I love Couchsurfing. I host. I stay with others. I contribute. I take my family. Today, a fellow Couchsurfer checked up on me about his holiday plans. He saw on my Couchsurfing profile that I’m currently in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece, attending the renown Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival. He mailed me to find out about Greece: Like myself, he saw frequently devastating news about the EU crisis-countries such as Greece, Spain, Cyprus and others. Sometimes you can read between the lines how the non-crisis countries and their national banks got rich with high-interest bonds. Which the national banks of the non-crisis countries bought from the national banks of the crisis countries. Isn’t it amazing to help and get rich at the same time? Oh my God. What a world.
But luckily, my Couchsurfing friend was not interested in investment opportunities in Greece. He was worried that the people here might feel bad about visitors in these hard times and that it might be inappropriate to come and visit. I wish some more of the India, Laos, Bangladesh and Dominican Republic visitors would ask themselves such ethical questions before travelling.
I was happy I had been contacted, to report as a tourist in Greece first hand.
My answer was: Yes! Greece is a great place for your holidays. You will love it! The people are incredibly friendly, very open and extremely hospitable deep from the heart. The country seems to stand united despite of what we see from time to time in the news. I feel very safe, the garbage cleaning and street sweeping works heaps better than in southern Italy, people seem to stick together, try to get through this, help each other and do the best to get out of the ditch they are in.
Yes, there are many unemployed people in Greece. Over a quarter of the adult population has no work, not counting students, self-employed that are out of business and people in employment programs. But I have not seen one single person sleeping on the street during my visit. A sight I saw many times in New York and San Francisco.
I came in a rainy time of the year. The air is crisp and clear, but dark clouds are hanging above the city. – Yes it is hard for the weakest, pensioners and old people. Some of them I could meet when there was a festival event with a free lunch for us guests at the pier. Three or four ladies and one decent, well dressed elderly men came and enjoyed with us a free meal. But they seemed not devastated. They engaged with us guests, we chatted with hand and feet, their spirits seemed high.
I adore the strength to carry on and not let yourself down mentally. I’m not sure if I could do that myself.
It’s my very first time in Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, in Greece and I’m loving it.
At the airport on my way here I met a group of thirty teenage girls on their way back from skiing in the Austrian Zillertal.
I was slightly annoyed about the extra waiting time at the check in – 30 teens with overweight luggage right in front of me – man!
I also was slightly annoyed by skiing Greek people thinking myself “Why are they not at home helping others with their spare free time and spare money, showing solidarity with those suffering in their country?”
Last not least I had still a shocking article in mind, that I had read about a month ago: an article in German SZ Magazin about the Greek health system. The line under the title read “Who needs a doctor can only wait“. It had shocking pictures, that moved me a lot. The journalist, a German man of Greek parents, visited emergency rooms in public hospitals and documented how they got to limit their opening times to four days a week, how patients have to travel extremely far to get help, how doctors and nurses have not received pay in months.
I was angry. Standing at the check-in, about to visit Greece for the first time in my life. I was angry, with the suffering I had seen on those pictures in my mind. I was angry about the economy and the skiing-tourists right in front of me. I wrote an angry article about solidarity.
Than I thought: You’re going to Greece for the first time in your life. You have no idea about this girls, no idea about the Greek health system and no idea in fact about Greece at all. At all! Perhaps the skiing teachers organizing the trip are long-term unemployed people who took their chances, showed initiative, as everyone is demanding so often. Perhaps they just opened a business and thank God it’s going well! Perhaps these girls won a competition with their school and got a free holiday! Perhaps they are the Greek olympic winter-sport squad! Perhaps they are not Greek at all! How do I know?
I only learned so far Kalimera – which means Good Morning and Phareesto meaning Thank You – how can I dare standing at the check-in counter and judge?
I arrived at night.
– I felt ashamed. I scrapped that angry article. I love it here. Come and see yourself.