I have spent a few days in a village on the mainland coast in northern Greece getting some sea air and seeing how the debt crisis has affected the Greek population following the reopening of the banks.
The conclusion about the crisis is definitely “crisis – what crisis?” There were no queues at cash points, the pharmacies were fully stocked and most importantly, the beaches were rammed with families out to enjoy the summer. By all accounts, the good weather started late this year. This was because it was unseasonably rainy until mid-July and the government imposed weekly cash limit and the election at a weekend meant people kept away from the beaches.
Greeks, certainly in northern Greece, have never been used to using credit or debit cards for purchases. Hard cash is what they have been used to. There was plenty of cash changing hands in the food shops and at the “bazaari”, the pop up stalls and markets that appear weekly in the villages.
I was told car repair shops are doing well as people are reluctant to purchase new cars and so they are making sure their current cars are reliable. The cost of petrol has reduced to €1.40 per litre, down from €1.60 per litre a year ago. That cost reduction has encouraged people to get in their cars though it is still the case that they prefer to travel shorter distances.
I was also told that Thessaloniki is seeing a surge of new coffee shops and bars opening. Yes, shops selling clothing and personal items may have closed but those spaces are being taken up.
One other point of note: Greek Albanians who come across the border to find work in Greece and who need a visa to be able to stay have not been in evidence so much this summer. That is possibly because they believe their prospects are better back in Albania at the moment. The other possibility is they are doing what one Albanian family living and who have been working in Greece I personally know have done. They have gone to Germany as asylum seekers. And you cannot blame them with the financial rewards on offer. They are a family of 2 adults who speak German and 2 small children. They have been housed, are being given €300 each per month by the State and the adults have already found work. They are only paid €2 per hour but that is apparently because if they earned more, it would reduce the €300 per month. They would like to send the money home but they cannot for the time being. They are not allowed to open a bank account so they must be patient until they can travel back.
No wonder there are so many knocking on the door of Germany at the moment, as opposed to knocking on the door of any of the other EU countries.