Saturday 1 September 2012

My Personal Greek Credit Crisis

Everything Flows in the Ionian Sea
PANTA RHEI: “everything is in flux”, “everything flows,” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Unfortunately this does not apply to either cash or credit on the island of Zakynthos (next one along from Ithaca). 

For my week’s package holiday I brought with me many euros plus my trusty visa credit card. But using my plastic friend proved difficult. So did finding a cash machine in working order, with any cash left in it to dispense, let alone one that didn’t apply vast charges to the user--raw profit which goes not to the currently impecunious Greeks but to the international bankocracy. 

A restaurant where the VISA machine works
This meant that my well-intentioned (if probably patronising) desire to hand over all my allocated holiday money this year to Greeks, via their tourist industry, was frustrated.  We wanted to eat out every night, but only a few places, such as the friendly “Spartakos” fish restaurant on the waterfront in Zakynthos town, some distance away, actually possessed the equipment to extract money from us via VISA.  

Many shops and services do not take credit cards at all. Others have the VISA sign in the window, but when you actually present the retailer with your card and the large handmade mosaic you want so much of Odysseus slaying the suitors (some of whom actually came from Zakynthos), you are told that they have “run out of” the special paper signature slips to go in the machine which stamps a carbon copy of your card (chip and pin has not yet arrived).  So yet  another 75 euros did not flow from the British into the Greek economy and I have no mosaic of the incident on Ithaca.

The problem is compounded by the habit of our hotel (which bafflingly does not take credit cards at all) of taking chunks of cash off the customer via hidden extras in the form of deposits. You are given these back only when you leave for your departure flight at 3.00 a.m., i.e. far too late to inject into the local economy (e.g. 25 euros for the safety deposit box, 40 euros (seriously!) for the TV remote). 

Training offspring in sea-monster-dom
I ended up using the Anglo-German-owned scuba diving company and not the Greek one because they took credit cards (this hurt). So did several Russian nouveaux riches, two of whom, Vladimir and Natasha (ironically the names of V.I. Lenin and his partner N. Krupskaya) told me how frustrated they were at the lack of facilities where they could flash their plastic. I am absolutely sure, from their clothes and jewelry, that they have a great deal more money than we do.

My new bust of Demokritos!
The good news was that I managed to find one shop equipped to take VISA selling plaster busts of ancient Greeks, which I collect in lieu of garden gnomes. At last, at last, I have acquired a Demokritos to support my claims to be a committed atomist (the fluxy Heraclitus still, alas, eludes me). The bad news  is simply that I (along with many far richer tourists) have conducted far fewer financial transactions with Greeks in Greece than I had intended. 

I know that VISA cards entail charges for the vendor. I know that many Greeks, with justification, no longer have any trust in money that they can’t see physically in their hands, let alone in northern Europeans who practise virtual banking, institutionalised fraud, and victimisation of much smaller southern European nations.  But every study ever made shows that customers spend more when they can access next month’s wages as well as the immediate contents of their wallets. Come on, Greeks, in defence of your fatherland, get some credit card machines working!


  1. Greece is afflicted with a number of compounding difficulties, it seems. In July, I travelled across Europe by train, all the way from London to Istanbul. Greece has cut itself off from the European rail network as it says it can't afford to run the international services. Consequently I did not go to Greece (but found a surprisingly good substitute in the numerous museums and historic sites in Bulgaria). I'm overland travellers don't constitute a particularly large chunk of the tourist whole, but cities like Thessaloniki being close to the borders with other popular destinations presumably suffer quite a lot from the loss of such. Overland travellers, particularly rail travellers, tend to spend more in the local economy as they invariably arrive into the centre of cities, and make use of local businesses, rather than flying in and getting bussed to some chain hotel near the beach. It just seems so counterproductive - like the lack of cash machines.

  2. Are you going to do a follow up article? Would love to know what happens next.

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