THE BLOG

Greece Debt Crisis And The Unexpected Effect On Our Holiday Spending

14/09/2016 11:50

Greek anti-austerity protestors took to the streets of Thessaloniki last weekend, angry at the suffering caused by the country's massive debt problem.

I had never really considered the effect of the country's economic crisis on families until we went on holiday to Crete this summer.

Eight years after the country's economy crashed, ordinary people are still feeling the constraints.

Like most tourists I had taken some Euros on holiday but also had the usual trusty plastic in my purse for back-up.

The apartments where we stayed were a small family business run by husband and wife Dimitri and Agata, who were friendly and hospitable (as we found all Cretans to be).

A few days in we decided to book a day-long excursion and after consulting Agata on the best one, I said I would go and fetch my credit card to pay the deposit.

She stopped her form-filling immediately and explained she couldn't accept credit, it had to be cash.

She said that they were only allowed to draw out €50 a week from the bank, so they only dealt in cash.

I was shocked and asked if it would be ok to pay the excursion company with a card.

No, she said, most businesses wanted cash, advising me to check the situation in local restaurants too.

For someone from a card-carrying culture like Britain - where cash is becoming ever rarer with contactless and smartphone payments making it even easier to stop carrying money - I found it hard to take this in.

Agata was really helpful and pointed out the nearest ATM machine so I could get out more cash, but the point was I wanted to use a credit card so that another month's wages would have gone in before I had to pay the bill.

Can you imagine the outcry here if we were told we had to pay cold, hard cash for everything?

No more buy now, pay later? Our economy would grind to a halt.

And if the banks had such strict controls on our money, only letting us have £50 a week, would we revert to keeping our cash under the mattress?

The situation for those people in Crete harks back to the time before easy credit, when if you wanted something you had to save up for it first. "Live within your means" was the mantra of my parents' generation.

Maybe if we'd stuck to that philosophy the global economy wouldn't have got in to the mess it did, resulting in the so-called credit crunch and meltdown in the Eurozone.

Greece wasn't the only casualty but it seems to have been the one gathering the most headlines, it's people the most vocal in protesting. Last weekend Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on the EU to consider Greece's debt crisis a European problem.

Greece has been ordered to make 15 reforms by this Thursday to get more bailout money from its creditors, prompting the protest march in Thessaloniki, Greece's second biggest city.

The recent BBC Two documentary Greece with Simon Reeves was enlightening, contrasting extreme poverty with the homes of the super rich, hiding their swimming pools to avoid paying tax on them.

Like most societies, they're not all in it together, there will always be those wealthy enough to insulate themselves from the problem.

As a holidaymaker you only normally see the nice bits of a country, and Crete has plenty of those. The beaches, the mountains, the tavernas, and of course the endless sunny days.

The barman at our apartments who talked to us every night claimed there was no such thing as stress in Crete. "It's paradise," he asserted. Crete has only been a part of Greek for just over 100 years and he said that the island people think of themselves as Cretan first, Greek second. That clearly doesn't count with the banks though.

The excursion tour guide told our coachload of Brits and Germans to "stop acting like northern Europeans" when some passengers politely joined the back of a long queue for the toilet.

"You need to act more like southern Europeans, if you see someone from our group near the front of the queue, go and stand with them. This is our way," she said.

Maybe that philosophy of pushing in, of refusing to simply accept that you must wait your turn, has been part of the problem. But maybe that same outlook will get them what they want sooner rather than later.

As it turned out, a restaurant we frequented near our holiday apartment did accept credit cards, which was just as well because the extra money I got from the machine had all but gone by the last day.

A timely lesson in money management.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS