With Greek ‘summer’ almost at an end, I thought I might destroy a few myths surrounding Greece, including the ‘lazy Greek’ syndrome and the apparent hopelessness of Greece.

I asked a group of Germans if they felt that the stereotype of Greek workers was true. After telling me that they see the tavernas full and many people at the barakia, they actually paused and told me that they also see “many Greeks working all day and into the night…”.

When I asked Giannis Pitsoulis, the chef at the appetising Tropicana Restaurant (Molyvos, Lesvos), about the time he commences work in the morning, he told me it was around 9.00 am. When I asked him what time he would finish, he told me it would be around 3.00 or 4.00 pm, whereby he would go to the beach to relax and meet his friends. “Is that the end of your shift?” I enquired, to which Giannis explained he would return around 7.00 pm and stay until after midnight!

When I asked my cousin in Athens what time he commenced work on any given day, he told me it was a 2-3.00 pm start.

When I asked him what time he would finish, it would be around 2.00 am in the morning! My cousin oversees the busy Gazi College. Instead of giving you highlights of all night parties in Mykonos or the delights of Santorini, I want to give you some points about how the Greek people generally spend their summer. For you see, Germany and other parts of Europe have a perception of a Greece of lazy workers, people who would rather spend their time living it up. What they do not know or want to understand is that many Greek people, those who have been able to hold on to their jobs for a lot less money, are working as hard as ever. Germany gives their workers around six week’s holiday for summer, in Greece many will work throughout the period; and it gets really hot.

After 58 Greek island visits and endless weeks in Athens, I have obtained both an insight and a connection with many people on the ground. What never ceases to amaze me is the indomitable Greek spirit. For the last few years, I have had to watch friends and relatives lose jobs, living on a reduced income whilst Greek ‘independence’ is being debated in the halls of Brussels and Berlin.

Unlike many people in Australia, Greek people won’t usually stay home to play X-box or watch countless hours of reality TV, they will take advantage of the world around them. Their community centre and reality TV is the tavernitsa or the cafés. They always seem to want a human interaction rather than a multimedia platform to express themselves.

As the German tourists observed, “how can there be an economic crisis here when the people are still out?”. The answer is in the fact that life will go on.

Eating out remains affordable, though I was told people will eat less during the day as supermarkets in the big cities remain expensive. I was on the beautiful island of Kasos (population 900) and you would be forgiven for thinking that there was a crisis there for every item I came across on a menu or at a supermarket seemed to have its own value added tax! Easily one of the more expensive visits on my trip.

There was one store in Marousi, Athens, that had to shut its doors as it was wiped out of products. The reason was that whitegoods keep their value much longer, and as people are scared of using the banks they are shifting money from their mattresses to these products. Indeed, with sales in this area rising, I felt that fashion may have taken a hit, with many in the Flea Market of Athens quick to tell me that sales are down. One shop owner wanted to tell me that the introduction of shops by Chinese, Bangladeshi and other sub continent cultures has had an effect on Greek stores, ironically as they “are not paying their taxes!”.

I was impressed by a young fashion designer who was originally born in Australia. Samantha Sotos lives in the heart of Athens, and rather than let the crisis dictate how her business will survive ahe continues to make inroads with her brand. She told me that people in business are experiencing a tougher climate although they still continue to trade.

Samantha established her label before the crisis in 2008 and one wonders if she will ever be able to operate in a climate of prosperity. Another person who subscribes to the Greek work ethos, I find it interesting to hear that whilst she will take a small break over summer, she will not stop designing and producing for more than a few days.

Michael Midis, who was on holiday with his family, told me recently how unforgettable his trip was, from the donkeys walking through the village square at night to food that defies belief. His experience is one that is echoed countless times throughout summer. The hard work of Greek people helped people like myself and Michael to have an enjoyable, unforgettable Greek experience. What many people do not realise is that when the tourist season is over by October, many go back to the traditional way of life. That is perhaps tending to a farm, as Giannis does, or surviving with diminished trade in the quieter months of the year as others do.

On the island of Karpathos, which has a population of around 3,500, I met Despina, a Greek American who will work tirelessly all day and into the evening. I had eaten at her souvlatsidiko the night before. The following night I was returning to my hotel around midnight when I came across Despina and her parea. In the spirit of Greek hospitality, they forced me to sit down to enjoy an ouzo or two for the next few hours. It soon became apparent that this island and its people were defiant to the economic crisis; defiant by way of returning from the US, and others from Australia, to live and work on the island. This is a reversal of those who have had to leave Greece.

She told me that “this paradise of an island is my real home and I came back here with my family despite the crisis”.

Meanwhile, back in Athens, I attended a number of protests around the time Alexis Tsipras inexplicably asked for a YES/NO plebiscite on the latest bailout. Did many people know what was going on? I still haven’t figured it out either.

However, for a week or two as Greece teetered on the brink I witnessed up close the protests and the international media who were there in droves. Some of them friendly, some of them there to witness the last rites of Greece. I remember secretly attending a SYRIZA conference in Keramiko and was quickly ‘ratted’ out by a foreign journalist … I happened to be walking past in beach attire, stumbling upon the conference and quickly snuck in. When my cover was exposed by a ‘fellow’ journalist unimpressed that I had no accreditation, I was quickly surround by up to seven police and security personnel and forced to leave. As I had predicted from my impromptu foray to the conference, many of the SYRIZA representatives would split from the party.

I attended a NO solidarity event at Syntagma at the front of parliament. I was amazed that 10,000 people were in attendance, along with Greek street food vendors and market stalls. I interviewed an elderly protester who was hostile and angry with the Greek government. The moment I switched my recording device off his demeanour changed as if he was a long-lost uncle wanting to know how I was, and how my holiday was progressing! He made the point that Greece needs to be in the euro. As he and his group were shouting into my recorded device, they stopped to recite the national anthem. A unique and patriotic gesture. The YES protest held on the next day was similar in numbers and carnival like atmosphere.

I spent time with friends in regional beachside spots, taking advantage of what I had hoped would be quiet days and cheaper rates. I was not impressed that a Greek salad could cost €7 in some places, nor was I thrilled when my scooter broke down on a quiet mountain. All part of the 2015 adventure.

On the small island of Agistri, where I toured the four available beach spots, we met staff at a tavern overlooking the water at a secluded bay. Once their 10-hour shift finished, they made their way to one of two clubs. To show our age (late 30s), we finished up well before the sun rose, safe in the knowledge that our new-found friends were probably still having a quiet drink and would repeat their routine the next day. A routine many in Europe would struggle to cope with. Work, heat, pleasure, smiles. There is nothing wrong with going to work and then enjoying yourself afterward, unfortunately, many in Europe treat this as sign of laziness! Go figure.

One of my last evenings in Athens I went to a quiet beach at
Alimos with a few locals. One of the guys, Danny, was flying out that week to Israel to work for the emergency services there, whilst Mia Boufeas, an air hostess, has taken on work with an airline in Moldova. Both are bright and hardworking people who have to seek work outside of Greece. Mia, though, is typical of your hard-working Greek, doing her hours and more and when the opportunity arises, enjoying her spare time exploring the beauty that is Greek summer.

Contrast that to Marina Stamou who is seeking work in Athens. She told me that the crisis had been hard for young people like her as she seeks to find employment in a difficult climate. An intelligent person who would have better prospects if she lived in another country!

Greece has flirted with disaster and bankruptcy this year as Europe, especially Germany, has struggled to understand how to help the economy recover. This has not stopped the average Greek doing what they do best … working hard and making sure that life simply goes on.

* Billy Cotsis is the director of Draconian Decision of the German Drachma.