Coffee houses in Greece are traditionally male dominated, and Skopelos is no exception. Tourism has brought many changes to all the islands of Greece, including Skopelos, but the traditional coffee houses ("kafeneon"), retain their distinctive characters.
Unique amongst them - and modest in appearance - is the municipality kafeneon, which is subsidized by the community for the benefit of all pensioners irrespective of nationality or gender. The municipality kafeneon retains its unique male dominant character and atmosphere and is often referred to by non-Greek visitors as the 'old men's caffe'. It is a place for community and political events, exhibitions, meditation, fiery discussions; a place for a game of tavli or cards, to watch a football game in the company of others.
A kafeneon has its regular customers, usually determined by a shared political outlook, and it is inconceivable to the group that one of them might sit in any other kafeneon, or share any other company. If two kafeneon were adjacent, with only a narrow alley and plastic sheet dividing the two, a regular of one might enter the other kafeneon to deal with an urgent matter, but would then return to have his coffee in his accustomed area. The experienced kafeneon host often has well-timed coffee ready for his regular guests, whose habits he knows well. Customers of the kafeneon cross-engage in conversations and exchange vehement political views. Greeks love political debates and readily enter into these. Over a cup of Greek coffee served with a glass of water, the kafeneon is a place of information for just about anything. The coffee, if you order "elliniko", might remind you of a coffee which you know better as Turkish, but one sip and you will notice the difference!
For traditional smokers, a cigarette is a natural accompaniment to a cup of Greek coffee, and even non-smokers in a kafeneon group tolerate this. The largely outdoor living in Greece has until now made it easy to ignore smoking bans, with more often than not a blind eye being turned to an offender in a group. This week, however, yet another indoor smoking ban was introduced, which is different in subjecting both the smoker and the establishment proprietor to hefty fines, thus ending the blind-eye solution. Is this law going to become yet another political issue to be resolved in the parliament of the kafeneon? Is this law to end the unique atmosphere of the kafeneon? If the example of other countries is a guide, it is likely that the new law will be accepted - but slowly and grudgingly at first. Whatever the consequences, it will undoubtedly be loudly debated in the kafeneon for some time to come!
Municipality kafenon, outdoors
Municipality kafenon, indoors
The little coffe shop; kafenon for young football fans