in Greece 2015

The day after the No vote: business as usual


Sunset at the beach, Nea Chora, Chania. That one empty table in the foreground there? That’s for you. 

Φιλοξενία (fee-loak-sen-EE-ah) – n.: Hospitality. Literally “love of strangers/guests”

CHANIA, July 6 – I am a tourist, but I’m not here to soak up the sun. I came to improve my Greek so I can speak better with my extended family. Whether stopping by a περίπτερο (pe-REEP-te-ro) or talking to a bus driver, I know enough Greek that most don’t answer me in English, which is gratifying. Already I feel like a local.

Transportation in Chania is at once extensive and cryptic. The taxi I took to my first Greek class today didn’t recognize the destination. That’s when I learned that there are two types of cabs: ones that serve the city center and ones that go out into the outlying areas. Despite my origin and destination being a mile and a half apart, I should apparently have looked for the other type of cab, which has a gray taxi sign instead of a blue one. The cabs don’t have any other markings than the sign on top. 

Buses go everywhere and run regularly, but the website and mobile app are confusing and quite unhelpful. Every bus stop has a name as though it’s a subway stop, which is intriguing. But the rusty bus stop signs themselves not only have no names, they have no words or logos whatsoever, just a picture of a bus. Any given number, like the Number 20 which I needed, may have several different routes, sort of like the way Apple names its products (MacBook Pro, early 2011, 13″). You just sorta have to know.

Perhaps the Greeks assume that their philosophy of φιλοξενία makes up for bad user interfaces and graphic design – the friendliness IS the interface. There are as many tourists in town as there are students in Bloomington during the school year, but those who live here are far more welcoming.

The several people here in Greece who said “don’t worry, everything’s fine” were, simply put, right. Even though the country is economically a basket case, Chania is bustling like any city. Buses are running, stores are open, lots of people going about their normal business. Everyone is talking about the crisis — on the radio, in the kafeneion, on the street — but except for the queues in front of ATMs, nothing seems unusual. (I went to an ATM today — the first one I’ve seen without a queue, in a big food market with many stalls — and withdrew as many euros as I wanted.)

This is not to say there isn’t reason to worry. A day after the decisive referendum, the Eurozone finance ministers are making no move to relieve Greece of some of its impossible debt. I am inclined toward the critiques which hold that the rest of the Eurozone has wanted only “regime change” in Greece since January when Syriza was elected, and Alexis Tsipras & Co. are basically exhausting every possible negotiating point but expecting to resume using the drachma. Greece is on track to miss its ECB payment on July 20; I can’t imagine how the drachma doesn’t make a comeback on July 21. I suspect I may begin to see breakdowns in the continuity of services both public and private as the stalemate wears on. And I may be here in country to see it. 

Meanwhile, the weather’s warm but not too, the beaches are beautiful and the food is heaven. I’m feeling a bit like Damocles.

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