PERSONAL THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS:
20 Days in Greece: Things are NOT good
NO ONE can become an expert in Greek matters after a 20-day stay, but one can form an opinion. Our last visit to Greece was in 2002, the year Greece started using the Euro. For all 20 days except one we stayed in Gargalianoi, Messenia (our hotel was in Marathopolis); the lonely day was spent in Athens, Attiki at the Porto Rafti area.
The assessment of Greek matters that is summarized below is based on: a) observation and b) collection of data while talking with Greek people. Using our rented car, we visited and had lunch or dinner in the towns of Gargalianoi, Pylos, Hora, Gialova, Kyparissia in Messenia; the towns of Sparta, Mystra, and Gythio in Laconia and the town Aulaki, Porto Rafti, in Attiki. On all of our restaurant visits, we spoke with waiters and owners. We also spoke with citizens of Greece whom either we knew from the past or met for the first time.
We are addressing 1) restaurant activity 2) how people feel about the economy and 3) how college graduates or young people soon to graduate from college see themselves.
Restaurant activity: We spoke with restaurant people in Laconia, Messenia, and Attiki. All, not most but all, suggested that business this year is at least 20 percent down compared to the year before. All people we spoke with expect next year’s business to be worse than the current year! We noticed that restaurants or taverns that used to be full of people in 2002 were 70% empty. Small places at times seem to be operating at full capacity, but this is very rare and lasts little time. We remember that when we spoke with people who had just returned from Greece, some had stated that the restaurants are full and people go out, etc. Maybe they had just noticed a place that had managed an occasional full capacity! Regardless, we asked the restaurant owners what they made of the impression of visitors who suggest that the restaurants are working; first, they were surprised to hear that and second, they said that in past years a group of 10 people, as an example, spent 150 to 200 Euro; now the same number of people spends 20 to 25 Euro and occupy the seats of the restaurant for a long time!
A young waiter at Pylos told us that business this year is 20% slower when compared to last year and the hopes that they had with the construction of the resort Costa Navarino never materialized; he said that the resort has very much everything within and that encourages people to stay in. In a beautiful Taverna in Aulaki Porto Raft Attiki, one could see that only 10 to 15% of tables were occupied. In Mystra, at Xenia restaurant the deck was almost full but the restaurant inside was empty. In Gialova, one night that we visited, it seemed more than 75% occupied. In Kyparissia, a wonderful restaurant by the beach was 80% empty. In Hora, an excellent place, it had only four tables occupied.
How people feel about the economy: They believe that they work just to pay taxes. They believe that the current tax system requires them to pay the government 75 Euro for every 100 Euro they make. Moreover, if your tax liability for the current year is 5,000 Euro, you must pay 10,000 Euro: 5,000 for the current year and 5,000 for the next year! They do not know what the future holds for them and they see no reason to be optimistic. We also noticed that some establishments are dealing in cash without issuing receipts. When we asked why, they responded that because of high taxation the only way for them to survive is to avoid paying taxes. It seems to us that high taxation causes people to think of ways to avoid paying taxes, which in turn makes the government collect less; by collecting less, the government may increase to tax rate in order to collect more. Then the people will think of other ways to avoid the taxes, and so on and so on. Maybe the government should reduce taxes; that way people will stop dreaming of schemes to beat the system and pay their taxes, thus causing the government to collect more, which will have a win-win outcome.
How college graduates or young people soon to graduate see themselves: The saddest impression on us was made by the status of young educated people. Paradoxically, these young educated people also made the best impression on us! While it seems almost impossible to find a job in their selected field of studies, they work in any field, take any available position, and feel optimistic about the future. We spoke with a woman soon to graduate as a gym teacher who works as a lifeguard at a pool; she expects that she is not going to be assigned in any high school since there are thousands of graduates ahead of her. We met an economics graduate who is working in a hotel as a waiter. We also met two women who currently attend college and plan to graduate soon with a degree in literature; both are aware that it will take at least 20 years to be assigned to any high school. However, what surprised us most was the belief of all these young people that somehow they will make it. They are happy to have a job, any job!
In closing, most things in Greece are not good, and no one knows what to do and what to expect. From our little dealings with government institutions in Greece, we observed that there are no rules or procedures. It seems that the system is broken. We kept reminding people of that, and we are not sure if they realize it. We suggested to people that when a Greek leaves the country for another, he usually excels; why? He excels because the system in other countries allow him to do so. Why the is system not doing the same for the Greeks who are in Greece? Maybe we should address this issue some other time. Finally, it seemed to us that uncertainty rules the lives of ordinary people and they fear for their own future and the future of their family. Let’s hope that things improve soon.
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