Monday, 8 October 2007

A fistful of money

I sometimes ask myself how it must have been when the Greeks had to change their Drachmas into Euros (the Greeks call them Evros). One Drachma is about 0.193 eurocents. To make it easier: 500 Drachmas is about 1.46 Euros. You're already having problems calculating this?

The word Drachma comes from the ancient Greek 'dratto', which means 'to take'. Around 1,100 BC a Drachma meant a fistful of money, which was at that time 6 metal sticks. People who do remember the modern Drachma know that at that time a coffee would cost 150 Drachma or a meal about 1500 Drachma. Anyway, everything was a big number of Drachmas.

When the Euro came the Greeks had to go back to very small numbers. Seldom will you see something that costs 1 Euro. Maybe the price of a bottle of water will be less than 1 Euro (but it depends on where you buy it). Amounts in eurocents are only found in the supermarkets, where they have checkouts to do the calculation.

Well, in Holland, about 2 Guilders (2.20 to be exact) were the same as 1 Euro. That's about half and it wasn't that difficult to calculate Guilders into Euros. Where you paid 1 Guilder, nowadays you pay 1 Euro. That's very sad, but pretty convenient. In Greece however they got lost in the numbers. They'd prefer to ask 150 Euros for a coffee, but even they can see that 150 Euros is too much. 1.50 is a very small amount, so they'll charge you 3.50...

Whenever you buy on the street, or in restaurants, the amounts are in whole Euros. All prices rounded up, of course. So you buy a kilo of beans for 5 Euros and a kilo of apples for 2 Euros. No, the Greeks haven't changed: everything goes by a fistful. Whereas it used to be cheap to buy in the street, nowadays you will find better prices in the supermarkets.

A cab driver in Athens was probably thinking of fistfuls of money. For a journey of 5 kilometres he charged his German customers 978.88 Euros! So beware of Athenian cab drivers. The above mentioned cab driver was arrested.

Here on the island of Lesvos people also keep dreaming of the big numbers of Drachmas. When you ask an old Greek how much a piece of land will cost, he'll answer you with a dizzying amount of millions. But that will be Drachmas. The old people still have problems with recalculating. The young Greeks make a profit from it. In Molyvos I know more than one plot of land that costs over a million. But that's in Euros.

Real estate's a funny business here on the island. In the north there are only a few real estate agents, but everything is for sale. In Molyvos a lot of restaurants are for sale. But next year they'll all be open again. They ask such huge amounts of money that only a fool would pay it.

There are also many houses for sale here in Molyvos. Most of them cost more than a house in Amsterdam. And we're talking about old houses in a bad shape. Last week a friend of ours heard that the apartment that she rents is up for sale: 200,000 Euros for a sitting room, a bedroom, a kitchen, a lousy bathroom and two tiny balconies. For that money you could build yourself a huge mansion here on the island!

Some time ago we went looking at a house on the Gulf of Kalloni. We were received in the usual hospitable Greek way by the owner. We'd heard that the house was 200,000 Euros, a price that locals thought far too high. When we asked about the price, the owner confirmed that the house was 200,000 Euros and that the garden would be 50,000 Euros! Well, I thought, he dares. "But.." he added a bit later, " I don't really want to sell it, it's my children that do...".

And that's the way it goes here on the island. In fact they don't want to sell, only if there's an idiot that wants to give them the kind of money they'd win in the lotto, then certainly they'll take the money.

This craziness mostly concerns Molyvos and its surroundings. There they see the big money flying in along with the tourists. Elsewhere on the island, especially in the less well-known villages, you can still find houses for some ten of thousands of Euros.

I was surprised to see on the internet that the hotel Arion was also for sale. Well, everybody knows it's for sale, but everybody also well knows that whoever buys it will have to completely rebuild the place. On the internet there were pictures of the hotel from the eighties, when the pool was filled with water and the buildings still new and prospering. The poor buyer that fancies this hotel with restaurant, bars, a pool, everything in a prime location in Molyvos, will be disappointed. The hotel is now in ruins.

Without much fuss (well, there were some stormy days with grey Dutch skies, but no rain) we went from the summer into the 'small summer' and the island is still very dry. A lot of restaurants and shops are closing their doors to the handful of tourists still roaming through Molyvos.

Next year more pieces of land will be sold, where they will build houses. The Hotel Arion will be more in ruins and the restaurants for sale will probably reopen their doors. The same owners of restaurants, pensions and hotels will welcome you again, even if you heard through the grapevine that their businesses were for sale.

Angelo from restaurant Anatolie in Eftalou will also be there again. Although he has now closed his restaurant in order to demolish the illegal part of his building. This was forced upon him by his neighbours. One day Angelo says next year he is going to sell sandwiches, lately he is saying that he is going to bake cakes. But whatever Anatolie will look like next year, for sure you will always get an ouzo there for a few Euros.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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