I can never turn down a person in need of bodywork, even when I am on vacation. During my recent ten days abroad visiting the land of my ancestors (i.e. Greece), a friend asked me to work on her tense neck and lower back. The many hours spent standing in her salon and cutting hair in various twisted positions had taken a toll on her body. Her boyfriend then piped in that he too had tension in his neck and shoulders from constant lifting of machinery. As I assessed his massive trapezius muscles, a third friend was volunteered up by the first one for massage since she had never before received one. In the span of one evening spent on a terrace enjoying the oceanic breeze, I garnered myself 3 clients, all willing to pay for therapeutic bodywork despite the pretty widespread economic turmoil.
What came as a surprise was their openness toward massage. Although the ancient Greeks employed massage as a key part of medical practice, modern Greeks have been on a much different page with respect to bodywork. First and foremost, massage therapy is an unregulated profession. This means that the government does not mandate any kind of educational or professional standards. It is up to the individual employer to set up guidelines of professional conduct and experience. That being said, on many major beaches in tourist riddled islands like Mykonos and Santorini, there are women (and sometimes men) who troll the sands offering 10 to 15 minute massages to people reclining on towels and chairs for the equivalent of $15. I witnessed them in action back in ’06, way before the career of massage became a thought in my mind. In the bigger city of Athens, massage is often a front for prostitution. I often had to call myself a massage-slash-physiotherapist in order to avoid that “Oh, reaaaaaallly…” face from some of my relatives and family friends. With respect to spas and resorts offering massage, I remember looking into a hotel spa in Cyprus for possible work last year and seeing that the therapist they sought had to be willing to do up to ten massages per day and be paid a flat fee for the entire Summer season (4 months) of $1500 dollars. Slave labor, anyone?
The US, Canada, Germany and France all regulate massage, demanding a certain amount of hands on hours, education, license examinations and continuing education in order to practice the profession. Outside of these countries, the lines of professionalism can be easily blurred. For instance, in Japan only Shiatsu (acupressure massage) is regulated. In China, massage is completely unregulated. In New Zealand, massage therapists can register at two levels of competency, but the government doesn’t recognize or regulate the profession. Basically you can set up shop and conduct yourself as you see fit without anyone getting to say a thing about it. I pictured myself in a bungalow by the Majorcan, Spanish coast, massaging many an expat and local while living the Mediterranean life of Riley. But let’s be realistic here. Without regulations, what differentiates me from the young girl on the beach? I have two degrees, close to 3000 hours of experience (and counting) and CPR/First Aid certification. I charge a rate that reflects my skill level and education. She is on the beach, offering up massage for a bargain, which may or may not be effective because you have no clue as to her training. You don’t have to be in an economically stricken country to be attracted to a cheap deal.
I asked my 3 Greek friends how they felt about paying for massage on a regular basis. They all insisted that I could carve out a pretty decent living if I charged something between 40-50 EURO for the hour (55-65 dollars at current conversion rate). Although people’s wallets have been and will continue to hurt, the therapeutic need for stress reduction and balance to the body is strong enough to make the expense a necessity. It’s funny how attitudes change when in the midst of a crisis. Perhaps I should head back over the Atlantic to the land of my people and do my part in helping them cope with an uncertain future while ironically securing my own.