Home Opinion and Features The tradition of welcoming travellers

The tradition of welcoming travellers

39
SHARE

One of the things that interested me was that the Greek Tourism Board had established a chain of hotels across the country to offer reasonably priced comfortable accommodation to traveller

File image

Many years ago I travelled to Greece as a guest of the Greek government and was enchanted by the country – so old and so wise in its ways.

Wherever I went, the people seemed enormously contented and happy, even though most of them earned very little.

Some turned their homes into taverns or shops during the summer tourist season, and then earned nothing at all during the entire winter.

One of the things that interested me was that the Greek Tourism Board had established a chain of hotels across the country to offer reasonably priced comfortable accommodation to travellers. They were called xenia hotels – “xenia” being the Greek word for a traveller, or a stranger.

I was told that Greece had a tradition of respecting travellers. In ancient times travellers were regarded as sacred and there were huge punishments laid down for anybody caught harming a xenia in any way.

Greece is made up of more than 2 000 islands, and before the days of mass communication, travellers were a vital link with the rest of the world and between isolated communities. They brought news, they introduced new ways of doing things, new skills, new knowledge.

Even relatively recently, when I went to Greece, there was a separate Tourist Police Force whose job was to prevent travellers from being harmed or cheated in any way.

On two occasions I was stopped by a member of the tourist police and asked how much I had paid for something I’d bought, just in case I’d been ripped off. We get the modern word xenophobia from that Greek xenia.

Sadly, we seem to treat strangers very badly here.

When foreign nationals open spaza shops in the townships they are often attacked and abused for “stealing our jobs”, “stealing our women”.

Maybe we should follow the old Greek example and learn from our xenia. How do they manage to run successful small businesses where local folk fail?

Couldn’t we learn their secrets of success instead of attacking them and destroying their shops? In a normal world there’s no such thing as “stealing” someone’s job.

If you lose your job and somebody else is appointed in your place it is probably because the other person provides a better quality of work at an economical rate. (This does not always apply in South Africa, where people lose their jobs because the employer has to stick to a racial quota in the BEE system, which is fast earning South Africa a reputation for laziness and inefficiency.)

Maybe our xenophobia is just an admission that we’re too lazy to compete fairly.

Last Laugh

An engineer and a lawyer met at an expensive Riviera hotel and had drinks together in the beach-front bar.

“My house caught fire,” said the lawyer. “Everything burned to the ground and I lost the lot. The insurance paid out and that’s how I can afford this holiday

“That’s a coincidence,” said the engineer. “My home was destroyed in a flood. Everything was washed away, leaving me with nothing. Luckily the insurance company paid for it all. So here I am.”

They drank in silence for a while, then the lawyer asked: “How do you start a flood?”