Foreign Assistance in Greece
Through the Greek Bureaucracy by Getting a Greek
This article was written in 1998 so see important new info at the bottom of this page
My Dear Friend Matt,
You asked me to write a story about some sector of Greek life, in particular the problems a foreigner might encounter here. Well, here it goes. It may be menial, but on the other hand it might give useful information to someone deciding to reside in Greece. It has to do with, yes my friend, a drivers license. Before I get into what happened to me, let me give you some background information. Let's say that you are an American coming to Greece for an extended period of time. You rent or buy (tax-free) a car and you have an American license. You get an international license from E.L.P.A. for 25,000 Drs. It's good for one year. If you overstay that year you must leave the country for one hour and then come back for renewal. Cost? 25,000 Drs.
The original American license must never expire. You can not get an international license for longer then the expiration date on the US license. The international license is good for all over the world except, of course, the USA.
If at any time your American license expires and you have not gone back to the states to have it renewed you may get yourself into the mess I got myself into. I hope this story amuses you.
A True Story by Dorian Kokas
My American license was one month from expiration so of course, the international license was, too. Dilemma: Go back to the states for renewal or get a Greek (EC) license. I decided, mistakenly, that the latter would be more practical. My dear friends... the time has come for all devoted employees of AAA to take arms and fight their devil counterpart in this poor god-forsaken country and to finally abolish the laws pertaining to licenses. Their counterpart is called E.L.P.A.
Naive American: What do I have to do to get a drivers license?
E.L.P.A.: You must obtain the following:
Naive American: Where do I start?
E.L.P.A.: Anywhere. Why are you so naive?
AT THE EYE DOCTOR
(The temperature is 101 degrees in the middle of August. The windows are open)
Doctor: Look at the paper.
Naive American: It's too small and it's blowing all over the place. Can you shut the window? ( The paper blew off the tack on the old yellow wall. He puts it back.)
Doctor: Are you crazy? We'll die of heat if we close the window.
Naive American: But it's blowing left and right. I can't read it.
Doctor: The third line.
Naive American: I can't read any line. ( It blows off the wall again. He re-tacks it.)
Doctor: Third line. (He thinks again.) No. The first. It doesn't move so much.
Naive American: E,F,L,E,E,K,M,K. (It was actually E,E,A,E,E,B,B,I, but I passed.) The Doctor wrote out the paper and I made my way to the pathologist.
Pathologist: Take your shirt off for the X-ray.
Naive American: I've been smoking for years, will it affect my driving? (World War Two x-ray machine making a buzzing sound.)
Pathologist: OK. In five minutes you get it.
(Five minutes go by)
Pathologist: Here's your x-ray and your papers. Good-bye.
Naive American: Well, what did it show?
Pathologist: What did what show?
Naive American: The x-ray of course. Am I alright?
Pathologist: How am I supposed to know? For what the government gives me for licenses what am I supposed to do, study x-rays? If you want a check-up make an appointment. Don't be so naive.
Now with two papers in hand, the naive American makes his way to the Foreign Bureau for the official translation.
Officer: Yes, I know, an official translation.
Naive American:(thinks to himself) Wow. What efficiency. He knows!
Officer: First floor for stamps. Eighteenth floor for application. Third floor for signature. Ninth floor for regional taxes. Then back to me.
Naive American: Where's the elevator?
Officer: There isn't any.
(Advice for future venturers into Greek reality: Know your name! It's very important.)
I got my translation which read: Dorian Kokas. Legal US drivers license. (Watch out kids; "Dorian" Kokas. That is, or was my name.) The problem was that my Greek I.D., (which took three years to get after proving to the authorities that the bones in some grave in the Greek province of Pyrgos were really those of my grandfathers) only mentions my Christian name, the name I was baptized with which is Theodore. So my official translation is "Dorian" and my I.D. is "Theodore". But wait. The fun isn't over yet. Now I had to go to E.L.P.A. to verify the license. It took three hours and they gave me the paper. I didn't look at it because of my anxiety to reach the ministry of transportation with my photographs to get my license.
A DAY AT THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION
Employee: O.K. Yes, but there is a problem.
Naive American: What now? (I got used to this.)
Employee: Your I.D. says "Theodore", your translation says "Dorian" and your verification from E.L.P.A. says "Miss Dorina".
Naive American: Dorina?
Employee: That's right. Which one are you.
Naive American: With which name is it easier to process the application? Which of the three branches of government wields more power.
Employee: Well. E.L.P.A. of course.
Naive American: Then I'm Miss Dorina Kokas.
Employee: That's what it seems but how are you going to explain your appearance to the director who has to approve the application?
Naive American: Give me one hour and I'll find a dress, wig pantyhose and be right back.
Employee: (chuckling) The only thing you can do is get a court order which states that Dorian, Theodore and Miss Dorina are the same person. If you are Dorina in E.L.P.A.'s computer then you'll never be able to change it. Not in Greece.
(Kafka, I thought.) I went to my lawyer who told me I needed two witnesses to go to court and testify that Dorian, Theodore and Dorina are one and the same. None of my friends were in Athens on the twentieth of August. The lawyer advised me to find any stranger (preferably a drunk) on the street and give him two thousand Drs to appear for one minute in court and say they know me. But as how? Dorina? Dorian? Theodore? Well, Theodore puts me in the Greek mentality associated with Easter: smelly cheese, sweat, roast lamb, bouzoukia and girls with short skirts and high heels. Dorian on the other hand brings up images of the U.S.; Universities, McDonalds, girls with bluejeans who don't smoke, music friends and memories. Then again, Dorina tantalizes my brain about how a woman must feel. Why not change sides now and spend the rest of my life being chased rather then chasing. After all, men do most of the physical labor in and out of bed. No, I wasn't that daring. I said to the two young punks that they know me as "Theodore", thinking that this was the most "legal" name. I dragged them to court to the tune of two thousand Drs apiece and they testified under oath that they had known me for ten years. I got my paper.
The next morning I gave my paper to the Ministry of Transportation and they told me that my license would be processed in one month with the name of "Theodore Kokas".
One month later I went back to finally get the damn license. It read: Mrs. Dorian Kokas. I guess you could call it a compromise.
Note: E.L.P.A. (the Greek touring club), stopped issuing International driving licenses to American citizens several years ago. The only way that an American can receive an International driving license is through AAA or through private agencies. For more info see International Drivers License 2
See also Matt Barrett's Driving in Greece