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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dužan kao Grčka

Do you have feeling of déjà vu?
These days it is impossible to watch TV or read the news without being continuously reminded that Greece is on a highway to hell, that is, to bankruptcy. Even more so, leading or wanna-be-leading politicians of the European Union, e.g. Mutti, have long put forth the notion that the Greek debt crisis manifested itself as an utter surprise. Today I want to point out that the nations of the Balkans probably weren't surprised at all - the Croatian language even features an idiom referring to the subject.

Dužan kao Grčka - indebted like Greece. I first learned about this idiom from my Croatian chess student, who said he had known this idiom practically since his youth and that it always had the meaning of "being over one's head in debt". The fact that my student is in his forties implies that the idiom is not gauged towards the current crisis. Greece must have acquired a reputation for constantly being in debt long before they even became a member of the European Union, let alone a member of the European Currency Union.

Even newspapers make frequent use of the idiom. When the crisis reared its head in early 2010, the Croatian newspaper Vecernji List published an article titled "Zašto je Grčka dužna kao Grčka?" - Why is Greece indebted like Greece? A more recent article, published by Moja Rijeka in July 2011, suggested to alter the idiom slightly, thus reflecting the even more serious state of affairs in Italy: Dužan kao Italija. Last but not least the Croatians also mind their own business. Already published in February 2010, Slobodna Dalmacija asserts that Croatia has similar problems: Hrvatska dužna kao Grčka.

So what is the lesson of this? In a parallel universe we should insist that Angie and her predecessors learn Croatian, to begin with. Less concretely one could say that it might pay to listen to the smaller nations on the periphery, whose lore might contain a piece of wisdom, or even two. An idiom being part of a language for a very long time does probably not exist without having at least a grain of truth in it. Some might say that the idiom is just based on a stereotype. Germans are efficient, Scots are stingy, Swedes are blond and Greeks are broke. However, even a stereotype does not come out of nowhere...