Greek austerity in the big picture

Great place to go – Varkiza Beach in the affluent coastal suburbs

“Greek austerity my arse.” It was a casual comment on Facebook, made by someone who hadn’t visited Greece for a while and was thrilled to be back. She was staying in the affluent coastal suburbs and commented on a bar full of people and the nice cars on the road. I’ve just returned from Greece, staying in exactly the same area as she describes. Yes, I saw full tavernas and bars, I drank and ate in them too, and I lounged at an impeccably clean private beach (pictured above) and drove a smart-ish car.

A list of shops for rent and sale outside an almost empty arcade in coastal Glyfada

But here’s the thing. Perhaps the woman on Facebook hadn’t yet noticed whole shopping arcades mournfully darkened with lists of For Rent and For Sale signs out the front. Or streets now unkempt because local councils have run out of money to clean them up. Or suburbs of eerily quiet streets which used to be bustling with Athenians out and about. The Greek capital used to be a city that never slept. You could get a meal at 3am and still bar hop at 5am and have a truck driver style breakfast at 6am. In some areas you can still enjoy this wonderful tradition.

There are shops mysteriously bereft of stock (I went to five different electronic stores trying unsuccessfully to find a simple adaptor) and others have endless 10-day sales. Upmarket coffee shops and eateries barely have customers. Although the price of coffee has dropped dramatically, in a bid to lure people back.
The dazzling white village of Lindos on the Greek island of Rhodes

The beautiful Greece remains: beaches, islands, azure water, gutsy food, shopping to die for, multi-million dollar homes and yachts, dazzling riches of an ancient history with the majestic Acropolis overlooking her financially-troubled domain.

And there’s imploding Greece: In the Athens centre, one day it’s heaving with protestors and tear gas, and the next day coaches are lining up in front of parliament  for tourists to get out and snap pictures. Angry graffiti is prolific.
Tourists in front of the Greek parliament snapping pictures as usual

Drug addicts openly use needles in parks, beggars are prominent in the city centre and I saw the homeless sleeping behind a hospital in fashionable Kolonaki – the suburb of boutiques. People dumpster dive for food. Unemployment is 25.1 per cent. In the worst-affected 15-24 age group, unemployment is 54.2 per cent.

A man begging in Syntagma Square, in the centre of Athens. I gave him some coins

On an island famed for its wealth, I meet two young women who live in their home without electricity because they can’t afford to keep paying arbitrary new taxes dreamed up in the vain hope of digging Greece out of its financial quagmire. Tourists on other islands complain because they can’t pay by credit card. The cash economy of yesteryear has become the payment of choice again. Greeks no longer trust credit. And the EU no longer trusts Greece with credit.

Thank goodness some people are still able to spend money, filling bars and restaurants and driving their smart cars, because austerity has bitten most other Greeks in the ass. Or arse.


8 thoughts on “Greek austerity in the big picture

  1. Well said, Heather.
    Think I saw that comment too and reacted in exactly the same way…. superficial and glib, not really worth wasting your time on,if it weren’t for the fact that some equally superficial people would believe it and spread it around the world… …
    You obviously saw the ‘imported’ graffiti on my second favourite building… the red writing shouts out so loudly and offensively, whoever did it needs to be dipped in a pot of red paint… in public!


    1. Hi GGW, thanks for your input. I wish they would clean that ‘imported’ graffiti off this beautiful building. It’s defacing culture in the crudest way. It made me so sad. I occasionally read lists of scathing comments in the NYT for example, from people who have no understanding on the reality in Greece.


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