The scene was set. The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras was to walk down the carpeted steps of the Megaron Maximou, escort the French President Emmanuel Macron to his car, say the regular well-it’s-been-great-having-you-mister-President-say-hello-to-Paris-for-me-why-don’t-you, wait while said president entered the automobile, look longingly as the car pulled away and then turn and head back up the way he came. That was the script and a rather simple one it was too.
Only of course this is Alexis, god bless him and dear old Alexis does have the occasional brain freeze when it comes to communicating with foreign dignitaries. And so it was that Alexis and Emmanuel did indeed walk down the steps of the Megaron Maximou as they were supposed to, but as soon as they got to the bottom of said steps, the Greek Prime Minister said a quick I’ll-be-seeing-you-Manny-mate and just vanished up the stairs again, leaving poor old Manny Macron to stare at him uncomfortably, like a tourist utterly lost in Athens without his “50 greek phrases you have to know to eat, sleep and drink in Athens – the expanded edition”. It was awkward, it was ever so slightly cringeworthy and it was oh-so-Tsipras. Macron wasn’t aware of the “ways of Alexis” of course and had a beautiful moment of “what just happenned”.
It provided the full stop to another chapter in the Tsipras-doesn’t-handle-foreign-affairs-and/or-visits-all-that-well, a topic that Greeks have to come to love as much as I love a good old hyphen here and there. You may have noticed. Once again, the media reports and social media commentary were alive with talk of Greece’s Prime Minister being his smiley, uncomfortable self, about his continued affair with the magic of faux pas and in general the the fact that Alexis just doesn’t seem all that easy in his own skin, when a foreign dignitary comes a-calling.
Whether or not that is really an issue is open to debate, since a missed handshake here, or a badly constructed sentence in English there, is rather unlikely to cause a visiting leader to go all Kim Jong-un on us, but for many it stands as a constant reminder that Greece is being run by a man who steadfastly refuses to wear the suit he was always so eager to get his hands on. Maybe he just liked the smell of it.
Whatever the reasons, it is a fact that anyone can visually confirm. Tsipras doesn’t like too much formal in his normal. He just doesn’t. He rode the white-shirt-with-them-sleeves-rolled-up train all the way to the top and there’s this feeling that in an ideal setting that’s how he would like to usher foreign leaders into Greece. With his casual Friday vibes flapping in the breeze, a sea of creases on his working class shirt and a hearty slap on the back instead of a rigid shake of the hand. On top of that, there’s an air of tension whenever he has to speak a word of English, which he thankfully managed to avoid for the most part during the Macron visit. Maybe it’s the endless stream of videos spinning on the web, ripping his English to shreds that push him on his back foot. It would hardly be unbelievable if that were the case.
However , though I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the the current Prime Minister’s biggest fan, it’s hard to see why the Kyriakos Mitsotakis-led New Democracy party are constantly amping up their Tsipras-has-utterly-failed-us rhetoric, even when it comes to his communicational shortcomings. Not because Syriza have done a splendid job of steadying the country, far from it. Not because Syriza has somehow managed to keep the momentum that flooded them into power going, because that too has gurgled down to a ripple. No, the head-scratcher here is the fact that the opposition party themselves have offered VERY little in an ACTUAL, VIABLE, PROPERLY FLESHED-OUT SOLUTIONS to Greece’s back breaking problems. Only promises of how THEY will do better, how THEY know what the country needs. It’s disheartening as a political tactic for anyone with half a brain and it perhaps provides another element to better understand why Greeks have let their interest in politics go alarmingly off the boil. Sure, there are still getting over the sting of Tsipras and his band of “rescuers” letting them down so spectacularly, frantically reaching for the PASOK playbook before their behinds had warmed the parliamentary “strong” seats, but with the main opposition so eager to blow even more hot air into the political atmosphere, it leaves many wondering what the point is anymore.
“Well, there’s Tsipras when foreign leaders knock on his door. There’s always THAT”. And yes, there IS that. It provides us with something to look at, something with a very strong whiff of political shenanigans but not quite that, a (disturbingly watchable) car wreck of a show, a greek Office if ever there was one (Ricky Gervais would be so proud), a steady collection of what-did-he-just-say and did-he-just-say-that amazingness that never fails to entertain.
I’m fully aware that it provides a very cheap alternative to an actually functioning political system, but by golly, if there are akward moments of political thumb-twirling and uneasy silences of dead air magnificence then I’m tuning in. Call me shallow, but I’m surely not the only one getting my fix.
It may the only thing on the menu, but it’s better than nothing at all.