Dinner in Athens

Our mouths watered as we smelled the delicious wafts of Mediterranean cooking. It had been days now since we had allowed ourselves a “real” meal. Determined to travel on a tight budget, we had pledged to survive on cheap grocery store food. But bread and bananas can sustain hungry college kids for only so long. And there we were: Athens, a city tempting us with exotic cuisine at every turn.

“Hello! Welcome to restaurant! You see food?” A restaurant owner sauntered up to our group and pointed to the menu.

We nodded, slightly surprised by his friendliness. “Uh, yeah…we’re just looking.”

The suave salesman launched into his appeal: “Well, I have perfect food. You need to eat at restaurant. My restaurant is best!...UH, you see here…” He flipped to the back of the menu we were looking at and pointed to a copy of a newspaper article with his picture. “You see! Very good restaurant!” He pointed to the picture and then himself, back to the picture and then at the restaurant sign. “Yes!” He smiled broadly. “Yes, so I show you to table just over here, ok?”

“Um, well, we are just walking around and we’ll come back if…”

“Oh, no! You don’t understand. If you go, it’s very bad.” And then lowering his voice, “See, I give you two bottle of wine on the house if you stay, OK?”

Apparently he knew how to bribe young college students. Seeing our slight hesitation as we looked at each other, he seized the moment. “Aaahh, yes! Ok, so just come follow me…right over here!”

Before we knew what was happening, we were all seated and a short while later were enjoying our dinners. The owner continued his persistent yet successful advertising strategy on other unassuming tourists in addition to checking on our satisfaction. Yes, we assured him, everything was delicious and the wine was good (though the carafes had probably been filled with the one euro wine boxes we saw on the way to the restrooms). After eating our fill, we politely declined dessert, paid the bill and re-entered the busy street scene. It was here that we discovered that our restaurant’s advertising was not exactly unique. No sooner had we stepped onto the street than another restaurant owner accosted us.

“Why you eat there?” He asked, gesturing angrily at the restaurant we had just frequented. We stared at him in surprise. “What he give you? He give you dessert? I give you dessert. Come.” He motioned us to follow, but we politely smiled and shook our heads. “No? What he give you? I can give you cheaper.” We laughed. Unfortunately for this man, his competitor in temptation had the advantage of a few feet.

As we walked away, we heard the owner behind us sigh dejectedly and mutter something under his breath. Such was the life of restaurant service – in Athens at least.

N Hayslett

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