Right now, I’m in the Athens airport, rushing to write this article before embarking on the flight back home, to Bucharest. Over the past 10 days, since I’ve arrived here, I’ve been gathering comments from people about the financial crisis which, to be honest, stirs more the international media than it stirs the actual Greeks.
Greece has made me feel wonderful. The air smells of sea, spices and exhaust gas. The trains were delayed by hours and there was a strike in the port the day I was supposed to take the ship. But, amongst all that, the Greek people smiled at me and were very polite and helpful.
Banks are closing, their currency might change and their government is under threat from the EU. I worried from the first day I got to Greece when a friend called to say that the country is close to default and the banks might close.
My train was heavily delayed at the border. When I got off the train in Athens I saw people waiting as if they had all the time in the world, chaotic traffic and trees in bloom. The chef at a seafood restaurant told me: “we don’t know what to think. The European Union says something and the Greek government says something else. I don’t think anything bad is going to happen. Maybe they’ll push us by closing the banks for a day or too, but that’s all. You’re here on holiday? Relax, everything is okay”. Actually, that’s the phrase I heard most in Greece: “Everything is okay”.
The chef told me that the banks are not going to close and they didn’t fully close, but the Greek citizens are limited to taking out 60 euro per day. Foreigners can still take out as much cash as they want. I saw queues in front of ATM machines all day long.
Today, the first of July, all transportation going to Athens and inside the city has been free for everyone. The metro gates opened. The bus drivers didn’t ask for tickets. I met a student at architecture who was coming from Crete to be with her family to Peloponnesus. “These are times when we want to be with our families. All we can do is wait.”
The referendum results seem clear: from the Greeks’ perspective they have to choose between higher taxes (which nobody would want to bear) and leaving the EU. But a lady, owner of a small olive oil factory told me: “this is not only about us. If we leave the EU, they will have big problems.”
“There will be problem with gasoline soon,” said an American tourist friend. “People have a limited amount of cash and shops will soon stop accepting payments by credit cards.”
“Europe is a Greek word”, a Greek guitar teacher told me, “how they can say they will kick us out of Europe – I don’t know.” He also said that tax rates for big companies are lower than for small businesses but when the Greek government tried to raise those taxes, the EU said no.
My friend in Athens, a political science graduate, says there’s already an online crowd-founding project to bail out Greece.
“This is a conspiracy,” says her husband, a Romanian doctor living in Athens. He doesn’t think that Greece is really that broke and the situation is just a pretext for Greece to come out from the EU zone of influence and go onto Russia’s side.
“The US army already left and Cyprus already made an agreement with Putin to let the Soviet fleet in their ports. I’m saying Soviet because I don’t think things have changed that much. ” He also told me that no big company is leaving Greece – “if there really was such a big crisis, don’t you think they would have taken measures already?”
So Many Different Views
I keep asking the people on the street about what’s happening in Greece. People were all happy to answer, but they all reply differently:
“There will be an EU summit today to take a decision,” the guy from the newspaper stand said. But someone else said the EU’s decision was taken yesterday.
At a bookshop, a guy says that Greece is already in default, but things have been so bad in Greece over the past few years that he doesn’t see how it can get worse.
A girl said she’s waiting to see what happens.
I see people buying new clothes and flowers, cheering and taking photos at a graduation ceremony.
“We will know the situation by 6pm today,” the guy who sold me the “Athens Views” newspaper said in a convinced tone.
My enquiries end at Monastiraki, a central square in Athens where young men play Greek songs and an old man dances in front of them, Zorba-style. People around film the dancing and clap. I’m in awe at how they can keep their lightheartedness through such times of uncertainty.
I love the Greeks and how they keep their cheeriness despite all this chaos. Today at the market my friend and I were given free veggies. When it started to rain at the bus stop, the waitress at the bar on the corner invited me to come and wait at her terrace. When the bus came a bearded man smiled “goodbye” at me.
Thank you Greece for teaching me how to relax.
Photo of old man dancing in Monastiraki Square on 1st of July 2015 by Manuela Boghian