The Greeks are an entrepreneurial lot.
Despite the Global Financial Crisis (GFC ) and its supposed devastation of the Greek economy, on a recent trip to Crete I found little evidence of malaise. Despite the scarring of pretty well every public building with the graffiti of protest (this must must be the graffiti capital of the world) I found the economy buzzing and the Greeks as eager as usual to do a deal.
The historic harbour front at the northern city of Chania, buzzed with Friday night partying as young Cretans celebrated the end of the week. The front of house men at harbour-side fish restaurants enthusiastically, almost aggressively, beckoned passers-by to try the fresh catch of the day. Beware The Fish Scam. At 50 Euros a kilo the fish here is more expensive than London, Berlin or Paris. The locals say it’s because it’s fresh. Maybe it is, but at 30 Euros a portion I think I will stick to the frozen stuff.
Elsewhere, perhaps shopkeepers emphasise an underlying strain, and a hint of desperation when closing a deal. Bargaining is mandatory, particularly for more expensive items. Discounts of 20 per cent or more are possible particularly when paying cash. One still gets the feeling that Cash is King here, encouraging what has always been a terrific black economy.
But the cash machines purr away 24/7 dispensing Euros. The problems in nearby Cyprus, another Greek enclave, seem remote. The only sign of torment: getting into the banks themselves! Multiple doors, screens and devices, protect wary bank workers who eye you suspiciously, and a little fearfully as you try to enter. “I only want to change some British pounds“, I say, almost, apologetically.
The quality of the merchandise is higher than in the past and the variety of souvenirs demonstrate the continuing and evolving craftsmanship and creativity of the Cretans, reflective of myriad cultural influences borne of invasion… Roman, Arab, Venetian and Turkish layered on top of their own indigenous Hellenic and Byzantine heritage.
But this is still Greece in high summer, and the Greeks are as friendly and relaxed, and often, as chaotic, as ever. I love the complimentary restaurant desserts and the raki, but I wish they would clear the plates from the table beforehand. No London or New York restaurant efficiency here.
On our last night I treated myself and my family to a night in a quality boutique hotel. The experience seemed to echo the state of the country: exquisite craftsmanship showcased the wondrous heritage of the building and its surroundings, just as the hospitality and helpfulness of the staff did justice to the originality of the complimentary breakfast with its emphasis on first class quality produce and ingredients. But when I went to bed in our beautifully designed and well appointed loft apartment the air conditioning didn’t work properly and I had to sleep on the floor. It was the height of summer. Something still needs to be fixed.
A T shirt in the local souvenir shop I spied on the way out of town summed it up: ” The Greek Crisis: No Job, No Money, No Problem“.