Greece’s tourism sector is working to correct the damage done to the country’s image during coverage of debt negotiations. At the same time, Germans – worried about how they are perceived in Greece – are staying away.
“What exactly are we supposed to be afraid of?” Froso Hatsiliadu asked while she served some freshly brewed German coffee. “We have the sun, the sea and good food. And we can survive.” Guests have a view of the sea from the balcony of her little bed-and-breakfast in an idyllic coastal town in northern Greece. She says she’s been largely untouched by the fallout from debt negotiations. “If you work in the tourism industry in Greece and have managed your money well, then you don’t really notice the crisis,” said the 50-year-old, who, in addition to running her own inn, also has 20 years of experience as a receptionist at a five-star hotel. Her husband runs a small restaurant, raises chickens and grows his own produce.
Hatsiliadu has had fewer and fewer German guests each year. Now, she mainly hosts Russian, Bulgarian, British and Turkish holidaymakers. Only a few Germans who’ve become friends of the family or who have an affinity for Greece have consistently returned in recent years.
“We’re really shocked by what the Germans have been writing about us,” said Hatsiliadu, who speaks fluent German. She lived with her parents in Germany until she was 8 and still has a love of the culture.
“Where do these stereotypes come from?” Hatsiliadu asked. “That we’re lazy and don’t pay our bills? Or that it’s not safe in our country? If I no longer have enough to eat, I know that my neighbor will always give me something. Can the Germans say the same thing about themselves?”
Hatsiliadu (second on right) manages to keep a full house, even if fewer Germans come
Hatsiliadu even read in a newspaper that Germans are now afraid of going to Greece. “Tell them, that not a single German has been stabbed in Greece,” she said firmly.
Playing with prejudice
This summer, the German Peter Walter visited Greece for the first time. His wife loves Greek food. “I came here with the firm idea that nothing would work here, that it would all be chaotic and people would be starving,” Walter said. He added that his German colleagues have an extremely negative image of Greece. “They think that no one really works here, that no one pays taxes and that all the people want from Germans is more money,” he said. But, having visited, he noticed that no one even takes a proper midday break. “There are barely any lines at the banks,” Walter said. “No one is complaining about the higher debt that they all now have to repay.” He shook his head with irritation at German prejudice against Greeks: “The only one in crisis here is me, because I can’t understand how we could trust the image that’s been built up in the German media, when really we know so little about these people.”
Harry Herrmann (right) has now made four trips to Greece – and ignored a lot of warnings to do so
Harry Herrmann is not at all surprised about the stereotypes being peddled by many German media outlets. The 55-year-old is visiting Greece for the fourth time. His first trip was in 2007, and even then he was warned against going by some relatives. But Herrmann ignored them and soon found out that German perceptions about Greece have little in common with reality. “This time, I was warned that there would only be emergency food rations and that all the hatred against Merkel and (Finance Minister Wolfgang) Schäuble would rub off on me,” he said. Herrmann said that just made him more determined than ever to go to Greece this year. “I know that none of these stereotypes are true,” he said.
Still, tourism sector experts say Greece has a tough road ahead. It will likely take years for the country to reverse the damage done to its image abroad through media coverage of debt negotiations.