Where is the crisis in Greece? Perhaps the sun, sea and sheer beauty of the country refracts the gloom out of sight, but to the leisurely visitor like myself, just back from three weeks there, it's not visible. Certainly not on the islands, where €3 for a cola on the waterfront doesn't prevent the prettier cafés from packing out, even into late-season September.
The customers aren't all foreign tourists. On Hydra, a chic getaway two hours from Piraeus the visitors are mostly Greek. "Athens is burning, but we're fine here," says a well-dressed audience member at a classical recital one evening. Down a side street in Syros, the former shipping capital of Greece where the roads are newly paved with expensive (and utterly impractical) marble, we got talking to a former civil servant who threw up his hands indulgently at talk of the mounting economic storm. "Nothing will change here," he said of the efforts to tighten up a dysfunctional tax system.
In Britain, gloom is already infectious – and we're not even technically in recession – but in Greece everybody thinks it's somebody else's job to worry about the nation's financial future. Neither was there much sign of meltdown in Athens itself, where crowds of British businessmen toasted themselves at the Galaxy Bar, atop the Hilton overlooking the Acropolis, and down in the streets the ancient marvels were flocked with tourists as usual. Of the recent protests the only scar was a cracked windowpane in the front of a bank near Syntagma Square.
Newspapers in Athens talked of the visiting "troika" of international financial bodies; and of the increasing numbers of Greeks leaving for Australia; and businesses transferring over the border in Bulgaria. But even in the city that supposedly "burned" with anger, the visitor, at any rate, can't perceive much disquiet. A planned taxi strike simply didn't happen, and industrial action by air traffic controllers only caused minor delays. "We don't like to strike on a Sunday," reassured the hotel manager with a smile.
In the meantime the public transportation system was a paragon of timeliness and efficiency, so those subsidies must be doing something right. Perhaps the Greeks are simply so practised at hospitality towards tourists that they don't let us see the fear underneath. But I don't think so. Nature has blessed them, and so will the Germans, so what's to worry about? The only outward sign of anxiety is the rap-tap-tap of the strings of glass worry beads that men of all ages snap between their fingers, a sound more likely to signal desire for another cigarette than fear that the notorious default will affect their lives much at all.Reuse content