Foreign Assistance in Greece
They say that the more things change the more they are still the same. This saying describes Greece in a nutshell. No matter how many new EU laws are imposed on Greece, the mighty gears of the rusted, antiquated wheel of bureaucracy won’t budge. It seems that the EU lawmakers have no idea how difficult it is to change the Greek way of thinking, or doing things. New immigration laws sound good and look good on paper, but the wishful thinking stops there. Immigrants still suffer waiting in long lines out in the cold and rain sometimes for up to 8 hours and for many days or weeks just to learn about the progress of their application for residency. I know, I was there many times to assist the lost immigrant sheep. The ministry in charge was kicked out of their premises near Syntagma due to the raise in rent (owned by the church) which the govt. couldn't afford, and shacked up in the worst part of the outskirts of Athens near construction sites, mangy dogs, dirt roads and nowhere for the abused to sit or even stand with dignity waiting in unbelievable lines hoping some truck doesn't run over their feet as they squeeze like cattle to get in the building before the magic hour of 2 pm. arrives. Yes, the ministry in charge opens only from 12-2 on Mondays and Thursdays. That's 4 hours of work per week for 10.000 undocumented sheep.
Every month or so the "tired little darlings" working at the ministry march in the streets of Athens demanding higher pension pay, and perhaps more holiday day offs, preferably on a Monday or Thursday.
Education reforms? Right. After suffering so many fines from the EU , Greece has finally proclaimed that foreign universities can operate here legally and be on par with Greek universities, which by the way never made it to the list of the top 200 universities in the world. This acceptance of foreign schools was met with mass demonstrations. Still going on, but now the Greek high schools, teachers, office workers, construction workers, sandlemakers, even kindergarten students , except musicians, the few that are left, have taken to the streets. Yes, ok. your foreign degree is accepted, but in truth only on paper. Try and get a job in the public sector with a foreign degree, they will tear you apart with so much bureaucracy that you'll just give up.
Alright, enough moaning like an old man (working here with bureaucracy can take years off your life) and let me put some misconceptions to rest. What is written as law on paper is not what really happens. Let's take transferring drivers license to a Greek/EU one for example.
You may have read somewhere that to get a driving license without having to go through any tests, only for the privileged 4 countries, (what I mentioned before in my first article) still holds true. No, it is WRONG. What you see is not what you get. Australia is one of those privileged countries, yet when I handled one such case I was met with not only ineptitude, but sheer ignorance at the ministry. After submitting all the required documents that "they" needed, the entire folder was returned to me. Why? "We need two pictures, not one" was the answer. There were two pictures in the folder, the stupid blind employee!! I sent it back with an arrow pointing to the pictures. Then it came back to me "rejected" because there was no proof that the Australian license was valid. I sent it back pointing out there was a 2 page validity paper from the Australian registry, notarized and officially translated in Athens at the foreign ministry to such an effect. Then it came back to me stating, yes, ok., sorry, but there is no AFM number. That's the Greek tax no. There is no law stating it is needed for this purpose. Nevertheless, I called Australia and asked my client to go to the Greek consulate and make out a power of attorney for me to get him a tax no. in Athens. He did. I sent the (now creased and worn out) folder together with the tax no. back to the ministry. Now everything is fine, right?? WRONG.
The folder got lost.
Wondering if your contributions in America or any country that has mutual agreements with Greece, still stand here? The answer is yes so don't worry. However, there is something almost comical going on here if you are EU or have obtained Greek citizenship and would like to work at least the remainder of your pension contributions. This may sound outrageous and you might think Dorian, now close to mental disintegration, is exaggerating, but it's true. Most countries have about 2-3 pension organizations; Greece has over 100. the poorest is the Musicians Union Pension Plan which has about 14 euros in escrow. Now if there is a reason why Greeks are thinking of yet another snap elections it's this. The Govt. wants to consolidate these 100 into 3. That would mean the profitable pension funds would go , let's say to help the musicians fund. I'm all for it. The workers are not; they have picks and shovels, we have guitars. Not a fair fight.
This is the best of all. Most countries have a special exception pension plan for what is called, workers of high risk, or hazardous jobs. They get to go on pension younger and are granted more money. They have more benefits.
