Tuesday, 15 November 2011

State of the Nation

I've recently had a very interesting e-mail from one of my readers who's been a Rhodo-phile for many years. With his permission, I've reproduced some his comments in this post, together with my response and a further response from him.

I think I've learned something from his comments about just what effect the social unrest and strikes which we in Greece have experienced this past couple of seasons is having - and is yet still likely to have - on the potential British tourist and his plans for future holidays. In response to the item "Go Greek For a Week" on my "News & Stuff" page my correspondent wrote in the first instance the following comments:


I've just seen your news item re the C4 programme, …we ...totally agree with your synopsis - the only problem is my mother in law was staying over for the night and, after watching it with us, is now convinced that all Greeks are tax avoiding crooks that need locking up and is struggling to see why we would ever want to visit the country again!!

Tax avoidance seems to be an integral part of greek culture and something we have been amused at over the years and we now have mixed feelings regarding the state the country is in and the effect that it will have on the people that have grown up treating such avoidance as an integral part of earning a semi decent crust.  On the one hand we agree with my mother in law's new found stance but on the other have first hand experience of such avoidance being part of everyday life and typical of the scant regard many (most?) Greeks seem to have for the law, e.g. driving, parking, wearing helmets, etc.., all of which now seem to be being clamped down on by the relevant authorities.  Sadly its now starting to affect our pension pots and mortgage endowments and, as such, is making us see things a bit differently!

As an example of tax avoidance..., the proprietor of one of the bars we regularly use in Rhodes Town now makes a point of ensuring we have a receipt in the glass even if its for our first drink and, invariably, on him and, more often than not, remains the only receipt in the glass no matter how long we stay - at the end of the session he always produces a figure that seems roughly commensurate with what we have consumed and we go away happy.  Turn the clock back 20+ years and the same proprietor would not have presented us with any receipts and we remember one session in October during the late 80s when we literally got rained into his establishment and when we eventually decided it was time to leave he simply looked at his watch and came up with a ridiculously low figure, apparently, based on an approximation of the time we had been in his bar (older and wiser we now know that what we had drunk would have been written down on his pad behind the bar but it still makes a good story!).

I really hope things come to some sort of amicable conclusion soon but as it stands we will be holding off a for a while before we book our annual pilgrimage for next year.

In response, I sent a message which included the following observations:

Firstly, yes, the centuries-old culture of tax avoidance is something which I myself used to unwittingly "appreciate", in that I often lament the days when you could spend an evening in a taverna, and when you asked for the bill, the owner would pull up a chair, get out a pencil or pen and scribble the basics of what you'd had on the paper tablecloth, round it down and ask you for a ridiculously modest sum. Of course, now that this country is paying big-time for such shoddy work practices we realize that what we were viewing as a quaint "essentially Greek" custom was simply tax evasion, however much we thought it reflected the "charm" of this country. It's hard to come to this conclusion, because I still miss that way of doing things purely from a holidaymaker's perspective!

Secondly, whilst I fully understand your words about having doubts regarding coming here next year; this reticence, if translated into actual numbers, would be even more disastrous for the Greek economy and millions of humble Greeks who literally barely enter the tax bracket at all (even when they're being honest!) and work in the tourist industry. The fact is that islands like Rhodes rely almost entirely on tourism and all this negative publicity has the potential to seriously cause major deprivation and joblessness if people stop coming. For all their wily ways, the grass roots Greeks are humble hard-working people and they feel rightly aggrieved that they are all paying (lower tax thresholds, higher VAT rates, petrol prices etc.) for the extravagance of the professionals, the surgeons, the lawyers, the entertainers, yes ...the politicians, who have evaded paying huge tax bills and are still sitting pretty while the poorer people see their wages reduced while the prices for just about everything are hiked.

So, I will always plead with the British - and in fact anyone - to please still come here for a holiday. The landscape, the light, the history, the sunniness of the local people, the food, the things that mark this country as truly unique, are all still here - albeit at a higher prices than in times past.

He then sent another message, containing these comments [bold type mine]:

The Greek economy and rising costs is a worry for us but its the prospect of strikes this is causing that is having the biggest impact on us - we were seriously considering a trip to Rhodes during the October half term a few weeks ago but the prospect of air traffic, taxi, etc. strikes, meant it was simply not worth the risk of losing a couple of days of our hard earned week dealing with airport delays and/or struggling to get about.  Instead we chose to stay in the UK and visit Centre Parcs ...and had a very enjoyable time with zero hassle, albeit at about the same cost as a trip to Rhodes would have been!

