It’s been nearly 2 weeks since the banks closed and restrictions were put in place. But what does that really mean? How is it really effecting people here?Greek banks closed

For those visiting Greece they will hardly see a difference, they can withdraw up to their banks’ limit per day from the ATMs which are being kept well stocked in tourist areas. They can use their cards in the shops. Most importantly stocks in tourist areas are not running out and not likely too yet. The tourist industry is very important for the country and as such the safety of it is well guarded.

So those visiting here will find Greece just as it has always been. Accept that the locals seem a little happier at the moment.

You’d think with the turmoil and indecision, the continuous meetings and proposals that they would be frustrated. The reality is they are not. They have had 5 very long years of austerity. The latest bank closures have hardly come as a surprise. For the majority of Greeks they don’t have that much in the bank anyway. Lets not forget that those who do were busy getting it out of their accounts for months before the closures happened.

Now those with money are trying to get their tax bills paid early before they drop out of the Euro, they seem to think it’s better to pay now than wait and have that money sitting in the bank.

There is a sense of optimism, a sense that things really had hit rock bottom and that now at last there’s hope. That’s what Tsipras has given them hope.

What is rock bottom and what does it look like in Europe today. I’ve spoken to a couple of expats who are married to Greeks, are running businesses and have been living here for many years.

Catherine Zgouras originally from Sydney lives in Patra which is Greece’s third largest city and the regional capital of Western Greece, in northern Peloponnese.

Catherine Zgouras

Catherine Zgouras

She has been here for 24 years with her Greek husband and 3 children, running a small foreign language school. Hopeful that things will now change for the better but still worried about life right now. I asked her how she’s is coping with the bank closures:

I always paid on time, all my IKA and bills even if parents still owe me money.

I am behind in my TEBE and electricity bills by about 3 months, but I’d rather pay my two part time employees. They aren’t complaining because this has never happened.

My mortgage is a little behind too because I’d rather have food on my table for my three kids than in the bank.

 

How is she coping personally?

Not too well, I’m afraid. As soon as the referendum was announced and the banks closed, I panicked. I knew it would be harder here.

The soup kitchen in my area is really struggling now and this outrages me – with the banks open, we were able to somehow help it, help others as well, but not now. I’m not wealthy but comfortable which meant I could help out somehow – now that is hard.

 

Like many others she also was very adamant that she loves Greece and does not want to leave:

I know what it’s like, I just want things to go back to normal, All this has left me sleepless and has sent me to the emergency room with a panic attack.

And despite great offers abroad I still don’t want to leave.

 

Catherine used to manage to take a 5 day holiday but this year it’s cancelled, it wasn’t much but it was something.

For others like us it’s the simpler things, being able to pay the rent and utility bills. Not everyone has on-line banking facilities here.

Landlords have to be patient and the utility companies have said no one will be penalised for late payments.

The buses are free and some airlines are even thinking of putting in free flights between the islands.

Chris Murphy is originally from Surrey in England, his wife is from Komotini, a city in the region of East Macedonia and Thrace, northeastern Greece. They have two daughters – Lyra aged six and Evelyn who’s three.

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy

They spend most of the year in Komotini and part of their summers in the UK where there are currently.

They run a frontistirio together. It has been a thriving business until now

We just don’t know what’s going to happen in September. Neither whether our existing students will be able to pay us, nor whether the new ones who’ve already expressed an interest for next year will come, nor whether we’ll have anything like our usual intake for the new year. Basically all bets are off.

I asked if the bank closures had directly effected them?

ATM restrictions don’t affect us yet, as we are in the UK until next month. Plus we have some savings in a UK account we can draw from.

Worst comes to worst we are just half an hour drive from Bulgaria, so we could go there if desperate.

 

Chris isn’t overly worried yet, like many of us he’s patiently waiting to see what happens next:

We are some of the lucky ones. My parents are relatively well off and have promised to help us if necessary.

We’re always going to have food on the table, put it that way.

It’s just not quite what I’d envisaged having slogged really hard to set up a thriving business.

There’s been a lot of speculation in the British press that the country will be inundated with Greeks. Would Chris ever contemplate moving his family to the UK?

I think things would really have to get bad before we left.

In the first place we wouldn’t want to, and in the second we’re pretty much stuck as we’d never be able to sell our house and buy anything in the UK.

 

 

Chris Murphy Petrota, Maroneia, Thrace.  That's Samothraki in the background.

Why would he want to live anywhere else?

The reality is that Greece is still very much a cash economy and the restrictions have made it more so. Out for a drive today and cash was the only accepted payment. Businesses have no choice as suppliers are demanding cash from them.

Cash only at petrol pumps in Greece

Cash only

Businesses in our area have made pleas for change. The tourists have brought notes but now the change is running out. But everyone rallied round and helped out.

At the moment stock levels in shops are fine. The English shop in Rhodes supplies the local expat population. They are ok now but can’t place orders overseas. Still they are smiling too.

It’s been a long 5 year struggle. The news changes each day. It’s almost impossible to keep up. As a friend who runs a taverna said yesterday, we’ve voted all we can do now is wait. She was smiling too.

Come to Greece, it’s the best way to help the economy and the people. We still have sunshine, beautiful beaches, wonderful food and you’ll definitely be greeted with a smile. 🙂

 

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