Walking through the harbor area in Kos, a Greek island that is part of the Dodecanese group in the eastern Aegean, it’s easy to imagine what a Playboy Playmate might feel like were she to take a stroll through a penitentiary buck naked carrying a sign reading, “Kiss Me!” A bit of exaggeration there, perhaps, but not much. Touts, who aggressively peddle meals, drinks, excursions and God knows what else, have long been a fact of life in the Greek isles and in numerous other touristy locales around the globe, but do they actually help increase business or do they scare away potential customers?
In many ways, May and June are the best months to visit the Greek Islands, because the weather is generally good, the prices are low and the crowds are manageable. But the one downside is that all the touts are in place but the crowds haven’t arrived yet, so early birds like myself are outnumbered by peddlers.
Our apartment is about a ten minute walk along the harbor into the center of town but during that 10 minute walk, we generally encounter about 20-30 peddlers accosting us with menus, brochures, excursion offers and “Where are you from” come-on’s. One gentleman’s mantra is simply “very good, very nice!” But the way he says “verrrrry nicccce,” he reminds us of Borat without the smelly gray suit.Even if I did have the patience to stop and entertain all the “Where you from” queries, I have no easy answer to the question. I was born in Buffalo, but left at 17 and have lived in six states and four foreign countries over the last twenty plus years. At the moment, all my belongings are in a storage locker in Virginia. I have no idea where I’m from and does it really matter anyways?
Everyone’s hungry for business and given the crisis here, it’s hard to fault entrepreneurs for trying to make a buck. But it’s also pretty taxing to have to fend off so many offers. After you walk through the gauntlet of hawkers you feel a bit like a piece of meat that’s been picked clean by a pack of hyenas.
I have no problem ignoring some of the salespeople but my wife is too nice, and feels like she has to stop and engage with them, making it nearly impossible to walk down some streets. On one occasion, I forgot something in our apartment and had to go back to get it. I dreaded the walk back because I had to deal with all the touts twice.
I’m biased against restaurants that employ touts to try to hook passersby. I have no proof, but my theory is that if a place needs to resort to these tactics, it’s probably not very good. So for me, the touts’ tactics backfire, because if they weren’t there, I might actually take a look at their menus.
Bars in Kos adopt the same tactics, but most of them employ comely young ladies from Scandinavia to lure people in. At the bar West, I asked one of them, a lovely young lady from Sweden who wears booty shorts that barely cover her backside emblazoned with the Swedish flag, if her streetside beckoning actually works.
“Yes, of course it works,” she said, more matter of fact than boastful. “The tourists get to know us and we become their friends, so they want to drink with us.”
It makes sense, I suppose, for bars but I’m still skeptical on the restaurant front. Every night we walk past a restaurant called El Paso and I feel a little bad for a pretty young woman who stands in front of the place each night, wearing a poncho and oversized sombrero. (see photo) I feel bad for her, but not bad enough to actually eat at the restaurant. Maybe I’m wrong and tourists really are like lemmings that want to be hooked on a spear and lured into bars, restaurants and excursion boats – but I doubt it.
(Photos by Dave Seminara)