I’m not a huge fan of cities at the best of times. I like meeting people but cities for me are way too crowded, so when I came to Athens I wasn’t looking forward to it. Sure, I was excited to see all the history, but I was adamant I’d be in and out in the space of a day or two.
After a day I’d already had two near misses. Obviously things you cannot prove and if anything you feel you are just being paranoid, but I’d felt two seperate people brush up beside my pocket only to be ‘thwarted’ by my zip pockets, which I had because unfortunately Europe’s reputation of being rife with common pickpockets is there for a reason…
I was ill yesterday, so I’d been hiding in my room all day catching up with book writing and blog posts. As I normally do when I’m sick in a foreign country I get dinner at an international fast food chain of some sort, because you know no matter which country you are in they have to adhere to the international health standards and the food will be safe to eat. So off I went to find a McDonalds.
When I ordered I got given some McDonalds vouchers. Obviously I wasn’t going to use them, but I thought I’d give them to the people at the hostel as they had been really good to me so they could either use it themselves or give it to guests for free to make the place look even friendlier. So I grabbed a seat and began slowly scoffing my meal. Shivering because I was ill counting the seconds until I could get back in my bed and wrap up.
Then this Greek kid sat next to me. He was no older than 7 years old and had a huge lipstick kiss on his cheek. He came up to me, smiled and said something softly in Greek at me. I thought he was someone’s kid and didn’t pay much attention to him other than a polite smile back. Then he said something else, so I looked behind me to the Greek teenage girl sitting the other side of me wondering if he was talking to her but I soon realised he was talking to me.
“Sorry, no Greek.” I smiled. So he held his hand out and said, “Please one euro.”
This irritated me, because in my opinion people who go around asking others for money are not genuinely homeless, they are chancers, and possibly even conmen. So I tried to not show my anger and said “No, sorry.” in a firm way.
Then as he left he used a slight of hand and swiftly took my voucher. I saw it out of the corner of my eye and thought to myself “Did he actually just do that?” and shouted “Hey…Hey!!!” at him before he ran off, snatching the voucher from him.
I was fuming by now, and had a few more chips before leaving. Then as I walked back home I almost felt proud of myself. My mind hasn’t been anywhere near as sharp in the last year or so which could be for a number of reasons; most likely either because I’ve lived in a non English speaking country for so long and don’t have the English sharpness anymore, or because I’m burnt out from writing so many books in such a short space of time. In all honesty over the last two years I’ve lost a lot of confidence and simply don’t feel intelligent any more, so it was nice to know my mental sharpness is still there somewhere. Point being I was so pleased with myself that my mind worked quick enough to spot a professional thief at work. Sure, it was only a McDonald’s voucher, but it wasn’t his to take.
When I walked back I saw a homeless man asleep on the street. It broke my heart and I slipped a couple of Euros into his cup. Most decent human beings want to help our fellow man when they are on hard times, but there are so many con artists out there who make more money than you doing it that it gets to a point where you can’t trust anyone, so most people are reluctant to give any charity, and that’s a real shame. I hope that the rest of Greece doesn’t leave a bitter taste in my mouth like Athens has. I’m hoping that it’s only because its a big city that it has thieves and cheats working there in droves, just like when you go to the markets in Italy…
And unfortunately that’s how I’ll remember Athens; not how cool the hostel was, not all the people I met there, not how cheap the place was considering it’s a vibrant city, but as a city of pickpockets. Most people I met in the hostels who had travelled all over the world and had very positive attitudes would still describe Athens as ‘pretty thievey’, which is a right shame, because it could be so much better. Get rid of the graffiti and the common thieves and you could have yourself an infinitely better city. The potential is there.