We could have given our congratulations to Athens and the Greek people for just pulling the Opening Ceremonies off without a hitch. It was better that we waited. The Greeks followed up that performance with a sixteen-day showcase of a clean, modern, safe, and we dare say efficient city. It was never an issue that Greek philoxenia would be there regardless of whether the venues were ready and the organization was in place. But now with the Olympics over, Greece and Greeks everywhere can tell the doubters in the rest of the world where to go.
The praise of the rest of the world has come a little too late for many Greeks. The tourists will certainly flock to Greece in the summers to come, and they’ll certainly be welcomed like the millions that came before them. Greece should make the rest of the world literally pay for their lack of faith. If Greece could find a way to make an Olympic ticket stub worth half-off everything from hotels, restaurants, to donkey rides on islands, until the next time Greece gets an Olympics, they should do it. Greece should reward those who had enough faith in the Greek Way to buy that non-refundable ticket, make plans months, if not years in advance, to celebrate the Olympics with the Greeks, regardless of how bad it looked like it was going to be, with an open invitation to return at their leisure. Of course, half-price would really mean regular price, and regular price would mean two, three or five times even the prices that tourists were paying this summer. Why should Greeks for generations to come have to foot the bill for something that they never signed up for? As the smallest nation to host the Olympics in 50 years, Greece was already facing a huge challenge in following the spectacular Sidney Games. If that wasn’t enough, it was granted the distinction of hosting the first Olympics in a post-9/11 world, and having to solely pay for all that security, money that it can never get back. (Even though Greece may have procrastinated in building stadiums, but it took care of neutralizing its resident terrorist group, November 17th, early enough in its Olympic preparations where for once Greece didn’t have to protect itself from itself.) With the Olympics over, there is no longer a target on Athens, and tourists will feel as safe in Athens as they would in any other part of the world. So when the tourists come back to Greece, and they’re paying 10 Euro for a gyro, they should just be happy that Greece didn’t have to mortgage the Acropolis and half of the Cyclades to some worldwide corporate sponsor. (Imagine the Golden Arches on the Parthenon? Or taking the slow ferry to McMykonos?)
In the years ahead we’ll be able to see Greece’s Olympic Legacy. For all the talk of a new clean, modern, efficient Athens that’s entered the 21st Century, I hope that these changes don’t stick to the point where we lose the Greek Way. Yes, the Athens smog and traffic should be left in the past where it belongs. Greece should have the ability to be on-time and efficient, but it should always to able to choose not to be. Greece should never feel like it has to be like the rest of the world, because in the end, the Olympics were such a success because Greece wasn’t like the rest of the world. The rest of the world discovered that it still has something to learn from the Greeks and that the Greeks of today can still marvel and inspire the world now as much the Greeks that held the first Olympics over 2700 years ago did.