We’ve spent the past week in Greece, a week which has of course been one of the more interesting in the country’s recent history. Yet as much as we’d love to confirm the scenes of chaos and panic reported by just about every media outlet in the world, we can’t. Instead, we have been witness to little more than the usual Greek summer experience of fine seafood, warm hospitality and bargain prices. The only difference between this and any other Greek holiday we have ever taken has been the weather: something of a disappointment for the first few days (Tuesday reminded us of childhood holidays on Ayr beach). Oh, and everybody wants to be paid in cash: cards are no longer an option in most places.
We have also had more than the usual number of phonecalls from home, no surprise given that half of Romania spends its summer holiday in Greece and, given the hyperbolic nature of news reporting, is worried that the stories of empty cashpoints, empty shelves and Ceausescu-era-like queues at petrol stations are all true. We can confirm that – at least as we write these lines, on Thursday evening on the island of Evia – they are not.
Let’s start with the cashpoints.
Yes, capital controls are currently in place for Greeks, who are limited to cash withdrawals of €60 per day. However, all cards issued by non-Greek banks are not subject to these limits and the only limits are those imposed by the issuing banks.
You can still generally pay by credit or debit card if you insist, but we suggest that you bring and pay in cash wherever possible. This is as a courtesy to your hosts as much as anything else: your hotel or pension owner may have to wait weeks to get his or her hands on your money if you pay by card. Given that he or she will have salaries to pay, do the right thing and pay cash. If you really must use your card, do so at supermarkets, petrol stations and larger businesses.
Which brings us on to the subject of petrol.
One of the more bizarre phonecalls we have had this week has been about to the availability of petrol. We have been told by panicked relatives that it is running low and that there are queues at petrol stations as locals panic buy. We must fill up our car now, apparently.
Well, this was the scene at our local petrol station this afternoon:
No queue, plenty of petrol and prices way cheaper than Romania.
We can also confirm that Greek supermarkets are not running out of basic necessities, there is no shortage of beer or fresh seafood in the portside tavernas, and the ferries are not on strike.
Not yet, anyway.
We leave on Sunday, the day of a referendum on whether or not Greece should accept the IMF/ECB’s latest offer of financing (an offer no longer on the table, awkwardly). As things stand the vote looks like going the Greek government’s way (as in a resounding No). What happens then is anyone’s guess, but we do not expect panic and shortages, neither do any of the many Greeks we have spoken to. Life will go on pretty much as it always has in this part of Europe: at its own pace. At one restaurant last night we sat down at a table, the owner brought us menus and then sped off on his moped, returning with a woman (presumably the cook) some minutes later. Crisis? What crisis? Indeed, the whole situation was probably best summed up by one fisherman we talked to on Wednesday: ‘Fish, lots. Money, kaput.’
Even so, for the benefit of the bedwetters worrying about what effect the current crisis will have on their precious holidays, we have the following advice:
1. Bring euros: enough to pay for everything except petrol, including accommodation. Do not rely on debit and credit cards.
2. As we write, ATMs are still working with no limits in place for foreigners. While you may have to queue, however, the lines are well-ordered, locals friendly and in no way resentful (at least outwardly) that you can withdraw as much money as your own financial status allows (which in our case is less than a Greek).
3. In restaurants and bars let your waiter know as you order that you will be paying cash and that you will not be requiring any kind of receipt: you will be treated like a king.
4. Petrol and (especially) diesel are cheaper in Greece than in either Romania or Bulgaria. Do not worry about petrol stations ‘running out.’ Petrol stations are also one of few places where debit and credit cards are still tolerated if not welcome.
5. Enjoy yourself: you are on holiday. Remember that Greece is fine, and that the overwhelming majority of the Greek people are fine: it is the Greek state which is right royally buggered.
Finally, a question for the (many) Romanian commentators whose deep analysis of the Greek crisis can be summed up as ‘the Greeks are fundamentally lazy and want something for nothing:’ You’d be happy for people to write off the entire nation of Romania in the same way, would you?