John Kittmer

John Kittmer

Former UK ambassador to the Hellenic Republic

Part of Greek Blogyssey

26th May 2015 Athens, Greece

Guest blog: Four months in Athens

I’m pleased to invite Hinesh Rajani to write a guest blog about his time in Greece. Hinesh joined the Embassy team in early February, and has spent four months on a temporary posting as First Secretary Political/Economic. His observations are below.

After January’s election, a new Government promised a rather different approach to Greece’s challenges. Given our close partnership with Greece that meant a huge appetite, in the British Government, for understanding the implications for our interests. I’d spent the previous two years working in the Mediterranean Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and was happy to lend an extra pair of hands so that the Embassy could meet that demand for analysis.

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What have I taken away from my time here?

  • The economic and political issues I’ve worked on have grabbed the world’s headlines.  But the UK and Greece work together like old friends on a range of less sensational areas, with colleagues from different Government departments active on everything from cigarette smuggling to education.  As well as meeting politicians working on the programme negotiations, I’ve kept up the bilateral dialogue on subjects like Yemen, Ebola, and sustainable development.
  • Outsiders are often surprised to hear how many Embassy staff have been hired locally, rather than being sent from London.  For every UK-based Brit, we have almost four local colleagues (mostly Greek nationals).  Without these experienced and dedicated individuals, the Embassy simply would not function.
  • I’ve been inspired by those Greek colleagues, who have stayed positive and committed against the backdrop of the uncertainty of the last few years.  When I’ve been analysing and reporting back on developments from a UK perspective, I’ve tried to bear in mind the hopes and concerns that my colleagues have for their own country.
  • Away from the grind of debt discussions and the genuine hardship experienced by many people, there is an underlying energy in Greece.  I’ve met young entrepreneurs waiting for their businesses to blossom, enjoyed the Carnival satire in Metaxourgeio and Patras, and seen why millions of Brits keep coming back to the islands (and highlands).  I find that spirit, potential, and drive very encouraging.
  • Athens is an incredible city.  I’ve felt welcomed by everyone from my local bakery to the bars, revelling in that infectious enthusiasm that Greeks have for sharing their language, culture, and country.  Away from the chic streets of Kolonaki, I’ve enjoyed getting to know different districts with their distinct vibes, and trying to relate them to the parts of London I’m going back to.  Are the coloured trousers I see more Chelsea or Shoreditch?  Would you twin Hackney with Gazi, and Halandri with Hoxton?  Why can’t London have decent beaches a 20-minute, £6 taxi ride away?  Do comment below on which Athens areas you would match with London locales.

The diplomat’s life is full of farewells, but it’s wrong to focus on them.  Parting is such sweet sorrow, after all; I’ll miss Greece, and will be back.

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About John Kittmer

John Kittmer was Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2013 to 2016.