ATHENS, Greece – In the middle of July, one of the busiest time of the year for Greek tourism, Ioanna, 34, was told by her company to take a vacation. Ioanna — not her real name — has been working in the Greek tourism industry for 15 years but because of the capital control measures imposed by the Government last week, many clients changed destinations or postponed their vacations. She doesn’t know when she will have work again and right now, she says, laughing, it’s “time for swimming”. Ioanna says this has happened to a lot of her friends and colleagues working in hotels or as tourist guides.
Aleksandros Vassilikous, head of the Union of Hotel Owners in Athens, tells Mashable that there has been a slowing down of reservations for August and September, but not many cancelations. Because of this, he’s hopeful that the situation will be fixed if there’s an agreement between the Greek Government and the EU.
When she had to take forced vacations, Ioanna says she “collapsed a little bit”. But now she says she too is feeling hopeful. “I think it will change. Let’s wait for Monday”.
It’s been a tense week as Greece is waiting for a new agreement between its Government and the EU. Last Sunday, more than 61% of Greeks voted against new austerity measures proposed by the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank. The vote was moot, however, because Greece’s previous bailout had already lapsed, and with it, the offer from the EU for more spending cuts.
As a result, Greece had to submit a new bailout request.
On Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras presented a plan for a third bailout deal of over 75 billion euros over several years. This plan will be evaluated by the eurozone finance ministers next Saturday.
If they don’t agree with the Greek proposals, the scenario of Greece leaving the eurozone will be discussed on Sunday in a EU summit.
Until then, just like Ioanna, everyone in Greece is wrestling with exhausting uncertainty. The banks will remain closed until at least Monday. In the streets of Athens, public transportation is still free of charge and people are getting used to stand in queues to use ATM machines, which are lower than ever on cash; even tourists, who do not have to follow daily withdrawal limits, are finding money difficult to get.
In every corner of the city center, there’s a police patrol, on alert for potential protests or unrest.
After two weeks, there’s something weirdly normal about this. But beneath the surface of this apparent normality, uncertainty and anxiety looms as business people and employees are struggling to get money.
Public workers, for instance, are still not sure if they’ll get paid this month. Most people paid by the government in Greece are currently working “for free” to allow the economy to keep moving.
Before the referendum, there was some fear that supermarkets in Greece would run out of food.
That doesn’t seem to be happening this week. Stefano Balaskas, owner of the Greek supermarket chain Balaskas, tells Mashable that in the first day of Capital Control Measures, demand at his supermarkets were up by 25 or 30%. Last week, there was some shortage in the supplies of sugar, flour, beans or lentils.
Right now, he says the situation has stabilized as Greece waits for an agreement. Still, for a little while, he stopped buying products from outside the country.
Things are looking gloomier for meat sellers in Athens, though. Ailanthus Tsironis, the president of Central Meat Market in Athens, says people are not buying meat because it’s too expensive, going after pasta or rice instead. Because of this, he says, the meat business is down by 80%.
If you walk around the streets of Athens, you might be surprised to find that the cafes and terraces are full of Greeks and tourists, drinking cappuccino freddos and enjoying the sun.
But if you go inside a store, the situation looks different.
Valia, 37, is looking anxious and sweaty standing inside her home decorations and handmade jewelry store in the center of Athens, 5 minutes away from Syntagma Square. She decided to turn off the air conditioner in order to save some money.
I wake up everyday feeling I have no purpose. My heart is always beating… And I can’t have sex. Who can have sex with all the anxiety?
“There’s no customers so it’s okay”, she says. Valia says this month she’ll have enough money to pay the store rent and her employee. She won’t have enough money for herself.
“At least the shop won’t go under”, she says. Before the referendum, Valia decided to offer a 25% discount so she could attract more people.
“Two minutes after I posted the sign, people came in. I think they saw the handwritten poster and thought I might be desperate”, she tells Mashable.
And Valia is kind of desperate. “I have to pay my suppliers and I can’t transfer money abroad. My uncle, who lives in Germany, is gonna do it for me”, she explains. “I wake up everyday feeling I have no purpose. My heart is always beating… And I can’t have sex. Who can have sex with all the anxiety?” she asks half-joking, looking frantic and exhausted.
She says 5 of her friends lost their jobs last week.
Valia sells her products mainly to Greek people and not tourists.
Some days ago, a couple spent 600 euros worth of jewelry and home decors in her store. “We’re gonna lose all the money anyway, we might as well spend it”, the couple told her.
This sort of “anxiety spending” has been happening in other sectors of the economy, including Greeks investing their money in Mac computers.
The major problem for Valia now is that greek people are only paying with credit cards. “I have no cash”, she says.
Like everyone else, Valia is limited to withdraw 60 euros a day from the ATM. But her boyfriend decided to take a lot of money before the capital controls limiting withdrawals were imposed last week.
“We look like old people hiding money around the house”, she says, laughing. “I’m sure we’re gonna forget where we hid all the money”.
Angelos Agrafiotis, 49, is a security consultant who works in the “risk management, guards, guns, abductions and terrorism business”.
He says he has been advising a lot of worried customers like Valia about safely hiding money at home. Because of this, he says his alarm system business grew by 40% since last week. But Agrafiotis, who employs 250 people, says he won’t be able to pay all the salaries this month. “I’ll pay 50%”, he tells Mashable.
This security consultant is not optimistic about the next few weeks.
“They say the banks will open on Monday but I don’t believe it. I’m sure the capital controls are gonna go on for years,” he says.
Agrafiotis seems to know a lot about the situation in Greece. He thinks the supermarkets will have enough food for the next month, tells us about the chaotic scenario in hospitals, where there aren’t “enough doctors”, and explains that there’s no money to repair ambulances that are in a very bad state.
“If banks don’t open, we wait for a miracle”, he says, adding that none of this chaos is new. “Greece has been living in auto-pilot for the last five years”, he says.
In Ermou street, a famous shopping avenue that before the crisis was the tenth most expensive street in the world, Apostles Damkalis, 40, a motorcycle paramedic, waits close to a group of five patrol police. Damkalis confirms what Agrafiotis told Mashable about ambulances.
“There are only 65 or 70 ambulances for 5 million people in Athens. Many ambulances are out of order and the Government can’t afford to replace the parts”, he says.
According to Damkalis, most ambulances were bought in 2004 and have traveled over 700 000 km. Like Agrafiotis, Damkalis says the situation has been like this for the last 5 years, but has gotten worse in the last week.
“The problem now is that hospitals can’t accept all the patients because they can’t pay suppliers for the necessary equipment like medicines or syringes”, he says.
“The paramedics and the medical people, we’re all doing our best”, Damkalis tells Mashable, adding that he and his colleagues sometimes pay for oil from their own salary. When we ask him if he’ll be paid this month, he laughs. “I don’t know. Ask me again tomorrow.” .