Are you going to Greece this summer? A guide to respectful tourism

Opinion by MelinaPiperis

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you’ve officially completed another year of high school! After nine months of early mornings and endless assignments, it’s time to relax and unwind. What better way is there to celebrate the end of a school year than a change of scenery? Book your tickets and pack your suitcase, it’s time to get away!

I first visited Greece when I was 5 years old, and have spent almost every summer there since. As the granddaughter of four immigrants and inheritor of their purely Greek bloodline (yes, I have the DNA test to prove it), annual trips to our πατρίδα (homeland) became routine. Every summer I was dazzled by the Mediterranean sun glimmering on the Aegean Sea. I was captivated by ancient ruins and churches hanging on the edge of cliffs, but at times found myself feeling shy and reserved. Visiting this land, the home of my ancestors, felt intimately familiar. But whether I was with relatives or at a beachside cafe, I was forced to speak Greek.  Not a word of English was acceptable. 

That was Greece over a decade ago. I can’t say the same for Greece now. 

Today, while walking down Syntagma Square in Athens, you’ll find a Starbucks on your right and a McDonald’s on your left. As you stroll along the boutiques in Πλάκα, you’ll pass an H&M and American Eagle. At local tavernas where I try to practice my conversational Greek, waiters often respond in English — a phenomenon I never experienced until recently. Every summer when I return to my homeland, I hear less and less of my native tongue. And every summer I return, I see more and more tourists. 

The tourists are everywhere. They cram the narrow paths of Chora in Mykonos by day and stream into the clubs by night. They occupy every inch of the Santorini caldera and cover every grain of sand on Nammos beach (I almost saw Kendall Jenner here). The hotels of Athens are filled to capacity and by noon on any given day, the Parthenon is swarmed by visitors following placards held by tour guides. 

Don’t get me wrong, I want tourists to visit Greece. I want them to witness the spectacular landscape and experience the rich history, culture and beauty of Greece. But I don’t want them to overrun the place I call home. The increase of tourism in Greece, while benefiting the economy, challenges the preservation of Greek traditions and culture. In addition, it poses a serious threat to the natural environment. 

As a tourist in a foreign country, it is your responsibility to respect the land you are intruding upon. Don’t expect the locals to speak English. Instead, buy that pocket dictionary from Barnes & Noble. Read about Pericles and his vision of democracy before you visit the Parthenon. And if you wouldn’t mind, sign a petition for the Marbles to be returned from the British Museum. Learn about the Greek Revolution of 1821 and visit the Monastery of Agia Lavra. Don’t order that iced latte at Starbucks, instead try a metrio Elliniko kafe. 

The Greek landscape — while inarguably beautiful — is not merely a backdrop for your instagram. It is the manifestation of the Hellenic people’s history, values and soul. Respect the country, the traditions, and the people of the countries you visit. If you get to know the locals,  you will soon discover the true meaning of Greek φιλοξενία (hospitality) that will make you long for your next excursion to the Greek isles. Who knows, maybe I’ll be around on your next visit. Let me know and I’d be glad to show you around my second home.

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