Beauty and the Beast

Traveling isn’t always rainbows and butterflies and happiness around every corner. Sometimes, it’s hard and exhausting. And sometimes still, you run into some problems. So as promised, I’m writing about a negative experience I had while traveling through Greece this past summer. As you know by now, I spent 17 days last summer island hopping in Greece. It was beautiful. The architecture, the beaches, and the views were truly unmatched. But with the beauty, also came some ugly.

I’ve experienced over 20 countries throughout my travels now and I have truly met some incredible people. The people of Poland graciously welcomed me with open arms. The people of South Korea showed me what it meant to be genuinely hospitable. It saddens me to say that as warm as the weather was in Greece, the people were pretty cold.

Now, I don’t want to generalize or lump an entire country into one grouping. The folks at the bar in Crete were generous and the kind woman in Ios who owned a honey shop was attentive and welcoming. But I did have some negative run ins. We had a restaurant charge us for food we didn’t order and try to pass it off as a standard practice, our hotel told me they were calling a cab, only to make fun of me as I walked away (and they never did call the cab). That being said, my negative experiences can usually be chalked up to being an unwelcome American in a foreign country (although I did think they would welcome tourism money with the state of their economy…) and as such I don’t want them to be the focus here. The stories I want to tell here are those of my fellow travelers.

As you’ve heard me mention before, I utilized EF Ultimate Break (formally EF College Break) for my trip to Greece. One of the things I love most about EF is the diversity of the travel groups and the ability to meet new people from all over the country and all kinds of different backgrounds. This specific trip enabled me to meet many different people of many different ethnic backgrounds: Indian Trinidadian, French, and Mexican, just to name a few.

Over the first week or so, I had heard murmurings of negative experiences with locals regarding race, but it wasn’t until our 4th stop, the island of Ios, where it became a visible issue. Our first day in Ios, I came upon one of my fellow travelers who was visibly upset. Truthfully, I don’t know what was said to her by the Far Out Hotel staff; she wouldn’t repeat it, a decision I understood. She did say that she was ready to go home, even though we still had a week and two stops left. One of the girls comforting her did mention it was race based.

I bore firsthand witness to one such event during a night out in Mykonos a few days later. I went out to the center of town with four of my fellow travelers: one white female, one Indian female, one Cuban male, and one white male. As you can see from my images on here, I am also a white female. I mention the different ethnicities here only to give a better idea of what happened this night. Upon arrival to the Scandinavia Bar in Mykonos, our group walked up the stairs to the club entrance. The “bouncer,” an older Greek gentleman, gave our full group a look over before proceeding to tell us we would each need to purchase a drink in the downstairs portion in order to enter. This seemed odd as I had just watched a group of all white folks enter the upstairs area without a drink, but we moved back downstairs towards the bar anyway. Drinks acquired, we head back up the stairs.

Back in front of the older gentleman, I showed my drink. He grunted, stamped my hand, and let me through. He did the same for the second white female behind me. He did give the white male a bit of a hard time but stamped his hand and let him through as well. When it came time to let the last two members of our group in, we ran into a problem. He began arguing with them that they would need to go back downstairs and purchase a second drink in order to be let in. They explained that they were with us and we had only needed one drink. After a few rounds of back and forth arguing, he finally did let them in, but did not stamp their hand, a factor that would come into play a little later.

A little while into the evening, the last two let in went downstairs to use the bathroom and grab another drink (there was a bathroom and a bar upstairs but it was nearly impossible to get to). A decent amount of time goes by and I notice they haven’t returned so I head outside towards the stairs to see where they were. As I head outside I find them arguing with the bouncer…again. He was denying them entry because “they had not been in there before” and he “wasn’t letting anyone new in.” The problem? They had been in there before, for a long time. I told the bouncer that they were with me and had been all night. He looked at me and then looked at my hand and said that they weren’t with me because I had a stamp and they didn’t. I calmly explained to him that he had stamped me but not them but that they were in fact with me. He turned, looked directly at me, and sneered, “You’re lying, there is no way they are with you.” I then began arguing with the gentleman and finally he lets them in but truthfully we didn’t stay for long after that.

Growing up I’ve always been taught about racism and been told so many stories from my friends who share a different ethnicity but in truth, I’ve never personally experienced it or even really seen it firsthand. I’m from the Northeast where our culture is diverse and very accepting. My parents have always worked with people with disabilities and taught me that everyone is different and that’s a beautiful thing. This night was the first time I have seen the immediate impact of racism and how it can affect people although again, I can’t even begin to understand what it really feels like and the true impact it can have on a person. Ultimately, it was a big moment for me in my life and I continue to vow to be better and to do better. I also learned that night just how important it is to speak up and stand up for what’s right and I promise to continue to do that. I just hope that one day, I won’t have to.

I don’t share this story to deter you from traveling to Greece or to give you a bad taste about the people there. I did meet someone wonderful folks. I share this story to simply show you that there will be moments that aren’t 100% magical when traveling. You will experience many of the same problems you experience at home because while you may be on vacation, the locals you see and meet are not. It’s about keeping perspective and allowing yourself to learn and grow, not only as an individual, but as someone who contributes to this wonderful earth.