KOS, GREECE – In spite of the reputation for exceptional hospitality in Greece in general and on the islands in particular, there has still always been a suspicion of foreigners. Kos is an island where within recent memory the people in the next village were called xenoi, foreigners, and even now there is a residual suspicion.
Each town, each village, and even each neighborhood within the town or village, has its own stereotypes, strengths and weaknesses, undoubtedly true on some basic level, like the daily horoscopes that seem to apply to everyone without ever saying anything too specific. Kos is also the island, according to local mythology where Hercules and his men stopped on their way back from some journey and were so badly received they fled with Hercules disguised as a woman. So when the English tourists used to crowd the island, filling up the bars that lined the beachfront as far as the eye could see, and going crazy because that was how the town was advertised in Britain, there were complaints.
The locals wanted a better class of tourist, and now that the all-inclusive hotels have sprung up everywhere and changed the character of tourism on the island, there are still complaints. Many of the bars and tourist shops have shut down. A few of the streets that were once crowded with tourists are dark and empty except for the occasional straggler and the locals who happen to stroll through.
The buses pull in regularly and dump out the tourists from the all-inclusives. They stroll through the main streets and back again to be whisked away by bus from the “real” town at the appointed time. If on any given evening you see one tourist heading back to the bus carrying a small shopping bag, it’s a miracle. If you see two people with shopping bags, it’s cause for celebration. The tourists, flashing color-coded bracelets like the ones hospital patients wear, have come to expect free drinks wherever they go, they think it’s all included in the package price, but unfortunately most of the small local businesses are not part of the package, they have to sell things in order to keep their business open.
When you visit Greece, make sure to drop by at least one of these all-inclusive resorts. You’ll be impressed by the attention to detail in the design and the top quality service, the all-you-can-eat buffets, the swimming pools, the programs for kids, and above all the affordable price. For those who love a bargain, it is hard not to resist these wonderful hotels, especially for those on a budget, young families, and those with a short vacation time. Is it too much to ask that the tourists expand their horizons a little and actually visit the local community, maybe spend a few euros in the town, and not just stare at the people trying to make ends meet in a place where they work only about six months out of the year?
You might find fabulous bargains in the town as well, where a certain store has great shoes on sale, made in Greece, and for about a fifth of the price you would pay in the United States. The tourists are flocking to the island, but it’s a different kind of tourist and the locals haven’t gotten used to them yet. Signs and menus that were once in English and occasionally in German, now appear in Italian, Russian, and Polish as well. You’re more likely to see a tattooed Englishman pushing a baby stroller rather than drinking a beer in the street.
The phrase that kept coming to mind was “you can’t step in the same river twice” and every time I’ve visited Greece, it holds true. Only the stunningly blue Aegean Sea is constant, always beautiful, always calling us back to its crystal clear depths.