France and Germany have only coal miners in this category. Portugal and Spain have 5. England has none. Greece has 537!!
Yes, 537. The latest one to be added this week was hairdressers! God that must be terrible. All those curlers, shampoos, wonderful rainbow dyes and all those spikes, the master of artistic, creative weaponry sticking out of scalps, you can get speared in no time. Absolutely dangerous. Yes they should be placed in the category of hazardous jobs.
The list is endless; Pizza delivery boys. What if due to traffic the pizza arrives late, or is cold, and completely ruins the atmosphere of the football-beer -TV party? The host gets furious and rams the pizza onto the courier’s face? “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s…..” Yes two round salamis where his eyes were; he’ll never get a date looking like that. Bacon tongue and….well you can imagine the rest. Humiliating, mental torture.
How about the Mondays and Thursday's 12-2 civil servants working in immigration? Do you know what it's like having to deal with 10.000 applicants when you know you can only process 5 a day? Horrid. Oh the psychological agony knowing you couldn't help them. That's what goes through their minds as they are sipping ouzo and munching"mezedes," light snacks”, after that torturous day. Yes they deserve the benefits too.
Now how about the musician who can't get a job playing what he likes and is forced, even lucky, to get a job at some high class bouzouki palace near the coast of Glyfada ,Voula, where he starts at 11 pm. until 5 am . His ears are being gnawed upon by the cacophonic-overpowered-reverberated noise thrusting out of amplifiers connected to quasi tuned instruments while breathing in the subtle aroma of 2 million Marlboro’s, being smoked or left still lighted on ashtrays coupled with an alcoholic religious aura, (booze, bouzouki, tight short skirts, kind of a Greek religion on Saturday nights ) doesn't he or she (the she makes more money singing for 1 hour than the musician does for 6) deserve hazardous benefits? Of course not. Why should they? It's music, it's art. Art for art's sake, yes?
How about the cross cultural consultant, mainly me, who deals with these over-buttocked civil servants in ministries who chew their tomato and feta cheese while, in their best behavior attuned to a monkey’s rather than semi-human, informs you, in a flippant, …who-cares-about-you way, that the papers you have need to be stamped by some unknown office in some weird area and let's you know ( bless their heart) that they will be on strike all week while your client has only 2 days in Greece before returning home. Do I get special pension? Of course I do. An e-mail from someone saying I do something important and that I helped him/her. I would take that to the bank but I'm a bit tired of seeing any more feta chewing employees.
Apropos of driving license; it used to be that if you could not transfer your license, you had to go through what a Greek has to. Here are the new laws:
1) Sign up for driving lessons (20 hours theory, 20 hours practice regardless of whether you have had a license and have been driving for over 40 years)
2) Written test, 1.100 questions of which you answer 30. It used to be the test was only in Greek but now you are allowed an official translator from the foreign ministry, of course at a price.
3) All the medical papers mentioned in my original article.
4) Road test. Hitting no more than 3 pedestrians is allowed.
Note: the driving school costs a lot of money and so do the Tests.
Here are some observations I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing recently. In my article about cards I mentioned the card SMILE as being the best; it is not. Someone told me long ago that there was such a thing as “leaders” in stores. That is, low prices on some goods just to get you in whereby you are confronted with normal or even higher prices for other goods. This is what happened to SMILE. For 3 euros I used to talk overseas, specifically America, for almost 2 hours. That has changed. It’s now 45 minutes. Q-Card seems to be promising as well as a newcomer to the arena: FROG.
For those of you first time arrivals, you may have witnessed some strange looking sidewalks a bit out of the Syntagma area, in fact everywhere outside. They are the grey tiled sections in the middle of an otherwise ubiquioutous sidewalk. They were constructed a bit before the Olympics to prove how advanced Greece became in terms of progress. Progress in what?? For the last 3 years I’ve asked, just out of curiosity, what these lined, embedded things were. I asked everyone from your local grocer to the actual workers cementing these atrocities in to begin with. Wow the answers I got.
1) To keep from slipping when wet. Truth? They slip more.
2) Grey matches the color of the apt. buildings so the effect is congruous and uniform.
3) The helicopter traffic police can monitor the direction pedestrians are going. That was my favorite!
