Athenian taxi driver's keys to happiness



Athenian taxi-drivers are definitely a gamble. I well remember the one who sprayed his battered cab and me with sesame seeds as he munched a bread circle of koulouri, and swerved this way and that: I kept my eyes fast shut.

Athens taxiThat man drove with one hand, but there was another who steered with his knees while conducting a very secretive conversation on his mobile phone. Then there was the one who assured me that cigarettes cleaned the whole body, the one who thanked God he had sons and no daughters, and the one who adamantly refused to let me wear a seatbelt, but crossed himself at every church we came to: what could I do but tell myself we had different ideas about road safety?

I had warmer feelings for the man who complimented me on my Peloponnesian accent, the one who said he thought I'd been out of the country for a short time because every so often I made a lathaki, a little mistake, and a recent favourite was the one who said he went to Adelaide to visit his businessman uncle. He'd planned to stay two months, but liked it so much he stayed six. 

But then last week I met the taxi-driver: sort of like a Platonic Form of Taxi-drivers, he was. Tall and good-looking, with iron-grey hair and a notable and praiseworthy absence of scruff (he wore a tie!), this man was the soul of courtesy and helpfulness. I always talk to taxi-drivers: you learn all sorts of things when you do, as Barry Humphries has noted.

So I learned that this man's grandparents were from Ithaca, the storied isle, but that he himself had always lived in Athens. I also learned he had not been driving a cab for very long, but had taken to it when his business failed because of the continuing financial crisis.

A familiar tale in the Greece of today, alas. But he acknowledged he was lucky to have a job at all, and went on to say that he had no complaints, because he had realised his ambition.

Naturally I asked what this was. He smiled and said, simply: 'I have educated my children.' And I thought of the vast number of times I have heard Greek parents say: ?λα για τα παιδιαEverything for the children.

This notion is deeply ingrained in the culture, and most people here make great efforts, to the point of over-indulgence, for their offspring. The driver has two grown-up children, a son and a daughter, both of whom are engineers.


"Raising children is hard work, he asserted, and I was wholehearted in my agreement. 'Any tips?' I asked. He smiled again. 'The phrase I'm bored I did not permit.'"


But there is often a price to be paid for such endeavours: the son is in London, the daughter in Lausanne, Switzerland. I remarked that this was hard, as Greeks like to keep their families as close as possible. 'Of course it would be better for my wife and me if the children were here,' he replied, 'but they are happy, and they have work. And neither place is so very far away.' He nodded sympathetically when I told him about my Melbourne-based son.

Raising children is hard work, he asserted, and I was wholehearted in my agreement. 'Any tips?' I asked. He smiled again. 'The phrase I'm bored I did not permit.' It was my turn to smile at the familiarity, for the echo sounded across decades: this had been part of my father's child-rearing approach as well.

It is often hard work being happy, I think, particularly in these troubled times, but this man seems to have pulled the trick off. He is blessedly free of self-pity, does not repine, at least not in public, and is glad he has work. He enjoys the moment, the here and now, and if, as Arnold Bennett once wrote, happiness includes the idea of satisfaction after full and honest effort, he deservedly has that, too.

I learned from the taxi-driver; had gambled and won that day. But now I wonder whether there is another lesson to be learned: perhaps we should always strive to accentuate the positive, difficult and daunting though the task often seems. Perhaps it is our duty to be happy?


Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Greece, taxi driver, Grexit, parenting



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Existing comments

Taxi-drivers in Athens not only have chaotic and challenging traffic to contend with but also can be called upon to dispense wisdom. No easy task! I'm not sure about 'happiness' being able to be controlled in the way described: accentuating the positive, our duty to be happy, including the idea of satisfaction after full and honest effort. All these are laudable and not to be dismissed easily. But real happiness comes unexpectedly and briefly. The best way, I think.
Pam | 10 October 2016

I have always liked Aristotle's succinct aphorism: "Happiness depends upon ourselves." Another of his numerous pronouncements on this theme is: "Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot", but I haven't seen this in the original, so have to trust that it's an accurate translation. Albert Schweitzer, rather acerbically, offered the following: "Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." But your taxi driver strikes me as a true philosopher, in the best tradition of Athenian taxi-drivers, both roguish and virtuous, whose store of first-hand wisdom and ready aphorisms often makes for a memorable ride.
Jena Woodhouse | 10 October 2016

The obverse to that coin is that depression, negativity and being put down are the lead weights of the human soul.
Edward Fido | 10 October 2016

Maybe the word happiness has been overused. The taxi driver's positive attitude gives him a way to see the world and life as a wonderful opportunity. I think we can choose how we react to our own misfortunes but it's not always a matter of being happy; sometimes being philosophic just has to do. Thank you again for sharing your perceptive observations and thoughts.
Maggie | 12 October 2016

Thanks for your thought provoking article Gillian; I nearly missed it having just returned from an 'out of range' area of the Flinders Ranges. I recently viewed an Australian survey indicating that the 'golden triangle of happiness' was financial security, a sense of purpose in life, and good personal relationships. However I hesitate to declare universality for this statement to achieving the 'happiness state of mind' particularly in relation to the financial security plank and the amount of poverty that exists in the world.
John Whitehead | 13 October 2016

A very heart- warming article.. It seems that this driver was anything but the "Athens Taxi Prototype". Having lived in Athens for 8 years i can certainly relate to the "gamble" notion.
Stathis T | 21 October 2016


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