Nikos moved to Latvia with his girlfriend Sandra and daughter Sāra on August 10. Now he has returned to Greece for a few weeks to take care of paperwork and will soon go back to his family. The Greek said that his parents supported his decision to live in Latvia only halfheartedly, but he's sure he has done the right thing.
"We don't have any future in Greece. I think the crisis will last another 10 to 15 years. I can't find a job in my home country, but I'm only 33. I am a young man and I don't want to wait 15 years when the situation becomes better," said Nikos.
"If there's no financial independence and a monthly income adequate for a human being, the warm sun and the blue sea is not important. Of course I was a thousand times sad about leaving my motherland, but I see a future for myself in Latvia," he said.
When asked whether living in Lemnos didn't make him think of a future working in tourism, Nikos said that this year hasn't been easy for inhabitants of Lemnos as well. "Tourists who visited the island stayed only in the capital and spent money in Myrina. What are people in villages and outside the capital to do?" he asked.
He also said that, according to him, Greece does a bad job at managing the tourism. "Greece has a coastline of 16,000 kilometers, but the ports are totally mismanaged and not suited for tourism. A lot of money is lost due to this mismanagement. For example, a friend of mine told me about a tourism company that wants to organize tours to Santorini, but they couldn't find a place to tow the ship so they made the route to Turkey instead. Latvia knows how to make the most out of its opportunities. For example, all the Russian oligarchs summer in Jūrmala. Think of what Latvia would have done if it had the chance to organize tourism in a territory as huge as Greece?" he said.
Nikos was working at a fishery in Greece, but the employer didn't pay him: "When the employer's debt came to €6,000 I decided to look for a different job, but it's like an impossible mission. As of now there's a situation in Greece where people have to choose between a well-paid job with non-payment of wages or a little-rewarded job that is paid on time. I worked at a gas station in Greece with a monthly salary of €500. In Latvia it's possible to pay your bills and save some €50, while you can spend it in an hour in Greece. The prices in Greece are higher. For example, a liter of milk costs €1.20 in Greece while you can buy two liters in Latvia for the same price," said Nikos.
Nikos has noticed that there are many vacancies in Latvia but no workers, while in Greece there are many unemployed people.
He hasn't found a job long-term job in Latvia yet: "If you want to work in Latvia, you need a car, so I hope that within a few weeks I'll be able to settle everything so that I can return to Latvia with a car." Another obstacle is not knowing the language. "It is not easy, as many people don't speak English. Those who do speak rather poorly. More speak Russian, which I don't. I am studying Latvian, I think it's easy. I can read Latvian and read newspapers. Perhaps with some mistakes at macrons or word stress, but I can read it. I know the alphabet. I have learned a lot by listening too," he said.
He hadn't been to Latvia before and said that he liked it here from the start. "I fell in love at first glance. Rīga is very beautiful and clean. When I'm in Latvia, I miss Greece, but now when I'm in Greece I miss Latvia. Most of all I love how green it is. So many forests and parks. And so many beautiful lakes! We can see development, growth and a future, and the state helps entrepreneurs and supports doing business," Nikos painted a favorable picture of the country that even many Latvians wouldn't agree with.
He also commended Latvia as a clean and well-organized country. "I feel safe in the Baltics. There's always police on the roads and in terms of justice Latvia is also ahead of Greece where the police arrests criminals but the court releases them and they keep on stealing, dealing drugs and doing other sorts of crime. If you want to reach justice through court, you have to wait several years for a decision," said Nikos.
However, he viewed alcoholism as a problem. "There are too many alcoholics in Latvia. I met a Greek who lives in Gulbene and works in Gaujas koks [a woodworking company, ed.] where the problems with drunkards have become so severe that everyone has to pass an alcohol test before setting to work. Those who have drunk are being sacked. Even though it's forbidden to sell alcohol after 10 PM, I see drunk people at 9 in the morning wobbling in the streets. You won't see anything like that in Greece!" Nikos said. Greek food seems tastier to him as well: "You use very little spice. And you make cheese from cow milk, while Greek goat and sheep milk is different and much tastier," he said.
He doesn't mention the cold weather as something negative. "Of course it's colder in Latvia than in Greece. To make it to the airport from Rīga to Thessaloniki I left home at 5 AM. It was freezing. The ground was white. Frost. While when I arrived in Greece it was still summer - more than 20 degreees warm and sunny. While the scorching summers pose a bigger problem than the cold winters. If it's cold a man can wear several layers of clothing, but what can you do in the summer?" he asked.
Nikos thinks that the Greeks who have emigrated won't return as Greek politicians have myopic strategies and don't think about the future of the state.
While expatriate Greeks cannot participate in shaping the state.
"Greeks have no option to vote from another country. Latvia has it better. When there was a parliamentary election in Latvia, Sandra could go to the Latvian embassy in Greece and vote there. And it's not that a few hundred Greeks live abroad. Millions [live there]! Why can't the Greek embassies sort this out?" he asked indignantly.
As of now Nikos lives in Ranka with his girlfriend Sandra. He wants to move to Gulbene where there are more job opportunities. They are making plans for a further future when they want to move to Rīga and try their luck in entrepreneurship.
"I will learn the language and everything will be fine. There is a future in Latvia, and we have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. It's difficult to say what we'll be doing in a five years. My family is in Latvia and I'm happy," Nikos Argiridis said.