Its been quite some time since we have been to Rhodes as a cheap destination, ...but we keep returning simply because we love just about everything about the place and I expect we will continue to do so.  To be perfectly honest I do not think our main holiday to Rhodes next year is in jeopardy ...but we will definitely be holding off and booking up much later to give us time to assess the situation and potential for disruptive strikes, etc..

The bad press that Greece is getting at the moment will undoubtedly be having a similar effect on other travellers as well.  Those, like myself, who know and love Greece and the Greeks may be thinking twice about if or when to visit next year but will undoubtedly return before too long. Unfortunately there will be loads of others that have either never visited before or don't care where they go, so long as there is sun..., that will be lost for somewhat longer.

We'll keep selling Rhodes' virtues but will be adding caveats whilst the current situation persists.

I felt that his comments were of such relevance that I ought to share them with my readers on the blog. I also now better understand why some who may truly want to come here are having second thoughts. After all, a really good holiday can be ruined by long delays at airports, a non-existent taxi service, closed archeological sites and the like. Plus I feel he's spot on when he refers to travellers who may have come here, but will now go elsewhere rather than encounter the hassle that all the disruption can cause them.

Each time we watch the TV news here we express dismay when seeing the strikes and realizing that the only effect they're really having is to dissuade the tourists from coming here, which is precisely the effect the Greeks really don't need!

Anyway, as my dear Dad used to so often say, "you pays yer money and you takes yer choice." Never a truer word spoken…


  1. Very, very interesting to read the thoughts of your correspondent, and your own response to them. My own? I am surrounded by benefit scroungers and tax dodgers in my own country (hope I don't sound like a grumpy old woman too much) so having my eyes re-opened to a Greek national pastime will have no effect on where I choose to holiday. Believe me it will continue to be Greece. As for travel delays and cancellations caused by industrial disputes and the like,I think I would agree with your dad, John, you pay your money etc etc. Go in with your eyes open, have no particular expectations and enjoy a beautiful country and charming hospitality. This year we heard complaints from fellow travellers regarding delays and conditions at Diagoras airport, even from friends with whom we were travelling. Accept it, travel for the majority of people in the world means a long hike in blistering heat, or hanging onto the outside of a truck or dangerously overloaded train.And definitely not in pursuit of a vacation. We have been spoilt by 50 years of relatively cheap, speedy conveyancing from point A to point B. Maybe holidays reverting to what they always were, dangerous,uncomfortable and exciting adventures.
    Lecture over! I'm off to continue my search for next years flight!


  2. Very interesting comment Vicki. Now, go lie down in a darkened room and listen to something soothing...

    Seriously, you make a very good point. Like I said above too, "The landscape, the light, the history, the sunniness of the local people, the food, the things that mark this country as truly unique, are all still here".

  3. Sorry John, touch of the 'vapours' methinks! Now, where did I put my smelling salts?

  4. My Mum and me also had ten hours of delay on the return flight from Rhodes because of the strikes. But hey, what the heck! The few hours of waiting time couldn't spoil our mood. We had a great time in Rhodes ! I don't know what it is but the island has just pulled me into its spell. This is also the reason why I love to read this blog :) ( Even if I have to read some lines twice to understand cause my English is surely not the best ).I will definitely come back for a second time, as soon as the opportunity arises.

  5. It drew you into its spell partly because of the excellent and friendly escort who took you on your boat BBQ trip, eh Kristina? (only joking!)

  6. This will certainly be one of the reasons John:)
    By the way , i've just started reading your book ,,Feta Compli'' , A truly excellent work, informative and entertaining at the same. Keep it up !

  7. We had a hassle free trip to and from Rhodes (the lucky ones) but it could have been so different, but still it wouldn't have put me off coming back again and again. Whilst we were there, I noticed no signs of economic problems, there were still the big smiles from the Greeks, great hospitality, no scrimping on portions,(yes prices have gone up but portions hadn't gone down)and a general big (massive) feelgood factor. Will hopefully be over for a week at sometime with my oldest daughter, as my better half (you know who he is lol, but don't want to mention names) doesnt have a great lot of time off work, but bless him he is happy for me to go have mum and daughter time (better take plenty of money lol. My support and love for Rhodes, and Greece is well up the tables. Another enlightning blog, thanks