Imagine my surprise at the ‘Really Stuffed Zucchini‘ Greek restaurant in downtown Brisbane today when my attempt to display solidarity with the Greek people by declining to pay for my lunch was politely, but firmly rejected. After a bit of a contretemps with the waitress, she summoned the manager who explained that, although my gesture of solidarity was very much appreciated, the highly innovative ‘Free Lunch For All’ concept at the moment was just a Greek “thing.” And it was just too soon after the ‘NO’ vote yesterday to see whether or not living for free off rich bankers would soon become the accepted international norm. In the meantime, sadly, I needed to pay up. Immediately. However, I could demonstrate my solidarity for the poor Greeks in other ways, he said. For example, by dropping a few hundred Euro notes in any one of the twenty begging bowls that had been strategically placed around my table (into which I had mistakenly spat olive pits.)
When I got up to leave, I noticed a large unruly crowd of scruffy-looking Greek ex-pats had gathered outside the restaurant demanding hand-outs. Most of them were in rags, carrying begging bowls and wearing signs saying such things as “Up Yours, IMF, ” “I’m an ex-Greek Lefty Politician – Please Give Generously” and “Ex-Greek Shipping Magnate – Needs a New, Really Big Boat” around their necks. Uncannily, the pathetic scenes and animal-like looks of desperation in their eyes gave me a deep sense of déjà vu.
A few seconds later it hit me.
Not a tree in sight, yet here in this restaurant was Tasmania 2013 all over again. The same mayhem, the same hunger, the same poverty, the same hopelessness and desperation that I’d witnessed in Tassie just before Tony Abbott swept The Greens from power 2 years ago. If that is what it is like in Greece itself today, then the situation must be dire.