It’s no secret the Greek economy is not in good shape. The government-debt crisis started in 2009, and sadly, the financial dysfunction is still chugging along. Not that I want to belittle in any way what every day Greeks have to live with. I am fully aware and grateful for all the blessings in my life. But back to the topic at hand.
Mr. Mad Cow and I visited Karpathos in summer 2010, and at that time, the only real sign of fiscal trouble we noticed was the “for rent” signs that had gone up in previously occupied business spaces. Since that visit, we returned again with the Vachette in two in 2012 and 2014. During both of those visits, we heard anecdotal evidence about island economic woes. A family friend who worked in a hotel kitchen said tourists were coming, but they weren’t spending money like the used to. Niko’s cousin who at the time worked as a travel agent at a German travel franchise said clients came to Greece wondering if they should bring food for the poor, hungry locals. These visitors clearly have no idea how Greeks not only know how to work their soil, they know the importance of doing it locally. Hipsters, take note- the Greeks have been all about the origin of their produce long before you started colonizing Brooklyn.
This year, I’m not sure what’s different(the duration of our visit, the Vachette’s age and its affect on me, the fact these hard times have been going on for over five years, etc.) but I seem to be more aware of the island’s economic issue. For example, look at the photo featured at the top. That little fishing boat has been in Pigadia harbor for as long as I can remember, and my first visit to Karpathos was in 2003. This year, however, there’s a big “for sale” sign, or ΠΩΛΕΙΤΑΙ in Greek, in the right window.
There still are plenty of “for rent” signs, or ΕΝΟΙΚΙΑΖΕΤΑΙ in Greek, in store fronts on streets off the main harbor.
This particular store’s closing makes me feel a bit wistful. I remember thinking how practical it was to have at least one underwear store on the island.
And here’s a piece of prime waterfront real estate for rent, so good that its sign is written in English as opposed to the usual ΕΝΟΙΚΙΑΖΕΤΑΙ signs you see elsewhere. Sadly, I don’t remember which restaurant/cafe used to be there.
Granted, all of these signs don’t really affect us, or any of the more typical tourists on the island. Our biggest headache has been about cash, and how everyone only wants to deal with actual money as opposed to the credit cards we use in our daily life at home. When Mr. Mad Cow made arrangements in Boston with our usual car rental office. the owner asked him if we minded paying for the car in cash as opposed to credit card, like we would do anywhere else. Cynically, one could assume cash transactions enable the rife tax evasion that Greeks are known for. However, the owner explained it’s difficult to get large quantities of cash as the banks put limits on the amount of euros you can take out at a time. In fact, Mr. MC’s father, Pappou Mad Cow*, had us go to his local bank and ask what is the allowance he can take out at a time. The answer, four hundred twenty euros per week. Let me repeat that so that the number sinks in. Four hundred twenty euros per week. Now imagine trying to manage life as a business man on a comparable amount of cash per week.
Another cash issue we have is about big purchases. In our case, that’s furniture. Our house, a topic for a future post, could use some new pieces. This year, Mr. MC and I had Papou MC’s blessing to do something about that. We went to both furniture stores on the island, and they are both cash-only venture. One of them had a practically empty show room to look out, because they did not want to deal with the credit that would needed for stocking it from Athens. As annoying as this is for Mr. MC and me, I can’t say that I blame anyone for preferring to deal with cash as opposed to credit. Look at their government’s abysmal credit rating, and there’s no wonder why they prefer hard cash as opposed to abstract plastic.
As for the Mad Cow family, the moral of the story is: figure out what big cash purchases we hope to make during our stay and plan accordingly. And do it next year, which just means we get to come back to this incredibly beautiful place.
*Papou Mad Cow lives in the US. And Papou means grandfather in Greek.