THE PRICE OF COFFEE IN ATHENS

It would take a certain hardness of the soul not to be impressed by Athens. Seriously, you should go. The weather is great in autumn or spring and the atmosphere is stunning. Athenians are easy-going, helpful and friendly. The public transport network is excellent. Seemingly around every corner, in the most unexpected places, reminders of Athens’s ancient past blend with the modern. A train track runs alongside the agora. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is surrounded by busy roads. Through the Arch of Hadrian, you can see over a road, down a tourist street all the way to the acropolis, which dwarfs everything.

And then there’s the coffee shops. They’re everywhere. Hundreds of them. Some busier than others, but none of them empty. Coffee’s expensive in Athens, and rarely less than three euros for a cappuccino. There are a few chains that undercut the average price, but in general, coffee’s expensive. Yet people pay the cost and lap it up.

The average salary in Greece is eight hundred euros. Imagine earning eight hundred euros after tax (if you have an average wage). If you buy one frothy coffee every day for a month, you’re spending over eleven per cent of your disposable income. Then there’s rent, commuting, food, all the usual costs. So why do Athenians pay such exorbitant prices for as basic a luxury as coffee?

Walking around the touristy areas of Acropolis and Plaka, you see many souvenir shops. They sell plaster cast models of the acropolis, postcards, replica hoplite helmets and chess sets with Ancient figures. Some of them also sell T-shirts printed with the words “Fuck the Crisis.”

And therein lies the answer. Athenians can’t trust their banks or their government to look after their money because their assets might be frozen. The economic downturn for the rest of the world is a crisis in Greece, and it will be for many years. There is no prospect of saving for the future. So what else is there to do but drink coffee and stay calm? And in Athens, the coffee is good. If you lived there, you’d want to drink it too. If you go, try the iced coffee the Athenians like so much.

You should go to Athens. The coffee’s expensive, but it’s a wonderful city. You’ll have a great time, you’ll meet charming people and you’ll help the Greek economy. Seeing the ancient sites will enrich your soul. And what’s a delicious three euro coffee against some serious soul enrichment?

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