I just returned from a trip to Greece (with stops in Turkey and France) and I have learned two things, perhaps things I already knew.
1. Americans are neurotic. Greece, a country with some serious unrest over the economy and a half step away from the Arab world was pretty much business as usual. Most notably, I breezed through security at the airport (and likewise in France) with little fuss and bother. At one point I needed to retrieve a passport, set my bag on the floor and was told by the Greek agent that I needn't bother, I could put my bag on her desk. Really? In America that would likely trigger alerts. Enter not the TSA agent's space. We all know that.
Meanwhile, my fellow Americans were taking off shoes and all manner of unnecessary hoopla, while the Greeks looked on amused. I did have to toss out a bottle of water at Charles de Gualle, but otherwise, security was not a problem. My bag did not go through security in France... it just showed up later in Athens like magic. Funny, I felt no less safe there.
Passport control was also not a problem. Greece happily accepted that I'd been through passport control in Paris, no need to re-visit the issue. Have a nice day. Paris ran a mob through passport control (in English for those of us non-French folks who so preferred, though I am marginally capable in French) in no time. New York (JFK) kept a somewhat smaller mob in line for over an hour and fifteen minutes... for citizens! Form a line here, join a line there, wait, wait, wait. Answer these silly questions, retreive your bag, drag it across the room, recheck your bag for your next flight. Seriously America? Seriously?
Turkey, by the way, was totally casual, too... despite that on another of their borders they're exchanging bombs with Syria. If we were bombing Mexico, I doubt the even the more distant New England states would be as relaxed with foreign visitors as was Turkey.
2. Greece is getting tired. There's graffiti all over Athens and Thessaloniki. But on the whole, nothing was interrupted, our tour ran smoothly and I only visited one going out of business sale. Our guide told us most of the graffiti was with regard to the economic situation. Some of the graffiti was in English for international attention.
We learned that a lot of Greek woes are coming out of misappropriation of funds and overspending on the Olympics in 2004. There were some similar patterns in entitlement spending, lack of accountability, and patronising crony-corporations (think Rapiscan, folks) leading up to collapse. Greece can't limp along much longer and will need to pay the piper.
Wither Greece goes, so goes America.
Anyway, I'm a bit jetlagged (getting better every day) but glad to be back. It certainly is true that travel gives you a better perspective on your own home. I'm not sure its one I'm proud to see, though. Not sure at all. And unfortunately, none of the monkeys stumping for office next month seems capable of resolving anything.