Sunday, March 25, 2012

It’s only fair. . . 10 tips for guests

I ripped pretty hard on villa owners. To be fair, it's now the guests' turn. . .

1. Toilets. Yeah, I know, if you’ve been following this blog you’d almost think I had a thing for toilets. Not really, but they seem so essential for comfortable travel, I have to comment on toilet etiquette. In Greece, toilets operate differently than they do in North America and much of the rest of the world. This always causes some consternation among visitors. Read my lips: the only thing that goes down the loo is the stuff that comes out of your body. No paper. No plastics. Nuthin’. This is not some weird cultural affectation - there are practical reasons. (1)The Greek plumbing pipes are, for reasons that escape me, engineered too narrow to take semi solids like paper. (2)The S curves are engineered too tightly to allow stuff to be easily flushed away and (3) Their septic systems didn’t plan on so many people using it. Trust me – you want to get used to putting your paper in the little bin by the toilet like everyone else. I can’t tell you how unpleasant it will be to be standing ankle deep in your own waste whilst explaining how this happened to the old Greek lady who owns the place. Trust me. Adapt.

2. Towels. Greek studios or villas come with crisp clean white towels and sheets, but no face clothes. If you need one, bring one from home. You might also want to bring your own beach towel or mat, although you can buy them here easily and more cheaply than at home. Don’t be a slob. Do you really use a towel only once at home? This is a country of limited water resources, especially in high season. Be thoughtful.

3. EOT. This is the Greek tourist authority that governs legal rental properties. They have arcane rules, which is why you might not find any salt and pepper left behind by the last guests. Food safety and all that. Licenced places have a little blue EOT plaque on their building. This is not to say the other places are bad... just flying below the tax radar.

4. Electricity. Bring your own plugs and converter from home if you are bringing your own hair dryers and such. (These days, most villas and studios have hair dryers, by the way). Your computer, phone, iPod, battery chargers and other supermodern gizmos generally have a built in converter and therefore you only need the plug – but check to make sure so you don’t fry your gadget or the villa.

5. Environment. The Greeks pay only a token nod to environmental issues, although things are getting better. Facilities for recycling are not common on the islands and, sadly, you will see plastic bottles and crap on the beaches and gorgeous countryside. Doesn’t mean you have to add to the mess. Conserve water. Use electricity in moderation (do you really need to leave the lights on all day while you’re at the beach?). And dispose of your waste sensibly.

6. Cats, rats and unicorns. You will see many, many stray cats

and dogs on the islands. Some are in better shape than others. Many of these animals are homeless, but sort of taken care of by the villagers when possible. The feral cats serve a purpose that we don’t need to talk about in polite company. Most islands have an animal welfare organization that rescues animals and campaigns for neutering. Do something good and make a donation please.

7. Road safety. The Greeks have, bar none, the worst

driving safety record in the EU. If you’re a pedestrian, don’t wander around in a daze. If you are driving, keep well over to the shoulder of the road (double do-not-pass lines mean nothing here) and let other drivers by. Parking is a bloodsport. Good luck.

8. Manners. Mind your manners please, you’re a guest in this country. Leave your everything-is-better-at-home arrogance at the airport. It’s not better, it’s different. Why in the world did you want to travel if you think that way? Be respectful of the local customs. Be nice to your landlady. Clean up after yourself. Don’t be a slob.

9. Money. Always have small bills. The ATMs spit out 50 Euro notes, but try to break them down in places where they handle a lot of money. Your landlady won’t have small bills. Negotiate your rent in advance and, yes, rent is still negotiable on the spot. If you book on-line however, the price is pretty much set especially in high season.

10. Enjoy. Savour. Have fun. Appreciate. Delight. Keep your wonder. Be grateful.

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