A Trip to Greece

The Financial Crisis and its Impact on Culture

05/10/2015   Nathisha Paramasivam, Financial Planner

Mid this year I was lucky enough to take a month long trip to Greece and Turkey with a colleague at The Hopkins Group. I really had no expectations travelling to Greece, although I was looking forward to taking in some history, sun and postcard views. 

As a financial planner, this article is a reflection on my experience of Greece and how I believe the Greek financial crisis has influenced the general feel and culture of its people.

Our first stop was Athens – sadly it was an instant reality check. Driving from the airport to Athens central was a harsh snapshot of what was to be expected. Shops on the main street were empty, run down and falling apart. Shop after shop had for sale and lease signs and there was hardly anyone to be seen on the street. Overhearing a conversation between a young Greek man returning home after studying aboard and some American tourists – it was evident that it was a tough change for even him to see. 

Athens – chaotic and hectic as it is, certainly was amazing; rich in culture and bustle. The food was consistently delicious – even the 1 Euro lamb souvlaki did not disappointment. We indulged in mouth-watering patisseries, but most importantly their coffee! Melbourne is known for its coffees, so I have conditioned myself to accept whatever coffee I experience overseas as it will never come close to a good Melbourne coffee, but Greek coffee frappes did not disappoint.

The main shopping precincts were busy and seem quite profitable, but as soon as you walked through the back streets (where you find the real charm of Athens, with its narrow alleyways and small businesses), the true desperation of retail stores was evident. It was hard to walk into to store without being pressed to stay and buy. Store owners would leave their store to come grab us to view their products.

One of the islands we visited was Crete. Crete felt like a country in its own right – enormous, commercial and rich in its own distinct history. There was an instance where we walked into a little souvenir store to look at fridge magnets. The store owner was a little old lady (probably in her late 80s), struggling to walk and stand. If I touched anything, or pointed at anything, she would jump through hoops to get it out so I could view it better. She followed me everywhere throughout the store trying to assist and please whenever she could. It was so difficult to watch, it broke my heart. Her store clearly had inventory that hadn’t turned over for a very long time – dusty, cluttered and run down. I couldn’t stomach walking out of the store without buying anything so grabbed a bracelet, paid for it and walked out. 

We were lucky enough to spend four days in Mykonos. Aside from getting lost in the narrow maze like streets of the city, it was by far my favourite destination in Greece. The highlight of Mykonos was the local characters on the street. There was the old Greek man who sits on his little stool on the street yelling at people and having random conversation about their outfits. There was a tarot reader that my colleague and I walked passed a few times, who would exchange a warm smile every time we saw her. We were initially both too sceptical and scared to speak with her, however on our second last night we bit the bullet and approached her. She invited us to have a frappe with her at a cute little café around the corner. She told us how she made so many parts of Greece her home. However for the last few months she had made the decision to call Mykonos home. She explained that her family was predominantly in Athens but the “aura” and feel of Athens was depressing for her and she needed to get out. She hated even calling back home to hear the stories and didn’t want it to bring her down. For business – the commercial and tourist nature of the island made her feel happy and helped business financially. This conversation was by far the most interesting and influential conversations I had on my trip.

Being analytical and financial minded as I am, it was interesting to see firsthand how many shop owners in Greece ran their businesses. There was rarely a meal we had at a restaurant where my colleague and I didn’t receive a free drink or snacks. Whilst culturally I felt like Greek businesses were less commercial than back home, I was still astounded at the level of “freebies” being given. Once our meals were over, it often took half an hour to an hour to get the bill and leave the establishment, regardless of whether they were busy or not. There is certainly a relaxed, easy going attitude that could be felt all around Greece, which can be appreciated and welcomed as a tourist on holidays, but I can’t help but wonder if this was healthy for their economy or not.

Reflecting back on my trip, it does make me appreciate the strength of Australia and how our country has held up through the many global financial changes, especially considering we are a relatively young economy.

Greece was a life changing experience and the stories of the antics, personalities and sights I saw during the trip will never be forgotten.

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