Come for the Beaches, Stay for the General Atmosphere of...

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JUNE 5, 2012

Come for the Beaches, Stay for the General Atmosphere of Decline

With the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s estimating that there’s a one-in-three chance that Greece will abandon the euro sometime after its June 17 election, some people are already looking for a silver lining: 

British tour operator Thomas Cook expects a surge in bookings to Greece if it leaves the euro zone as holidays to the Mediterranean nation would become better value for hard-pressed travellers.

"If Greece exits (the euro), for the tourism industry it could be very profitable," interim chief executive Sam Weihagen said after the company posted a steep first-half loss on Thursday.

I understand the general point here—currency devaluation will make Greece’s tourism sector more competitive internationally—but I’m pretty sure this is underestimating how harrowing the transition process will be. There’s sure to be political unrest as the value of ordinary Greeks’ life savings plummet precipitously and the country ceases being able to pay for the imports on which it currently relies. I’m guessing some tourists would be put off by the steady rise of a pro-Nazi party, or massive shortages of basic goods. Much less the prevailing mood of illness and depression:

According to health ministry statistics, a quarter of men and a third of women are depressed, double the European average for men, and nearly double for women. Calls to mental health hotlines also increased twofold in the first six months of 2011 compared with a year earlier.

“I don’t sleep anymore,” said ‘Petros’, who—clearly embarrassed by his situation–asked that his name be changed. An importer/exporter of furniture with several stores in Athens, Petros said that over the last months he had been obliged to fire many staff, a first for his family-run enterprise.

I’m sure Petros will feel better when he’s fetching beer for German vacationers for however many drachmas-per-hour. Actually, forget beer—I’m sure the tourists will want to try the new local delicacy, “sisa”:

The crisis has also encouraged the spread of a new street scourge called “sisa”. Made from methamphetamines, the drug is ten times cheaper than heroin, but its effects are worse: blackened skin, sores all over the body, ultra-violent behaviour.

“One user stabbed another of my patients,” recalled Emilios Katsoulakos, a psychiatrist. “There’s no substitute we can prescribe for sisa.”

The point is, once the euro is gone, this authentic Greek experience will be available at a deep discount. How can you afford not to buy a front-row seat to watch other people’s misery?

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posted in: politics, greece, greece, mediterranean, sam weihagen, the plank

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