End-of-the-year reports indicate that the Greek economy is moving in the right direction. Poll figures, representing the view of the man on the street, reports from institutions such as the European Central Bank, representing the views of the experts, and lower rates for Greek government bonds, representing the views of the market, agree: Greece is changing course.
There are many variables which will determine whether the optimism is justified; a change in the global economy, Greek government miscalculations, unpredictable actions by Turkey – any of these could influence future progress. But the most important element for future economic prosperity is, in my view, the attitude and willingness of the Greek people to turn over a new leaf.
In this, my first column of 2020, I am cautiously optimistic; my optimism is not based on wishful thinking but on personal observations. I have accompanied seven groups of Hamline students to Greece to participate in study-abroad courses since 2002. Study abroad is a great way to introduce students to Greece, its people and history, but it was also, as I found out, a way for me to experience the country of my birth as a tourist would.
During my various educational trips I had the opportunity to deal with travel agents, tour guides, hotel employees, bus drivers, restaurant owners and staff, and public workers at the Ministry of Culture, archaeological sites, museums etc. The experience has been mostly positive.
It appears that the days when tour operators delivered a substandard product are gone. We received value for our money and the tour operators have been true professionals, willing to accommodate us, and often made last-minute changes as needed. The tour guides have been the highlight of our trips. Young, well-educated people, today’s Greek tour guides are the best advertisement the country has. Hotel employees have also been a great experience. They are mostly young people who understand the demands of the service industry. They do their jobs with competence and with a good attitude.
My classes have had many occasions to hire tour buses and the experience there was also good. Gone are the days when bus drivers were something tourists had to put up with and hope for the best. Today’s bus drivers are young people, hardworking, and willing to go the extra mile and deliver customer satisfaction.
One might expect private sector workers to be as described above but Greek public employees have a reputation for inefficiency, unwillingness to help, and even laziness. This has not been my experience. The employees at the Ministry of Culture go out of their way to help, on one occasion even expediting a document which was delayed through no fault of their own.
The same is true with employees at the country’s museums and archaeological sites. In my experience on educational courses composed of young people (mostly 18-22 years old) there is always one who forgets their student ID at the hotel (last time one left his back in the US); however, we were still able, through the understanding of the personnel, to secure the student entrance at the reduced rate to museums and others sites.
It seems the attitude of the younger generation of Greeks is changing for the better. This is a positive development given the fact that Greece needs to change and that the younger generation will have to lead the way. For that reason I choose to be optimistic about our country’s future.
John A. Mazis is a history professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.