Haris crosses the roof terrace of his mother’s house to show the fire escape that he sometimes uses when smuggling girlfriends into his bedroom.
With a smile he points to the iron door on one of the landings halfway up the structure. “The problem is that the door is very noisy. It only took a second for the old lady to stick her head out and say, ‘Hey there, who are you? I am his grandmother’”.
Haris Giannoulopoulos looks at your reporter and chuckles: “I don’t really have a private life.” This is the kind of story you would expect to hear from a teenager, but Giannoulopoulos is 31 years old.
He is one of the many adult Greeks who have returned to home to live with their parents amid the ongoing economic crisis. “For a few years, I had my own small flat,” he says. “It wasn’t very big, but it was there. I had my freedom. Now I am back in the bedroom where I slept as a child.”
In Greece, families still play a much greater role than they do in the Netherlands. Many Greek parents like to keep their children at home for as long possible, at least until they are married. With the increase in prosperity, attitudes changed somewhat. Young people started moving out on their own earlier and individualism became the norm. But in recent times, the old traditions have come back with a vengeance.
Greece has been struck by a severe recession: GDP fell by 4.5 percent last year and wages have been subject to stringent cuts. With unemployment at approximately 15 percent, many Greeks are turning to their families for support — a situation which they clearly do not experience as a personal defeat. “Families play a very important role as a safety net in this country” explains Dr Panayis Panagiotopoulos, a sociologist at the University of Athens. “There is enormous amount of solidarity in Greek families.”
For Panagiotopoulos, the fact that Greek families are now serving as a safety net is to some degree ironic, because close familial ties also contributed to the emergence of the crisis. Greek politics and the Greek economy are dominated by families: and politicians and administrators who distributed jobs, contracts and other favours to their family networks, share the blame for the bad management of the country. “Greeks are wary of people from outside their families,” he remarks. “That gives an enormous boost to corruption.”
Panagiotopoulos believes that if they want to effectively reduce corruption and nepotism, Greeks are going to have to change the way families behave. But that is not likely to happen overnight. “The Greek family does not change.”
Courrier Ioannis Koutsiari is unperturbed by this kind of theoretical speculation. As he sees it, blood ties are a blessing. He is happy that his parents took him back, even if it means sharing the one-room basement which is the family home. “That is not the way you want to live when you are 31, but I had no choice. I wasn’t able to pay my bills.”
“The crisis has been a major setback,” he says. “I am back living with my parents and I am earning what I was paid ten years ago.”
He does not think he will leave his parents’ home until he gets married and has children. But although he has a long-standing girlfriend, this is not likely to happen anytime soon. “To get married you need a huge amount of money. I don’t see how I could manage in this economic crisis. Marriage is a long-term dream.”