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Tourists walk around the temple of the Parthenon at the archaeological site of the Acropolis hill in Athens June 16, 2011. (YIORGOS KARAHALIS/REUTERS)
Tourists walk around the temple of the Parthenon at the archaeological site of the Acropolis hill in Athens June 16, 2011. (YIORGOS KARAHALIS/REUTERS)

Debt a blow to the Greek ego Add to ...

Fatalism is nothing new in the modern Greek psyche, as reflected by two of the most common expressions to be heard - " Tha doume" and " Ti na kanoume."

The first literally means "We will see," but could more usefully be translated as "This probably won't happen." The second, "What can we do," means in effect, "I agree with you, my friend, but this is Greece, so…"

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Add to this now a degree of desperation. A one-time resident travelling in Greece today is struck by a kind of resignation among the people, a punctured bravado that borders on embarrassment.

The debt crisis and " litotita" (austerity), are taking their toll.

The past decade has seen monumental change in Greece as it has moved from the heady optimism of being a euro zone entrant and Olympic Games host to the reality of steep economic decline, chronic debt and reliance on foreign bailouts.

There are evident improvements, despite current traumas. But there remain deep-seated problems that may take more than austerity and the threat of default to cure.

Greeks are as proud a nation as any other, perhaps more so than many given the ancient golden era and the invention of democracy. But today, the sometimes aggressive bombast that went with that is muted.

With €350-billion ($488-billion U.S.) or so in government debt, Greece has become a financial market pariah after a decade of relative boom. It has gone essentially cap in hand to its euro zone partners and the International Monetary Fund just to avoid bankruptcy and have it spill over into the financial system.

This has triggered the almost surreal situation in which even mighty global institutions such as Wall Street have been gripped by demonstrations, parliamentary votes and otherwise parochial news in Greece, a country about the size of Alabama.

It means that among Greeks - students, farmers, cleaners, shop keepers and politicians - the pride they felt at being part of the mainstream, no longer the Europe Union's economic basket case, has been dashed.

"I wish we weren't in the euro," said Yiannis Mendrinos, owner of an upmarket shop on the island of Santorini.

Such sentiment would have been heresy back at the turn of 2002, when fireworks burst over the Parthenon and Bank of Greece in Athens and Greeks rushed to see euros, not drachmas, spit out of cash machines.



















































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