The semiology of the cucumber in the discourse of the Greek crisis


A propos of nothing, given that yesterday was a quiet news day*, I recall a little vignette of post-referendum Athens.

Waiting to cross at the traffic lights in my Athens neighbourhood in the midday heat, a gentleman waiting next to me, in is late middle age, slightly dishevelled but respectable, observes the queue of pensioners outside the bank waiting to collect their €120 weekly stipend. He tuts. “This is disgraceful, this is what we’ve come to.” Then he pauses as he observes a little boy with an ice cream cone accompanying his grandmother. “That looks nice and cool,” he muses. Pause. “Of course the cucumber that Alexis (Tsipras) will bring back from Brussels will also be cool. And we’ll all get to share it. Not just the 60%,” (referring to the bailout negotiations that were due to follow the 60% “no” vote in the “bailout referendum”). He caught himself saying this, and suddenly embarrassed he apologised, adding “but you know what I mean.”

Of course I did. And for those of you who don’t…

… I recently discovered that this topic is covered exhaustively by Daniel M. Knight of the University of Durham in his paper entitled “Wit and Greece’s economic crisis: Ironic slogans, food, and antiausterity sentiments,” in a recent issue of American Ethnologist (The Journal of the American Ethnological Society).

Scroll to page 236 of this scholarly work for the definitive (and very clinical) analysis of the meaning of αγγούρι (aggoúri, cucumber) in the Greek vernacular. I will give you a hint: it has very little to do with Greek salad.

* In case you haven’t followed the links, or read the news, pretty much every economic indicator for Greece is pointing due south. The Athens Stock Market plunged almost 23%  intraday on its first day of trading since the easing of capital controls (before recovering to “only” -16.23% at close), the PMI manufacturing index was in free-fall through July, factory employment at a 16-year low, SME activity sharply reduced in the course of July for 9 in 10 businesses, and turnover down over 70% for 1 in 3 businesses. All directly attributable to the bank closures, capital controls and the climate of uncertainty created by the 5th July referendum, none reversible in the near term.

** This is where I realise that I have missed my true calling as a cultural analyst…

The semiology of the cucumber in the discourse of the Greek crisis

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