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‘Waiting For Better Days’: Seattle’s Greek Americans Watch Homeland’s Turmoil

Theo Polizos, right, prepares bougatsa at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.
Seattle Globalist Photo/Venice Buhain
Theo Polizos, right, prepares bougatsa at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.

As Theo Polizos and about a half dozen other women at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Capitol Hill prepared dozens of trays of bougatsa last week for the parish’s upcoming Greek Festival, their families in Greece were not far from their minds.

The financial crisis there has taken years to develop, and it has hit families of Greek Americans in Seattle hard.

Polizos, who lives on the Eastside, says her sister’s 32-year-old daughter has had to keep living at her mother’s house in northern Greece because she can’t find work.

"She’s a librarian and she hasn’t worked for five-six years. She lives with her mother, her mother gets a small Social Security, and they keep cutting that down,” said Polizos, who immigrated more than 40 years ago. She sends money to her sister, who is a widow.

"Thank God she has her own house. If she had to pay rent, it would be more tough,” Polizos said.

A new 85 billion-euro bailout deal reached over the weekend means it’s unlikely that Greece will leave the Eurozone and return to the drachma, but it doesn’t mean the end of citizens’ financial woes. As of Monday, citizens were still limited to withdrawing 60 euros a day.

The deal, which Greece’s parliament must approve by Wednesday, would add to the 323 billion euro-debt that the Greek government already has incurred. It also means the continuation of austerity measures, including a rise in business taxes and cutbacks in pensions and public sector pay.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected just such austerity measures in a referendum earlier this month.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Greek food importer Tasos Manouras of Ariadne Pure said he's still able to get products from his suppliers in Greece, which he delivered to Capitol Hill restaurant Omega Ouzeri last week.", "fid": "119072", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201507/20150713-greek-americans-3.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Seattle Globalist Photo/Venice Buhain"}]]Puget Sound region residents with ties to Greece are watching the developments closely.

Woodinville resident Tasos Manouras imports Greek food products through his company Ariadne Pure.

So far, his suppliers have been able to maintain the supply of olive oil, honey, grape syrup and other goods, but the uncertainty has been hard.

"If I were a Greek business, at this point I would have trouble getting money to sustain the business or to sustain themselves,” he said.

Rising business taxes, part of the austerity measures, also have hurt Greek businesses, he said.

Manouras immigrated to the Seattle area from Greece five years ago when his wife got a transfer with Microsoft. He started his business to highlight the products from his hometown and other areas of Greece.

“This affects me on an emotional level,” he said. "Even if I read on the news that Greece is going on a downward spiral, this affects me on a personal level.”

Manouras said his friends and family in Greece are split between whether Europe's austerity measures will help or hurt the Greek economy in the long run.

There are “people who say for the past five years, there’s been a lot of things going on, we’ve been losing our salary, other people have been going broke. We’ve been going in a downward spiral, we need to change the strategy,” he said. “Other people believe we’re going towards the right direction, we just need to work smarter and harder. The truth lies somewhere in between.”

Manouras says that while the political debates continue, life in Greece goes on.

“It’s not like time has stopped,” he said. “I think everybody goes on with their own lives. You still get up in the morning, you still go to work. You still have children to feed."

Polizos, who keeps in touch with her sister every day through Skype, says much the same.

“What’s she going to do?” Polizos said. "They are waiting for better days.

This story was co-reported by Venice Buhain of The Seattle Globalist and Liz Jones of KUOW. See the Globalist version here.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Nina Varlamos, left, and Marlene Souriano-Vinikoor ladle melted butter as they prepare bougatsa at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.", "fid": "119074", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201507/20150713-greek-americans-1.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Seattle Globalist Photo/Venice Buhain"}]]

Year started with KUOW: 2006