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Is Greece Safe for Tourists?

Athens is probably still the safest city in Europe even though it may not be as safe as it was when it was BY FAR the safest city in Europe

Welcome to Athens GraffitiEvery year something happens in the world that ignites public opinion and causes a reaction in Greece. One year it was Kosovo and another year the war in Afganistan. Then it was Iraq and then the economic crisis and the demonstrations against austerity. And every year the Greek media is able to find some idiot burning an American flag while a dozen of his buddies cheer him on and wave at the cameras. Then they sell the shot to CNN which broadcasts it all over America and the world under the subject of 'Anti-Americanism in Greece '. Some years the Greek communists will have their marches against globalization, American intervention, the occupation of Cyprus or whatever war is happening. These marches are joined by a dozen or so 'anarchists', who are usually people with no political ideology, (they just like to burn and break things), who use it as an excuse to run wild and burn cars and the shops of their fellow Athenians and battle the police, which they see as a kind of sport. Once again the Greek media films the carnage and sells it to CNN as 'anti-American riots'. Then I get dozens of e-mails from Americans planning to go to Greece who are concerned about their safety.

Athens GraffitiThe fact is that the majority of Greeks may be against some of our policies and at certain times in our history have not particularly liked our government and they are certainly not alone in this regard. But the Greeks also know that there is a difference between individual Americans and the policies of the US government that they may dislike. Not only do they not bother Americans but they treat them with courtesy and hospitality which is their nature. That does not mean you won't get into a discussion that may evoke some passion. A Greek would love to have a conversation with an American and try to make him understand what he believes is wrong with America. But he is not going to pull out a club and beat you over the head until you agree.

Even if you are recognized on the street as an American, (which is increasingly difficult since almost everyone in the world looks and dresses the same now), chances are slim that someone will bother you about America's role in the world and in the rare cases that someone does he is not looking for confrontation but agreement or at least an interesting discussion.

Greeks like to argue politics and some Greeks overreact in an improper and sometimes offending manner when it comes to political matters. But the majority of Greeks do make the effort to understand all sides.

The Greeks are good people. You have to realize that for all the graffiti and rhetoric, the Greeks and the Americans are very close. How can they not be? Nearly every Greek is related to or knows someone living in America. Many Greeks are American citizens that have returned to the birthplace or the home of their ancestors. There are thousands of Americans living happily in Greece. There are American TV shows, American movies and the Greeks have embraced western society as has all of Europe. There is even a McDonalds in Syntagma Square and a Wendy's on the next block.

Going to Greece even during the harshest period of upheaval and conflict in the world is still a vacation. The Greeks will always treat Americans or any nationality as guests, especially those Greeks whose livelihood depends upon these visitors. Remember that Greece's number one industry is tourism. To target Americans or tourists is economic suicide and even the most hardened Greek radical knows that because even he loves Greece. (Some might say especially him)

Demonstrations and Strikes

Syntagma Dec 2008 DemonstrationAs for the demonstrations which seem to be on TV every other week, they usually last a couple hours and take place in Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament building, and so are easily avoided. When they are over everyone goes home to watch themselves on TV or Youtube, the city cleans up the square and the cafes fill up and life goes on as normal.

Strikes are a nuisance and if they take you by surprise can mess up your plans. But those people who book with a reliable Greek travel agency, barely know there is one going on since they are announced at least a week in advance and the agency will arrange the itinerary in a way so that their clients won't be affected by a strike or if they are, their needs are taken care of. If you have a flight that arrives in Athens on the day of a general strike you will probably get to spend the night somewhere else. If you arrive the day after a general strike you won't even know there was one. You can even set up your trip so that you don't stay in Athens, either going right to the port from the airport or getting a connecting flight to an island, or staying on the coast outside of Athens for example in Fantasy Travel's Far from the Maddening Crowd. Strikes, demonstrations, slowdowns and other disruptive tools can be a nuisance and cause us to change our plans. But that does not have to be a bad thing and it may not be worth throwing out the baby with the bathwater and canceling a holiday.

But this is just talking about Athens. There is nowhere safer in the world than a Greek island, regardless of what is going on elsewhere. My American friends who happened to be in the Cyclades during and after the events of September 11th told me that the worst part was that they felt they should be in America going through the angst and fear that we all went through instead of being on a beach and in tavernas talking about the tragic events as if they happened in the latest Steven Spielberg movie. The islands are so removed from our reality that they render these tragic events as irrelevant to the present moment, just food for philosophical conversation or far-away events whose aftermath we will deal with when we eventually get home.

So if you want to know my opinion if Greece is safe for Americans I say yes it is. If world events are making everything seem insecure then there is an island for you. And if things get really bad just buy a one-way ticket.

Need more reassurance? Questions about Greece?
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