4) To make sure pedestrians walk in a straight line thus conserving time and energy. A physicist told me that. My second favorite.
5) Seeing Eye dogs know where to go. This actually was very close.
When for different reasons I was at the city hall in Athens, I cast a perfunctory glance at two employees talking about some pension benefits for souvlaki makers, something about sharp knives used to cut the “giro” which may cut your finger, and took the opportunity of asking them about these mysterious grey tiles. Of course, they said, it’s for the blind. They put their stick on one of the groves (there are 5 of them on each tile) and just follow them. This is true. This is the reason.
How stupid of me! I should have figured it out for myself. So much for higher education. The trouble I thought was that, given the conditions of Greek sidewalks, (roads for that matter) the worst in Europe, these embedded tiles would invariably lead to dead ends, holes, trees, and sewers. If any blind person were to rely on them they would not only remain blind but be severely crippled, if not dead, as well. If slightly alive they would become prime candidates for a position in the Greek ministry for immigration.
In the last 3 years I have not seen ONE blind person using them. But, they had to be ready for the Olympics. That was a priority.
Yes I know that all of you who are Greek, have the right to become Greek, think they are Greek, wish they were Greek, are thinking about this thorn in your life. Let me give you some updates here.
1) Are you eligible (see my first article) ? Then yes you have to serve. How? For how long? Why??? The why is the best question. I really don’t know, but as I said before, what’s on paper as law is not what really happens. Here is the facts as of now:
The Greek govt. promised that by 2008 military service would be greatly reduced or even abolished. Don’t bet on it. The law still stands; serve if you are between 18 and 45 years of age. Now comes the exceptions and they are so many that it’s almost fruitless and useless to mention them all ; however, you can be assured that you will likely fall into one of them if you have been born abroad from Greek parents. The word Greek comes to mind. Don’t forget the “right” to serve comes only after you have become a Greek citizen and this is a process which may take years.
12 months if you were born and raised in Greece. 3 days if your father works for the ministry dealing with immigrants.
6 months if you have the permanent residence abroad status mentioned in my original article.
45 days if you are over 35 years old and can pay 3.645 euros to buy out the remaining time. 210 euros if your father works for the ministry of immigration.
Reduced service if you are the father of 2 or more children.
No service if the children are certified mentally insane. (true)
No service if said children work for the Greek interior ministry or the ministry for immigration.
Reduced service if the parents are incapable of working or have died.
No service if you have died.
Move to Mt. Athos. If you live in the monastic community of Mt. Athos you are not required to serve.
If you desire or are absolutely forced to serve, you do not have a choice where to serve. It usually is on the northern border fighting the raging Vikings threatening our soil or the eastern borders protecting Greece from the Ottoman invaders. Most conscripts are placed in the immigration ministry Mondays and Thursdays.
If you have served in another country for 6 months or more you are not required to serve the Greek army, or if you have worked in the Greek ministry of interior for over 3 consecutive Mondays and Thursdays.
Temporary deferment is granted to college and university students for up to 5-6 years.
Apropos of nothing but I’ve been dying to write about it for months. This is a current phenomenon hounding the entire Greek society. I really don’t know what to call it except……..
THE GREAT MALL OF CHINA
The wall remains in China, but the “mall” is here alive and thriving. It’s in the papers, TV news all the time and it seems people can’t get enough of “what now this time” or , what new scandal are we going to hear about Chinese goods.
A long time ago there was an area of Athens, poor area, near Psyrhhi, near the Indian restaurants on Koumoundourou sq. where a few shops opened up with funny looking letters on signs, all red, selling things like pearls, fabrics, rings, necklaces, shoes (my main point which I’ll come to later) and more at outrageously low prices. Greeks thought it was a passing fad which, left unattended will go away. The opposite has happened. The untamed red dragon has and is breathing flame from that little square all the way to the highest echelons of Greek society. There is no stopping it. Chinese vendors , from push carts have made it into reputable stores and more and more customers are flocking in. Of course if someone asked you, “where did you buy that gorgeous necklace or fabric” you would never say a Chinese place down the street, but sooner or later he or she would do the same, always secret, and the show goes on and on.
So what are these shops --- Here today gone tomorrow entities.?
