When we first left the UK in August we decided to ease our transition from the rat race by island-hopping and camping in Greece. The idea to camp was to make it cheaper, and we already had all the gear from a previous travel plan so we decided to utilise it.
We started at, and got as far as Kephalonia, and decided that the Euro had trashed the Greek Economy so drastically that we couldn’t afford to hop, let alone take a ship from one to another, to get us down towards Turkey.
Greece has suffered greatly since joining the EU, and having visited when it was still in the Drachma, it’s not hard to see how different their economy now is. Kephalonia was made popular because of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ and this made their tourist industry boom for a time, but now you can see the effect that the Euro has had on even a popular island such as this, and the film/book just isn’t buoying that up anymore.
Deserted hotels in prime locations stand gradually decaying; houses sit awaiting completion by owners who live in part of it but cannot afford to carry on with the building or renovation, or they lie abandoned by owners who have left the island seeking better economics elsewhere, such as Athens, and cannot find buyers – they literally just cut their losses and leave their home with many possessions still inside; stray cats and dogs are even more abundant now, and it is not unusual to see presentable animals with collars wandering around after their owners have left the island, leaving them here to fend for themselves – only the resilient and resourceful survive; ruins of buildings which came down in the 1953 earthquake are ever-prominent, and we were told by the campsite owner that people just left their houses and the island shortly after the earthquake and never returned – these days there is no money to do anything with the old buildings or the land.
It’s a sad sight, and you cannot help (if you have an ounce of decency and humility) to be humbled by some of the things you witness. That is, of course, if you pay attention to where you are, the people who live there, and are not just blinkered by the fact that you are on holiday. All too often we saw tourists aiming for one place from the last without seeing anything in between, and they couldn’t have been more rude to the locals!
As we see it, you are a guest in their country and should at the very least try to learn a little of their language and stick to their rules. Yeah, I know, we could all turn round and say ‘why don’t they do this in our country then?’ when someone flouts the laws or customs, or doesn’t speak our language to us in our own country, but if you have this attitude, you sink to the level of what you supposedly despise in others. I think it’s far nicer to remain above the rude, arrogant individuals who continue to dishonour their own Nationality by behaving in ways that should be punishable by being beaten over the head with a club until they actually realise how awful they really are.
If you live in a country that speaks English, do you expect visitors to communicate in your own language, and if so, why does this not apply to you when you visit someone else’s country? If they speak Spanish or Greek, learn the basics so that you can at least say ‘hello, goodbye, please, thank you’ etc. It doesn’t take much effort and would make your experience (and theirs) that much nicer.
We are travellers who know a few words in a few languages because we were not gifted with the ability to be bilingual, and could not stand a hope in hell of having a full conversation in anything other than English. This means that we greatly admire anyone who speaks English as a 2nd language, because we cannot speak to them in their own language in anywhere near the same depth.
In Kephalonia, it was lovely to interact with the locals and say a few words to them in Greek, because their faces would light up at the fact that you are trying. If they know English well, they try and teach you some more words, and if they have a sense of humour, even swear words over a drink or two. 😉 (we blame the Spanish guests and the Greek campsite owner for this!) This kind of interaction makes your time abroad so much more pleasant, and allows you to integrate much more than if you stay closeted in your hotel bar rather than wandering around finding where the locals go.
This is usually the place where the food is the best value and the freshest quality. And if it’s alcohol that floats your boat (ours would sink if alcohol had to be the main agenda) this would be the place where it is the cheapest. Locals will never pay through the nose for anything, so try and go where they go. Sure, those places may not speak your language, as they may be a little out of the tourist areas, but you are guaranteed a better experience and there is always sign language! If you want to avoid the usual lager louts , skanky women, and ex-pats, you won’t usually find them at the local spots, so this for us is a good reason to seek the less-travelled route – girls who have shorts showing their arse cheeks and men trying to pick them up, or ex-pats who refuse to go anywhere foreign unless it has an Australian, English or Irish bar are really not our idea of people we want to socialise with. They wouldn’t be our friends or associates at home, so why would we put up with them on our travels??
