Eurozone in Trouble
With the largest public debt and one of the largest budget deficits in the EU, since 2009 Greece has been at the epicenter of global finance’s attention. Today, being part of the EU, and of the Eurozone in particular, is proving more crucial for the future of the country than ever before. The good news is that, in May 2010, Eurozone countries agreed on a multi-billion-dollar aid package to help Greece fight its crippling debt and deficit burden.
Realizing that the fates of Greece and the rest of the Eurozone countries are closely intertwined, this much-needed support has also seen an EU task force arrive in Athens, with the aim of helping Greece overhaul its tax system, reduce its bloated public sector bureaucracy, and adhere to the austerity conditions of its bailout deal.
The EU is not alone in its rescue efforts; joined by the IMF and the ECB, they now form the so-called troika of foreign lenders. On a daily basis Greeks monitor the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF officials molding their fate more closely than their traditional future-revealing coffee grinds. In turn, global markets anxiously eye the small Mediterranean country, extrapolating from each movement there volumes regarding their fears of contagion and risks to the euro.
Since 2009 an increasingly stringent set of cuts and taxes have been implemented by the ruling Greek socialist government, which came to power after a surprise early election vowing to resolve the ever-deepening economic crisis and uneasy relationships with its neighbors. Socialist PASOK party head George Papandreou currently faces a behemoth task. With some delays in the implementation of measures and a level of social resistance not to be ignored—as we went to press in Fall 2011 riots had once again broken out in Athens—things might take a turn for the worse before they get better. The fact remains that Greece faces a long way to economic recovery, even with the help of its Eurozone partners.
Refined Greek Tastes That Travel
Around long enough to be more than a trend… Shoppers will delight at the boom in elegantly packaged and increasingly eco-friendly Greek foodstuffs, wine, and cosmetics—and even furniture and fashion. Happily, many of these can be found not only at Greek supermarkets, pharmacies, and airport duty-free shops—but also, increasingly, in the United States as well. It may be a tradition with ancient roots (literally) but olive oil and olive products—staples of the Mediterranean diet—are being bottled by select estates throughout the country in gift packaging, with organic or specially flavored products making their way into homes around the world.
Pure olive-oil soap remains a firm favorite. In addition, regional cooperatives and family-run businesses alike have excelled in recent years in sweet and savory baked goods to die for, using olive oil as a key ingredient while updating Grandma's recipes.
Greek wine has made nothing short of a renaissance in the 1990s, and, according to some experts, the crisis will weed out those who just rode on the fad—establishing those with staying power—be it from Santorini, the Peloponnese’s Nemea, or northern Greece. Several cosmetics companies have also made a name for themselves worldwide—with products drawing from Greece’s abundant botanical offerings (mastic gum–infused skin-care lines are absolutely blissful). Though harder to lug around on your flight, at least one ecologically and socially minded home furnishing company, Xanthi-based Coco-Mat, has made a name for itself with ecological mattresses in recent years, while the Greek ceramics trade is undergoing a big revival, with hand-painted salad bowls being coveted by design aficionados.
Greek fashion designers such as Angelos Bratis and Hara Lebessi are making a name for themselves internationally, while funky or more classical-style jewelry made in Greece is sold all over the world.
Word-of-mouth, innovative ideas, and tasteful branding (think neutral hues, straw ribbons, and pure white) make these Hellenic luxury exports increasingly necessary for people around the world—which is great news for a Greece in economic crisis.
You don't have to be a sociologist to note some pretty stellar qualities of the Greek character. For one thing, even amidst these times of crisis, Greeks are warm-hearted, outgoing, assertive, and generous, even to the tourists who besiege them—they will often offer a plate of cookies or a bottle of home-brewed raki, just to establish a level of comfort.
If you are late catching the boat from the island and can't find a taxi, they will willingly drive you to the port and refuse any mention of the word "tip."
They are family-oriented, to say the least—it's still common for men and women to live with their parents until they marry.
Greek men might swagger around in what outwardly can seem to be a male-dominated society, but women run the home, often take a partnership role in family businesses, and—now that the Greek birthrate is one of the lowest in the EU, freeing women to pursue careers—are an increasing presence in the white-collar workplace.
As for children, Greeks spoil them rotten: among other privileges, kids can wander freely around restaurants, play safely in many squares, and stay up late (it's not unusual to see a family enjoying a round of ice cream around midnight).
Real Estate Opportunities
It's a good thing Greeks are optimistic by nature, as the economic news is not particularly sunny. However, even in times of economic fragility, there are still business opportunities for the taking.
It wasn't too long ago that a Greek village was, well, Greek. If there were any outsiders, they were transplants from the other side of the island.
But now that EU membership has made it easier for residents of other countries to buy property in Greece, properties that have been in Greek families for generations are suddenly vacation getaways for Klaus and Gudrun and Colin and Priscilla.
It's common to hear grumbling that the foreigners are snapping up property that's the birthright of Greeks, but no one seems to be complaining about the new influx of cash the newcomers are pouring into local economies or even the rejuvenation of dying villages that had been fatally hurt by the massive urbanization wave of the past 50 years.
And what’s best for prospective buyers, more than ever before, is that right now the price is right. With real estate selling and rent prices falling in Greece at the moment, this is the time to buy!
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