eyes tested, this analogue way of communication is more preferred to the digital one.
Analogue or digital, Athens is a unique city.
Athens really feels more like a people’s city rather than the land of the internetics. Is it because there aren’t so many places that offer WiFi in public? Up to this point I cannot even tell if that’s intended, as if in order for people to really communicate with each other, instead of being stuck on their phones. On the other hand, troubles with Internet connection mean you get a full-on Athens experience, which is great, especially if you’re constantly connected on the interwebs, like I am. My last trip there felt like a casual detoxing diet – I tried it, but I didn’t exaggerate either.
The bottom line is that offline or not, old-fashioned or hi-tech, Athens is one of the most special places to be. In case you visit (which I highly recommend), would you mind writing me a short message afterwards and telling me whether or not were my observations correct?
All photos by Stephen Fleming for Everymatic.