I am in Athens, a wide-eyed tourist until my EMBA International Emerging Markets Global Study Tour kicks in tomorrow evening. So far I know the whereabouts of only one of my three dozen colleagues, and she’s asleep, so I spent the day meandering the city on my own.
First, the fun: Greece is visually stunning. The ruins and archaeology are awesome, in the classic sense of the word, and staring at the Acropolis from below is a thrilling experience. I had a nice lunch, spanakopita and all, and I like my hotel for the night, the Grecotel Athens Plaza. Tomorrow the class checks into the Grand Bretagne, which appears to be Athens’ equivalent of the Plaza in New York City.
When packing, I opted for comfortable-American gear instead of mesh-in European attire, figuring I’d be traveling in packs of 30ish Yanks most of the time, so why not wear my jeans and Nikes instead of khakis and Campers?
Here’s why: I am a mark.
In four hours of strolling around Athens, I was approached no less than three times by opportunistic locals. First up was a chatty middle-aged man proud of his English, and his son goes to school in Texas, and why don’t you come see the car, jingle jingle, complete with following me halfway down the street when I declined and turned away. Next came the homeless man who nearly walked into me and tapped my shoulder as I went by, followed not long after by a trio of youngish women–nearly girls–the middle one of whom held her leering eye contact and talked Greek as I walked past. Not to mention our cabbie from the airport, a friendly and responsible man who drove us to our hotel without issue, then demanded a 25-euro fee when the meter read 10.63, to cover “toll, and tip, and you know.” And the FUCK BUSH graffiti on side streets (not that I blame them). And the yes-we’ll-help-you-but-notice-our-indignation tones of voice of most of the retailers I encountered, from the newsstand staff to the spanakopita woman.
Within 24 hours I will be reunited with my class, and I expect things to go more smoothly once we’re working as a group. For now, though, I feel like quite the Ugly American.
(P.S. Email and phone contact will be spotty until October 21. Have a great week.)