Friday 30 September 2016

Cash is king in Greek resorts - where you won't see rolling news

Published 02/07/2015 | 02:30

On the islands of Greece, aside from limited exports, tourism is their only source of income
On the islands of Greece, aside from limited exports, tourism is their only source of income

Cash is king in Corfu town. No-one will mention the Greek crisis to any visiting tourist unless you bring it up yourself.

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As the children of super-rich Russian oligarchs skim stones on the Ionian Sea, one might be forgiven for thinking "Crisis, what crisis?" But if you do raise the subject, then steel yourself for a tirade as they convey their utter distaste for the European system.

These people are better versed in the workings of the EU and the IMF than any Dublin city taxi driver was in the midst of our own economic crisis.

On the islands of Greece, aside from limited exports, tourism is their only source of income.

Civic leaders and workers in the tourism and service industries will do anything that they can to preserve the notion that life goes on, and that their island remains detached from the political troubles of mainland Greece.

You will not find Sky News beaming out from bars, there is no rolling news culture here. Despite a genuine and warm welcome, beautiful scenery and turquoise waters, you do not need to scratch far beneath the surface to uncover the tell-tale signs that these people are teetering on the edge of an economic abyss.

It is hard to reconcile the tranquillity of the island with the myriad of contradictory images you see when traveling around.

Huge Russian and British super yachts moored off five-star hotels. Vast numbers of new mega-rich millionaires basking in the waters and oblivious to the story that is convulsing the newspapers.

You don't need to be Stephen Hawking to work out that the presence of the super wealthy in such places is borne more out of economic exploitation than social solidarity.

Still, the people of Corfu do not see it this way. Every little helps and they do everything they can to squirrel those elusive euros for fear that the ATMs will dry up.

Receipts scream scam. They represent a symbol or perhaps a symptom of their difficulties. In virtually every place we visited, only the first item ordered was ever documented on a receipt. Proof positive, if you needed it, that there is a black economy which flourishing.

Beneath a thin veneer of normality, one need only watch the young people who worked in the restaurants and shops along the "money strip" in Corfu town as an example of the chasm that now exists in Europe.

Juxtaposed against middle-class Irish teenagers who looked like they have been spat out of a super-spin cycle in the Dundrum Town Centre, covered from head to toe in Holister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and "Dubes", the Greeks are not interested in labels, they are focused on making a living.

The notion that Ireland as a nation should want to throw Greece under the Brussels bus is distasteful in the extreme. If our political masters believe that taking this approach will be popular with voters because we got a raw deal from Europe, then they may want to think again.

It is akin to saying that because we were mistreated in hospital, we would like everyone else to get the same poor treatment.

Moses, an ex-military commander from Tel Aviv, told us that the Israeli government were subsidising his five-star holiday in Corfu town in an effort to boost tourism in the area.

He was shocked at the price of everything and felt it was as expensive as Rome. He is right.

In the main towns and now even smaller villages, things are becoming more and more expensive.

Oil prices and European influences are not without their consequences. Moses is realising that is how the European project works.

As we boarded the Aer Lingus plane back to Dublin, the dudes in the "Dubes" from Dundrum were back, and delighted the plane was still green even though it had been sold to Willie Walsh.

One of them declared: "I can't wait for me breakfast, you can't get a decent sausage in that kip."

First world problems indeed, Dude.

Irish Independent

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