Everything written below is real and I am proud (yes proud to be a first hand witness) to have also been a victim. Let’s start with shoes.
How can you resist walking by a shop displaying really wonderful looking shoes for only 10 euros when the equivalent would be 70 euros. The answer, you can’t. So my girlfriend Robyn and I walked in and bought the best shoes I ever had. Then the problem started.
I had left the shoes unworn in the hall as we went to sleep. During the night she woke me saying there was a terrible smell permeating the entire house. I smelled it too and automatically thought it was rubber burning. Damn, an electrical short circuit in the house. I shut off the electricity and, using a flash light, (Chinese batteries) searched for the cause. Nothing. After about 3 hours the offending smell was traced. THE SHOES!!!
After washing them, spraying them with insecticide, perfume, (her Chanel # 5, but she doesn’t know this) we had no choice but to put them out on the back balcony. This was 4 am. At about 5 am we heard screaming from our neighbors on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors; we are on the 4th. “ Fire, something smells, someone is burning!!” “Someone call the fire dept.” an other screamed. The embarrassing moment came when I had to go out in my underwear to yell back to the panicking tenants that it was my shoes. Don’t worry, I shouted, I’ll get rid of them in the morning.
Two days later my father called saying he bought some shoes at a great price but something was wrong. I immediately caught the drift. “Dad, was it a deal; are they Chinese; did any neighbors complain?? Worse than that he said….they called the police.
About 3 months ago there was this talk show on TV and the subject was Chinese shoes. There were about 60 people in the audience and 5 in a panel of guests. The presenter, after talking about Chinese shoes, produced a box, opened it, and by God there they were, Chinese shoes. It took about 4 minutes before the smell surrounded everyone, while the presenter was talking, before the ultimate happened. Right in front of the cameras and national TV, people started choking, some got up and left and others, such as one cameraman fainted thus limiting the angle of the scene.
The Chinese lobby was asked to come in to the Greek Business Bureau (Mon. and Thu. 12-2) to answer questions. The decision by the bureau was that all Chinese shoes must carry a ticket stating, “can be used for walking, insect repellant, and thief deterrent. I threw mine away in the garbage can on the sidewalk downstairs. Next day there was a garbage strike. Reasons the garbage men refused to work was not disclosed in the press.
How about washee shirtee, iwon shirtee.
Last April more than 5 people got electrocuted using a Chinese iron to iron their “made in China” silk shirts. In one tragic case which was all over the news, a mother of two was killed together with her two daughters and a cat simultaneously. Apparently according to the papers, she was ironing, Her one daughter was holding onto her and the youngest onto her who was also holding Electra the cat. They all got fried in seconds when the iron short-circuited.
Now the best; The famous percolator missle.
One husband bought the Chinese coffee maker for 8 euros (around 50 for name products) and tried it out. It was great until one time it created such pressure that the entire lid blew off. Up it went through the ceiling, penetrating the floor boards of the apt. above, and finally ending up at the dinner table of the couple upstairs who work every Mon. and Thu. From 12-2. Of course it was on TV and a pending investigation followed. The Chinese defendants at the hearing contested that it is multi purposed, specifically it can be used against anarchist demonstrators making their presence noticed in the streets of Athens almost daily. The govt. sympathized and let the product continue. There was no fine .
When I mentioned that these “here today gone tomorrow” shops have mushroomed all over, one classic case is me. Yours truly. Underneath my apt. building, on the ground floor was a sandwich shop. Every so often I’d go, grab a cheese-ham sandwich, catch up on neighborhood gossip and leave. A few days ago I went for my daily bread only to find, believe it or not, overnight, pagodas and a sign with red letters on it and pearls, fabric, earrings, you name it on display.
I walked in and asked what has happened. I was greeted by nothing more than two Chinese asking me if I was Amewican (my give- away accent) and if I wanted to buy pewls and wed silver bwacelets.
They couldn’t speak Greek and I was hungry.
I bought a pearl (black) necklace for 10 euros and some earrings again pearl. I thought they were fake. No! I found out they were real later on from an appraiser. What’s going on? Easy, pearls are plentiful and therefore cheap in China. Don’t ask for perfection but it’s the real thing. So are the fabrics.