And what is the point of an Ex-pat going to another country for the lifestyle and the weather, when all they do is want everything of their own country ‘bottled’ within whatever country they relocate to? Surely you move abroad to immerse yourself in a completely new culture and lifestyle, not take the old one you had with you – why bother with the expense of up-rooting if you don’t want to live without everything you had back home? We have seen people getting really grumpy because they cant find somewhere that sells English fish and chips, or Steak pie – you’re in Greece for God’s sake – eat some Stifado instead – maybe then you won’t have the fat gut – oh wait, that would involve giving up the alcohol too.
Yes, to some this may seem a rather negative view of other tourists but if you are not like those people and have nothing in common with them, why do you want to be party to, and encourage, their behaviour just because you are away from home and nobody knows you?
We tend to have more to us, as individual people, than going out and getting pissed every night, and then just sitting around a pool or on a beach after you stumble out of bed by the afternoon with a hangover. That is not our idea of enjoyment, or fun, and it doesn’t make the locals look any kinder on you. You attract your own experiences when in another country, by your own behaviour. If you come across as arrogant, then you’ll get treated accordingly by the locals probably not speaking to you and begrudgingly serving you; if you show off all your fleshy assets (if they are good enough to be called that anyway!) and get blind-drunk, vomiting on the street, then you cannot blame others for treating you like a skanky ‘ho. You are desecrating someones home by doing this, and I am sure if you came out of your house and stepped in vomit every day, you wouldn’t be so keen on those responsible.
Many travellers are like this, and we are ashamed to call ourselves British, or even Western, when it is our fellow countrymen or other Westerners who behave like this abroad. Sure, every nation has it’s bad points and its negative people, but if we all started to bear in mind how we are perceived by others rather than being so arrogant in our own self-absorption and vanity, things may improve instead of going rapidly downhill as seems to currently be the case.
We left the UK in order to find a more spiritual life and country, and this was our first step into Europe before we embarked further afield. It was a baby-step away from the declining society we were immersed in, and we should have taken a giant leap instead.
The rest of Europe is not too far removed from the UK in its values and behaviour – some countries, yes, they have slightly better and slightly worse qualities – overall, Europe stands united in its production of arrogant Westerners who think they are far too good to compromise with anyone. Every country has them, and yet we are looking for the few people who are more like us. Those people who care about where they visit; who want to try and get to know the locals, and immerse themselves in the experience, even if they can’t speak a foreign language for toffee; those who like to find the culture, food, history and soul of the country they visit.
Kephalonia is a beautiful place, slightly spoilt by the Greeks who leave rubbish all over the place and use beachside bushes and even the walking tracks as toilets and therefore encourage disrespectful tourists to follow suit (Attitude = if the locals do it, so can we). Their culture is Matriarchal, yet seemingly only Greek mens’ mothers are revered – any other woman seems to be second class – Greek men can be quite arrogant and lacking manners. (Long gone is the Spartan attitude to women, but then the class of men from that era is long gone too!)
Greece in general has a very backward attitude to animals and if you are an animal-lover then you will see many sights which tug the heartstrings and make you want to rescue about 10 million animals on your trip. However, this attitude does rub off on tourists too, and we have seen animals being kicked etc because ‘that’s what the locals do’. Maybe tourists do these things abroad precisely because they know they can get away with it there, and if they were in their own country they wouldn’t be half as bad because someone would pull them up for it.
Kephalonia, and Greece in general, has sunk into a funk which is going to be hard to get out of. There are beautiful historic places to see, museums to explore, beaches to lie on, seas to dive in, and wonderful people to interact with – but it is inundated with tourists focusing too hard on the next beer or burger and never really seeing the country or its people because they are on the conveyor-belt of tourist attractions from a popular guide book rather than taking the initiative to strike out alone and see something different. This process doesn’t help the country get back on their feet – it just makes them hate tourists, who are like sheep and follow the flock. Whilst a lot of their own over-pricing is responsible for the lack of tourists that they have been used to in the past, so is their attitude.
But if I was living here, and I had to put up with the tourists we have seen, I wouldn’t want them around my home either. Six of one, half a dozen of the other!