Greece 2011: random afterthoughts

On Friday the Eurozone agreed to bail out Greece for the second time, ensuring that the Euro remains its currency at a time when there has been increasing talk about reverting to the drachma.  Angela Merkel said that it was Germany’s ‘historical duty’ to help support the currency ….. whatever that may mean.

I can only conclude that Angela Merkel and other European heads of state have been reading my blog because, as I am sure readers will recall, some time ago I argued that Greece should be regarded as a Special Case within the Eurozone, being the country with the best and most relaxed attitude to life which inevitably and unavoidably creates insoluble economic and fiscal problems which can only be resolved by permanent subsidy by the stronger more strictly regulated economies.

That a large proportion of the German population agrees with this sentiment is clear from the large numbers who flock to the Greek islands every summer to spend the Euros they earn in Germany, thereby supporting the local economy, or at least the local tavernas, restaurants, hotels and shops.  The fact that not many of those Euros find their way into the Greek exchequer is just one of the facts of Greek life.

Local businesses play their part through pricing policy.  In the UK, a pint of beer in a pub may be £3 or £3.10, increased to £3.20 when I got back from Greece, or £2.09 in Wetherspoon’s, in Greece all taverna prices are in increments of €0.50.  A bottle of Amstel will be €2.50, €3, €3.50 or €4.  A frappe will be €2, €2.50 or €3.  Prices in tavernas now are never anything in between.  The same is true of buying snacks or meals.

The only variation on this seems to be in shops where fruit, feta, olives or other foodstuff is weighed.  For example the price of two bananas is typically €0.76 or €0.87, depending on the size.  This results in a pocketful of shrapnel which has to be carefully accumulated to pass off in tavernas to meet the €0.50 increments.  One fruit shop I frequented always relieved you of the burden of nursing pocketfuls of small coins by the simple expedient of looking with an expert eye at the two bananas you are buying and assessing the price at €1.  That made it simpler when the guy was nowhere to be found, just take 2 bananas and leave €1 on the scales.

The banks for their part contribute to the process of relieving you of Euros by only issuing €50 notes from cash machines.  This forces you into making purchases which may not be strictly what you wanted in order to break the notes down into smaller denominations.

I spotted a very cunning tactic on the bus.  Not that I would ever dream of doing it, but it’s an old gambit in the UK to offer a large denomination note on a bus knowing that it is unlikely that there be sufficient change and in hope of a free ride.  I observed a brilliantly simple counter to that.  One guy on Amorgos offered a €50 note for a minimum fare of €1.60.  Without blinking or thinking about it the driver took the money off him, pocketed it and gave the bloke a receipt which he could redeem at the office some time later.  Lateral thinking like that may be what the Greek economy needs.

In the meantime it is comforting to know that the EU is now committed to underwriting a way of life which is the envy and the frustration of the rest of Europe.

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