Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Greece's future is written in coffee froth

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-06 08:47

Greece's future is written in coffee froth

The word 'Yes' in Greek is seen on a sticker as pro-Euro demonstrators attend a rally in front of the parliament building, in Athens, Greece, June 30, 2015. Greece's conservative opposition warned on Tuesday that Sunday's vote over international bailout terms would be a referendum over the country's future in Europe, and that wages and pensions would be threatened if people were to reject the package. [Photo/Agencies]

Greece's present crisis means the future can be read in coffee froth.


Fortunetellers are literally divining the forthcoming from frappe foam.

Several cafes in the country's second-biggest city, Thessaloniki, now offer services in which fortunetellers divine patrons' futures from java spume.

Think of it as a new take on reading tea leaves.

Geomancy comes free with the drink. (Tips are appreciated.)

Economic calamity has compelled enterprises to innovate. This is a story absent from the media yet present on the ground, I discovered in June.

Greeks are spending little on cuppas. Yet those who seek the soothsaying services must wait hours.

One innovative cafe allows free use of sewing equipment with a beverage purchase.

Another business provides access to a secondhand-tools workshop for 5 euros ($5.50).

Essentially, droves of Thessaloniki's shops shuttered, while unemployment reached roughly 60 percent among people 18-35 and around 27 percent overall. That enticed entrepreneurship from many suddenly jobless people, who've invested nominal savings to lease prime locations they previously couldn't have imagined.

Older eateries are constantly conjuring newer menus to concoct novel dishes for diners less willing to pay for repeat experiences.

Another reality that hasn't permeated crisis coverage became apparent on the ground.

It's a message of grassroots solidarity, as ordinary people have been constructing mutual-support networks. Since the social-safety net slung from the top to catch the bottom has been shredded, populists are constructing a new one from the bottom up.

As one woman told me: "The crisis taught us how to be good to one another again."

I was struck by the general concept - but especially curious about the use of "again".

She explained her family of eight slept on the floor of one room and many didn't have shoes during WWII and the civil war (1946-49) that immediately followed.

People pooled resources. Not just family and friends - strangers, too.

The woman summarized what I'd heard all week: "Maybe today I have my job. Tomorrow, I'll likely have my job. What about next week? I could be where you are then. So, I'll help you now."

It's this inability to forecast the future that reminds present people of how horizontally structured collectivism has helped the country outlast past adversities.

And it's doing so today, along with a shot of innovation as energizing as any frappe.

Many people pointed out Greece has been "around a long time" and has "been through worse".

What, then, does its future portend?

Perhaps its present truly can be read in the coffee froth. The future, it seems, is still brewing - and is as opaque as any java foam.

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