Back on the blog after a few weeks in sunny Greece. Right now I’m sitting on my balcony on the island of Naxos, right smack in the middle of the Cyclades.
My friend and I were initially planning on staying a few days in Athens but due to the revolution-like news footage we had seen the weeks up to our departure we decided to skip the capital and head straight towards one of the islands.
For brief moments we had talked about the risk of the default of the Greek economy, the reinstatement of the drachma as the national currency, about strikes within the tourist industry (ferries etc.), even about being kidnapped and ending up on a gyros-stick but we have seen nothing of its kind. Only eaten many gyros, that’s a given.
Macro and flying horses
There are many reasons for the bad economical state of the country. These include its extremely low average of workers’ output, which the country was not able to correct with monetary tools due to the adoption of the Euro. The rising national debt was throughout the process kept hidden by the Greek officials, which at the same time was suffering from high levels of corruption (second in Europe, after Poland). These factors led to a general mistrust, understandably, by the international money-lenders, and the perception that the debt would not be repaid. Consequently, the Greek government bonds now yield around 33% p.a., which is really high, but I would recommend that you steer straight for the window, jump out and expect to land on a flying unicorn made of gold and diamonds and your odds of success would be better.
Anyways, I’m not a macro guy, and I’m kinda writing these things from the top of my head (and this is how to explicitly neglect your own work!) and it’s more interesting to talk about the things you see on the streets of Greece – or at least what WE see where WE go.
One of the first things a Dane recognizes when setting foot in one of the Southern European countries is the inconvenience of paying with a credit card. Even in Athens Airport the guy selling us two Pepsi Max’s (which we then mixed with our travel sized Malibu) and the two pain au chocolat, didn’t accept our VISA cards, which didn’t really surprise us as much as it was just really annoying as I had to run off and find an ATM, knowing that my heated pastry would cool off. Granted, in Athens many people have a stack of Euros since they arrive from a country within the European Monetary Union. But come on, try and internationalize the hub where all foreigners enter, if not just to sell a few more croissants.
On a side note it should be mentioned that we now carry with us all the time currency amounts that would impress any coke dealer and have quick access to any snack and cool, often alcoholic, beverages. We also found a large supermarket, which actually does accept credit cards, however she has to leave her counter and the people waiting in line, in order for her to use the single machine, which is located in the supermarket office. Jeez!
The problem that one faces in French supermarkets, where the check-out counters are so short, that the cashier has to wait between each customer, until they have safely packed their goods into the pain-in-the-ass difficult-to-open plastic bags does not occur here, because the scanning, payment, and subsequent small talk with the chubby friends who have situated themselves on stools next to the cashier takes most of the focus.
However, the food coupons and the like are still there. I wonder how much cheaper they could sell stuff if they cut the crap and trained their staff to serve customers quicker, as well as created some check-outs that would allow people to pack simultaneously with the next person’s items being scanned. Have these Southern European supermarket designers never been grocery shopping in Denmark?
Too much of the good stuff
Secondly, the extreme heat we’re experiencing at the moment does have its say, and it’s difficult to blame people that do not bust their ass off in 35 degrees. However, as this is the peak tourist season in Greece, lasting approximately two months, this is the time to be efficient. This is the time that the golden goose has landed and has planted its pale butt cheeks in the beach chair, in the restaurant chair, or on the rented scooter. Tourism accounts for 15% of GDP (this has been checked, Wikipedia-style).
Throughout the last 10 days or so, and the following 4-5 days my plan is NOT to do anything and just enjoy the heat, but I’m here on my first vacation in two years, the locals are not.
It should be noted that we have experienced efficient and service oriented people here. The hotel mama of Pension Irene II (Irene, of course, and funny enough all the hotels we’ve visited have been owned and run by women) is the sweetest person, and she offers us ice cones whenever we pass the reception.
This we like. The small gestures that visitors remember.
Actually these are the main observations we have made, but the supermarket scenario, and the fact that no supermarket has challenged this by opening a quicker shopping alternative, shows us how inefficient the Greek people are. If people could get get their grocery shopping done quicker they would have more time to be industrious and create the next General Electric, Google or Graduateland.
Feel free to share other stories of inefficiency, or tell me that I’m too harsh on Greece!