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09 July 2015

La drôle de guerre economique - the Phoney Economical War

Some quiet days in Greece under capital controls

We are living in strange times. The news about this country boils up all around this world. A total breakdown is imminent every one or two days. Or some kind of solution. Most of the time it's just another postponement, for another day or two. So, how is life right now in Greece? I think it resembles the phoney war.

Yesterday I went to town to buy some stuff and see some friends. I passed by a furniture shop. There weren't any other customers, but then this is a small shop, so that's quite normal. The owner wasn't falling all over himself to have a customer or sell something, he didn't offer me any special prices or the like. On the other hand, he basically said: "Whatever I have is in the shop right now, to order something will mean we have to pay up front, and there will be a long delay."

In some other shop it was the same story: "We can order it, but it's a bit complicated."

I then went on to visit my friend in his bike shop. He was out paying some bills, and I knew this would take some time. He would either be at the post office or do the payment at an ATM, because, you know, banks are closed due to capital controls. Both options would involve some waiting time.

So I went on to have a milkshake at my favorite cafe and pastry shop "Aktaion". Normally in July, this would be quite busy, but it was just the waiter sitting there. I chatted a bit with him, and of course he wasn't delighted by the situation. To put it a bit ironic, he is the worst example of the "lazy Greek": When the tourist season is on, he works 7 days a week. From morning till mid-afternoon - I would guess probably 10 hours. As a waiter, he is very attentive and speedy. He doesn't have much work in winter, but on a tourist island, that is to be expected, you have to earn in summer to survive the winter.

Why is the cafe so quiet? In fact, the tourists are here. There are a few cancellations, but not many. And soon after I had gotten my delicious sugar bomb, they arrived to occupy some tables. But the ones missing are the Greek customers. When the capital constrols restrict you to 60 Euros per day, going out for coffee is an easy candidate to cut something. In the super market you can pay with your bank card, while in the cafe you want the cash. It takes no genius to see that this is a brake to the economy.

Even more a brake is the general feeling of "wait what will happen". Even when people have the money to do some investment, a lot of them will wait right now, to see around the next corner. "What will happen till Thurday, when they say xy should happen?" "Let's wait till Monday, to see what goes down on the weekend." It's always another few days off. People remain calm. There is no panic.

We are in an economic war. But right now it resembles the "phoney war", before the Germans moved into France. As the French put it "la drôle de guerre". A lot of diplomatic discussions are held, a lot of back and forth. Some shots are exchanged, some fortresses are probed. A Maginot line of democracy is set up, but nobody knows if it will hold. A few people are dying, already, unfortunate to be poor and sick, or unfortunate to be refugees. The capital controls are the declaration of war, the blocking of ports and throwing up of siege lines by the ECB. But will the full war break out? Are we to be slaughtered soon?

There are positive stories too: My friend in the bike shop had ordered some stuff from his supplier. At first they told him: "Don't take it personal, but we now need the money up front." But when he called them two days later to extend the order with some more stuff, they said: "Your box is already on the way." In two days they had reversed their policy, for their dealers who they never had payment problems with them, and who never extended their line of credit, they will now continue as normal.

What I ask myself mostly is, how can we get from this phoney war straight to the London conference of 1953. Preferably without killing anybody and without putting this continent on fire in between.

Posted by betabug at 18:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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