Riding around on my motorbike I noticed a store with Chinese electrical goods. This is on the corner of Athinas St. and some other St. near Omonia. I knew from experience and what I heard, no buying electrical goods, ( forgot to say Christmas tree lights tended to rejoice holidays more than they should and blow up; something wrong with Chinese bulbs) but I saw an electric shaver for 7 euros. Damn they cost 50 at other stores. I bought it and it was great. Safety because it runs on batteries. Don’t be afraid of batteries. In short, don’t buy anything Chinese that you use while plugged in. The shaver had instructions. Here they were:
1) shut off electricity to house before charging shaver
2) when shaver ready hold in hand
3) put button on “on” and hear “machine go buzzzzz”
4) go up on hairs of skin towards sky, not down
5) when all hairs gone, click stop on shaver
6) do not take bath with shaver, take bath first clean shaver after
I followed the instructions and my shaver is still working, though I had problems with no. 1. The Chinese have wonderful beads for earrings but those of you who get to Plaka, there are three bead shops that really are fantastic. Robyn asked me to go and look around and send her some which I thought were good. I did. I know nothing about beads but when she got them she was surprised and honored me by saying, “ Dorian the Famous Bead Selector.”
If you are interested in good earring design and beads from Greece, just go to e-bay to communities, to “wireandbead” and you’ll see her work. You can contact her at: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Well someone asked me where was the best exchange rate for tourists. I didn’t know but found out through a colleague of mine. Don’t’ get euros from any airport; don’t go to any bank here unless it’s the National Bank of Greece….and then it’s steep. DO GO to the exchange centers in Omonia square. It’s the best deal.
This next week we’ll see a series of demonstrations once again in Athens; the pensioners are marching, the students will scream, the Mon. and Fri. 12-2 “people” (struggling not to use a different word) will be there; the civil servants, the high school students shouting that America is to blame why their books are outdated and there is poor quality in the cheese pies they get during breaks; the garbage collectors refusing to pick up garbage with Chinese shoes in it; the ministry servants who work Mon. Thu. 12-2 for immigration; the immigrants who demand the time be changed to between 12-1:30; The musicians who will not demonstrate as they can’t afford the bus ticket to get to Syntagma; The pensioners who are losing everything they have worked for; The university students who are deprived of their right to 40 years of “long time status” as students, therefore their right to drink coffee with friends during school time and now threatened with being on equal status with private foreign universities; The Dorian’s of Greece who sit inside their apt. waiting for the Chinese shop to go back to a sandwich shop.
There’s Gold in them there hills
Greece is still the only country in Europe without a land registry. That is common knowledge, but what is new is the sudden influx of prospectors claiming land after the disastrous fires last summer. This phenomena never really sank in until a few weeks ago I saw endless lines of cars heading off on the national road towards Parnitha, the rich, green mountain on the western side of Athens which is (was) responsible for most of the oxygen Athens gets. It was completely burnt down.
What was this human herd doing going bumper to bumper towards there? Simply, going to claim land. Can you imagine what went on? The arguments, fights, etc., before the police and reporters came into the picture? Even they entertained the idea of grabbing something too, I’m sure. People who never went to Mt. Parnes (Parnitha) all of a sudden remembered a long lost grandfather having given them land there.
Mr. Grabopoulos: This is mine, I remembered it when I was 11.
Mrs. Mineakis: No it isn’t, this is the tree my father had a swing on and was swinging me when I was 6.
Mr. Grabopoulos: Too much swinging got to your head, you are crazy, (Greek expression,(“kounia pou se kounage”) You imagine it. This place is mine. What tree? This is a burnt -out piece of charcoal barely resembling a tree.
Mrs, Mineakis: Ah yes, now it is, but oh the memories. I still recognize it. The swing that…….
Mr. Grabopoulos: Enough of the swing. This land here is mine. I used to go out shooting ducks with my grandfather.
Mrs. Mineakis: Oh so you’re the one who shot my ducks, right?
…..and so ownership quarrels start off before anyone owned anything. This is so typical in Greece.
There was some gossip floating around that the prime minister was seen in the middle of the night roaming the hills of Parnitha with a flashlight. Rumors had it he was looking for some unclaimed land under the auspices of finding a new location for the ministry of immigration. The poor immigrants would never make it up there was the logic behind it. If they did by walking 30 miles it would be dark and there’s no electricity there. The opening hours would then change to 10 pm. ‘till midnight. This would dramatically influence the number of immigrants applying for permits. A diplomatic brainstorm for the govt.
