Greek Optimism in the Midst of a Crisis
The Mediterranean sun seems brighter than others, glowing orange as it descends behind the cliffs of Oia. The island of Santorini bustles with tourists such as myself in search of seafood and white wine to satisfy our dinner cravings. On my trek (the steps warrant it being called a trek) around the island in pursuit of a tavern I come across a boutique clothing store with a unique style. I go in, try on a few dresses and despite having absolutely no occasion to buy a floor length gown for, I do. It’s a fitted black dress with a Greek goddess twist in the form of a simple gold neckpiece, and honestly I have yet to wear it.
The owner of the store, Elena, is a charming middle-aged woman with dark curls that lack frizz, a miracle in the summer heat. She speaks English without an accent as she excitedly gives me advice on the best attractions in Santorini. I take this conversation as my opportunity to ask how the financial crisis has affected her directly and she is happy to tell me all about it, the smile never leaving her face. She tells me the worst part about the financial trouble is that the online version of the store I am standing in was shut down due to the government cutting down on exports and that it costed her quite a bit of money; but she adjusted. She did not complain about her personal financial struggles, instead she changed her lifestyle, giving up small imported goods that have increased in price such as balsamic vinegar because it’s something she can live without. This is exactly the type of attitude Greece needs if they are going to survive the crisis.
I found that many of the locals I interacted with over those two weeks radiated the same incredible positivity towards the crisis. Our driver and tour guide in Mykonos, Leonidas, put his studies in England on hold to move back to Greece in order to help his family out with their business. He can recite the island’s extensive history as though he lived through it himself.
This mindset is so impressive to me because I was expecting my experience in Greece to be lacking on the hospitality front. I would have been understanding towards this, people are fed up with the state of their country, it makes sense. The nature of a country often changes when they experience financial trouble; people’s attitudes change, crime rates increase, and it quickly becomes unappealing to travel there. I am delighted to report that this was not at all the case when I visited Greece, judging by the attitude of the people, you would never know they were in the middle of a monetary crisis. Perhaps I am biased because Greece has been on my to-do list ever since Maugham flawlessly described to me the mesmerizing quality of the Mediterranean beaches in The Lotus Eater; or perhaps it’s because the Greek people act as an optimistic unit in an effort to see their country prosper again.