RIP ME OFF, IF YOU DARE
Marianna of the Glaros Cafe calls it fishing, or at any rate she uses the verb psarevo, meaning ‘I fish’, to describe what is otherwise called hustling for customers. Here on Kythnos in the middle of an economic crisis and when Athenian tourists, usually the bulk of visitors to the island, are still restricted to 60 euros from the ATM per day, there is no mileage in being shy and restrained about seeking custom from those who have the ackers/ money/ dosh. I admire Marianna who is 50 years old immensely. She has about 40 items of English, most of them words like halloharyou, fresh fruit juice, want ice cubes, sit down please, Greek medium sweet coffee, cheese and tomato omelette, wifi password, and so on. With that frail armoury, she will stand by the harbour as the monied foreigners head from the yachts towards the supermarkets, and she will fish away despite all the odds. Her fishing is successful because it is infinitely persistent and she keeps on going when anyone else would give up. She will be politely refused or shyly and laboriously evaded 9 times (we’ll be back later, they smile with such sincerity, and of course they never are) but will make a killing on the 10th, and so as she has wisely and uniquely calculated, it is worth the effort. She has three regular assistants plus Chrisoula her sister working here, yet only Marianna will do this very practical revenue raising, alive to the fact they have to pay an extortionate rent of 900 euros a month, the winter ones included.
This morning she has 2 German families with teenage kids, hungrily knocking back massive omelettes, eggs and bacon, fresh orange juice complete with plastic umbrellas and orange slices, and filter coffees. She will rake in about 70 euros and good for her. It is no trade secret to point out that the Glaros menu prices (and this applies to all the other cafes, though not the restaurants) are different from those the regulars pay. In general the tourists pay a euro extra for every item, and it is not so much the foreigners are being exploited, as the regulars who are here 12 months of the year get rewarded for their loyalty. In any case, the Glaros is the cheapest kafeneion in the whole of Kythnos, and for that matter all Kythnos cafes are cheaper than gleefully rip off Mykonos, Rhodes, Corfu and all the rest, where it is always 4 euros for a coffee, plus you get thoughtfully charged for sitting down (yes, the All New Laterally Expanded Buttock Levy)and for the waiter’s expensive smile, and for an idiosyncratic knife and fork ‘manual cum digital implementary tax’ and the notorious plate and washing up and running out of Squezy ‘spherical crockery and citric cleanser surcharge’ while you’re at it.
That said, I have seen a few flagrant swindles here in the port in my time. Last year, three cafes down the way, a Belgian guy of maybe 45, of exemplary gentleness and friendliness, but with obviously nil Greek, ordered a meagre single Greek coffee, which ought to have been 1 and a half euros, 2 at the outside. The 40 year-old Greek waitress as opposed to a 20 year-old Albanian or Bulgarian counterpart, without a blush charged him 4 euros. You could guess that she was 2 euros short of 20 cigarettes, and suddenly saw a way of solving the problem painlessly. The Quaker-like Belgian smiled apologetically, as if to say you really ought to have ripped me off more you know, I am such a Walloonish dupe, paid up without complaint, and had likely just spent a week on Mykonos where they had rewarded his gentle manner by charging him 10 euros for a bottle of water. 2 years back, I myself was impudently set to be charged 4 euros, twice the going rate, for a cup of tea on a beach taverna near Loutra, even though I had ordered it in Greek. I lied and said I only had 2 euros and feigned walking away, and sure enough the local manageress, no Moldovan waitress skivvy, smirkingly consented that that was enough. In any case it isn’t just foreigners get skinned, though in these cases it is hard to work out where righteous indignation starts, and all-purpose paranoia takes over, and especially in these critical and nightmarish times for many Athenians. Only 3 months ago, a middle-aged woman from the capital, made herself extremely popular by going in every cafe in the port, and telling the whole world at the top of her voice, that Kythnos was full of thieves and rogues, and she had been stung and swindled at every turn, wherever she was fool enough to buy a coffee or a lemonade, and she was a bloody Greek up the same shit creek as they were, and dammit they didn’t give a bollocks as long as they wrenched every euro out of her. So much for the romance of the islands, she ranted, the true Greece, the home of eesikhia, of rustic serenity, and where everyone has hearts of gold as a result! She, for one, was never coming back to this bloody Mafia-run island, even if it was very handy for polluted, crazy Athens. And this of course, was pre credit control, meaning free of stringent ATM limits, when she was incandescently mouthing off, so God knows how bilious and apoplectic she’d have been in these present critical days.
There is also the matter of the genteel or possibly far too hypersensitive and truly counter-productive Kythnos temperament. Joanna up the way, also aged 50, has splendid cafe premises with a superb and massive balcony, and one of the finest views across the shimmering, sunlit bay. What’s more she has good English, as in her 20s she spent some time working in London and Brighton. But unlike Marianna she will not hustle, nor even politely approach groups of foreigners, declaring she thinks it beneath her, and is vulgar and embarrassing. So 10 French yachties will wander past, clearly starving for a massive breakfast, and Joanna is too proud to shout across, why don’t you come over here? in her flawless English accent. With a bit of luck doughty Marianna will bag them all outside the Glaros, then as like as not single-handed, will rustle up 10 omelettes and 10 fresh juices and 10 Cafe Gallikos. Joanna’s stony refusal to openly hustle, goes even further than that, and one is tempted to diagnose an actual resistance to enterprise and prosperity, or to put it in simple but incisive metaphor, she is all too prone to shoot herself in the foot, as a way of frustrating herself and staying always in the shadows, not to speak of in chronic debt. Seriously, what do you make of someone who has very good English, but has a menu chalked outside which is only in Greek? You cannot underestimate how much foreigners value the island cafes, where they offer the lingua franca of English, as barely 1 in a 100 tourists can be bothered to use a Greek phrasebook, much less memorise a few simple sentences.
Joanna doesn’t even have the excuse that she gets lots of Greek customers, whether Athens tourists or Kythniots, so the bills meanwhile are piling up to the sky. Her sumptuous place is regularly spurned on 2 counts, by the most stubborn and reactionary of the locals. For one, they say, she encourages far too many bloody Albanians, all gabbling away in that weirdly squawky tongue of theirs, so that it should be called the bloody Cafe Tirana. And for 2, and perhaps they have a point here, the place is crawling with far too many of Joanna’s bloody cats, some of whose feline backsides are allowed to rest upon the tables where you might decide to have your plate of mezzes with your evening ouzo.