BYE, BYE OLYMPIC AIRWAYS
Yes it’s true. Well, the subject was going on for years now but it’s finally happened. After failed attempts to sell the financially crippled airliner, the govt. had no other option but to close it down. The employees have promised to keep it running for the holiday season but that’s it. It will go the way of many European carriers and my fond memories of T.W.A., and Pan Am. Towards the end, the govt. was literally begging anyone to buy it, even dairy giants and supermarkets, but to no avail. The musician’s union was interested but they never got a reply from Olympic.
It is a well known fact what really happened. About 10 years ago, the PASOK govt. hired employees for Olympic just to get votes. Thousands of votes were accumulated. The new employees and their friends were convinced this govt. cared for them. Unemployment dropped.
I have two friends who worked for Olympic; they are now retired after working for 15 years. They both started getting their pensions at 40. They and thousands of other 35-40 year olds will receive pensions from Olympic until they die. Olympic beat them to it….it died. That’s why no one would touch the airline, they could not afford the outrageous fringe benefits that came with the carrier.
Attempts are being made to keep the Olympic symbol (the rings) on the new carrier but it won’t happen. More attempts are being made to downsize the carrier for routes to a few islands. Maybe there will be a few planes salvaged for Athens-Mykonos and back.
Olympic, just like the old airport, touches a soft spot for Greeks and older travelers who remember the glorious days of Olympic touching down at the airport by the sea. Walking out of that picturesque, though chaotic, airport to be greeted by the blue waters and yellow taxis where the driver with their taxi doors open call on you to step in and take you to your hotel and tells you stories along the way about his nephew in Chicago.
Olympic conjures up memories of the Greek simple life, the way it was. The way it should be. Olympic Airways, like the old airport, is a great Greek tradition; the times when residence permits were unknown, the ministry of transportation was a small room giving out licenses to anyone who could see, there was little or no pollution, the Athenians still smiled and truly wanted to buy you an ouzo and talk rather than thinking of ways to grab your money, and taxi drivers cared more if their old, beat up thing would make it to your destination, than to tamper with the meter and rob you blind. Olympic, the days before there was a McDonalds in Syntagma and bouzouki clubs people drank raki or wine rather than Johnny Walker.
It’s not the same as with the collapse of TWA or Pan Am. When I was young, my mother would drag me to Greece every summer for my summer vacation. Moody Jr. High, Lowell high School, all behind me as we flew off with TWA or Pan Am towards a country I really didn’t care about.
“But this is where I was born, your papou (grandfather) was born, you have to get to like it” my mother would say. My first flight to Greece was when I was 5.
All my friends from school would go to Hampton beach, Walden pond, Cape Cod, Maine, Jones Beach, etc. Their parent’s would rent a cottage and my friends would go to parties and meet girls and then relate their experiences in Sept. when school started again.
Me? My summers were with grandparents, my cousins whom I couldn’t remember, friends of cousins, a few nice looking friend’s of friend’s of cousins who couldn’t speak English . I knew 2 words in Greek and bed was not one of them. My friends from Lowell would be eating corn on the cob and milk shakes and hamburgers, while I had to decipher the contents of , at that time, weird food like amaletita, or kefalaki. The first was “balls” and the latter, “head.” When asked in Sept. what I ate in Greece I would simply reply, “I ate balls and head.”
Throughout my junior year in Lowell high school I was known as the Greek cannibal. In truth amaletita is really goat testicles and kefalaki is the head of the goat, eyes, brain and all. Not many young people eat these anymore preferring McDonalds, but it was a tradition then, together with Olympic. It was Greece.
The balls, head are gone together with the carrier which put them into flight , but the memory remains.
There are some old tavernas around which still serve balls and head. They usually are served by an old waiter who is the owner, no menu, good wine, great atmosphere, which, to be politically correct, still have old posters of Olympic Airways tacked on the walls. The tacks casting a shadow to another torn poster of Hydra 1966.
..the more things change, the more they’re still the same..
Athens, December 2007