Athens Portraits [5]: Touristas Gormless

more than a year ago
There’s a certain kind of visitor to Greece that seems to be under the impression that a brain is not essential for travel. There’s no mistaking them as they mill around the shops in Plaka or the slopes of the Acropolis. Often found in flocks, they are clearly distinguishable from the native species due to the bright scarlet markings on the head shoulders and arms. They seek out pools of blazing sunlight while the residents hide in the shade, and (when in large packs) have a distinctive braying cry that resembles that of a pack of stranded sealions. Some sub-species also carry multiple cans of luke-warm beer.
Their scientific name is Touristas Gormless, and though there are many sub-species, there is one characteristic they all share. For some reason that remains a mystery to science, they are totally clueless.
In their native habitat, they may be highly accomplished businessmen, educators, professionals or self-made men (and women). But once they set foot on Greek soil, a mystifying transformation takes place. The eyes glaze over as they switch from “real life rat-race” to “holiday stand-by” mode. Their plumage changes from sombre neutrals to brightly coloured shorts, vests and (in extreme cases) straps of fabric that sadly leave little to the imagination. Footwear varies from sandals with socks to fragile strappy high-heels that snap easier than a dry twig in the Attica sun.
What experts believe is behind this strange metamorphosis is the effects of anticipation, fuelled by images from the media in their homeland that depict Greece as a Land That Time Forgot - a place populated by charming but slightly inferior locals, where everyone spends the afternoon on the beach or sipping ouzo at a seaside bar, and transport still relies largely on donkeys and carts.
Hence their bemusement when they arrive at the modern International Airport. More shocks await as they reach the city centre to see thousands of new cars whizzing around the streets, and a network of clean Underground stations to get them around. Disappointment often follows with the realisation that there is no beach next to the Acropolis and there are no sunbeds for hire in Syntagma Square.
They’ve heard all the warnings about the dangers of the sun, and obey the instructions religiously in their natural habitat. But on foreign soil, it is all forgotten as they believe that “drink plenty of water” equates to “have a cup of coffee followed by a couple of lagers”. And while some start off their fortnight slapping on Factor 60, after a couple of days many are down to Factor 2 or even straight Baby Oil and are proudly showing off their “suntan” while the locals wince at the sight of their raw, red shoulders and rapidly peeling nose.
Normal common sense, like keeping an eye on their wallets or not letting their young play in the middle of the street, go out of the window once in Greece.  But if anything goes wrong, like sunstroke, theft or an accident, they rant and rave about “the bloody Greeks” and swear that they will never set foot in the country again (well, not til next year’s bargain break, anyway).


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