In recent weeks, Theodoros Mavridis has bought fresh eggs, tsipourou (the local brandy: beware), fruit, olives, olive oil, jam, and soap. He has also had some legal advice, and enjoyed the services of an accountant to help fill in his tax return.
None of it has cost him a euro, because he had previously done a spot of electrical work – repairing a TV, sorting out a dodgy light – for some of the 800-odd members of a fast-growing exchange network in the port town of Volos, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki.
In return for his expert labour, Mavridis received a number of Local Alternative Units (known as tems in Greek) in his online network account. In return for the eggs, olive oil, tax advice and the rest, he transferred tems into other people’s accounts.
“It’s an easier, more direct way of exchanging goods and services,” said Bernhardt Koppold, a German-born homeopathist and acupuncturist in Volos who is an active member of the network. “It’s also a way of showing practical solidarity – of building relationships.”
He had just treated Maria McCarthy, an English teacher who has lived and worked in the town for 20 years. The consultation was her first tem transaction, and she used one of the vouchers available for people who haven’t yet, or can’t, set up an online account.
“I already exchange directly with a couple of families, mainly English teaching for babysitting, and this is a great way to extend that,” said McCarthy. “This is still young, but it’s growing very quickly. Plainly, the more you use it the more useful to you it gets.”
Tems has been up and running for barely 18 months, said Maria Choupis, one of its founder members. Prompted by ever more swingeing salary cuts and tax increases, she reckons there are now around 15 such networks active around Greece, and more planned. “They are as much social structures as economic ones,” she said. “They foster intimacy and mutual support.”