Monday, February 12, 2007

Details of Life

Last Thursday really wasn’t a good day for me. First in my morning Greek class certificates were passed out and I didn't get one despite passing the test because I missed more than 10 hours of class. I went to talk to the office, explaining that I knew I would miss some classes towards the end of December so I had warned them in advance and they had told me as long as I sat the paper before I left I'd have no problem. The lady looked at me, opened her mouth, and that my friends is the moment I got my first bitter taste of the Kafka-esque world of Greek bureaucracy: “It’s a matter for the head office, I can’t do anything about it.” Great! Thanks a lot sweetheart! I’ll just go then.

The next incident was downtown on Thursday evening after my evening class (note how bad things connected to me learning Greek). It was Tsikno Pembti, Burnt Thursday so I was in a hurry to get home. Tsikno Pembti is the 10th day before ‘Clean Monday’, the deadline up to which you can eat as much meat as you want. It’s some Easter thing and I’m not entirely sure what the deal is as there are lots of different theories, but all I understood was BARBECUE, MUST GO HOME.

I had no bus tickets so I went to buy some from the ticket booth. Inside the booth was a round-faced girl blabbing on her mobile and chewing gum, who by the looks of it didn’t know how to apply eyeliner properly. I know I’m being mean, but she deserved it. I asked for 10 tickets at 50 cents a piece and she handed them over. I gave her a 50 euro note and apologised for not having any change. She looked at me, sat back in her chair and folded her arms. “Well I don’t have any change either, move on.” Okay I said, how about if I buy 20 tickets? “No”. Did she really expect me to believe no one had bought enough tickets all day for her to be able to give me change and that there was no other polite way for her to say that to me? So rude! When I deal as an obvious foreigner with everyday Greeks on my own, three things can happen:

1) No problem at all (this is usually the case)
2) No problem until I get the bill (sometimes happens with taxi drivers who like tricking hapless foreigners)
3) A ‘I can’t be bothered to deal with this’ attitude (rare, and unfortunately almost always has come from women in my experience)

With a situation like that, it’s not the fact that someone has been rude to you, that happens anywhere you live, it’s the fact that you don’t have the language skills to put them in their place.

Things picked up on Saturday night though. It’s carnival season in Athens and we got invited to a costume party. Brilliant fun! Everything said and done, no one parties like the Greeks.



Jenny said...

Hello there..
Check out my latest post on for more Greek bureaucracy fun : ) Trying to get vaccinations in this country is virtually impossible and I swear all the administrators involved have been to rudeness school (if not, they have a natural talent!)

diaspora personified said...

I'm a Second Gen Greek Australian, and I've been through the 'rude bitch at the road kiosk' thing in Athens. As far as 'Service Industry workers with no concept of the user paying for a SERVICE,' Greeks are probably the worst offenders in Europe. Don't get me started on Olympic Airways; excuse for an airline that I wouldn't fly with if you paid me. Athens is the worst place for it, but having travelled through nearly 30 countries in Europe, Southeast Asia, and a bit of Southern Africa, I'd say that Budapest and Athens are the rudest places I've been to.
The heart of the problem, as I see it, is that people are used to working off the government teat in the oversized public sector. It's a type of middle class welfare scheme where public sector workers can legitimately be lazy bastards, get away with it and get paid for it. The Greeks are world famous on that score. They need another Onassis to help privatise their public sector and add 'customer is King' to the equation. If people acted that way where I come from, they'd last as long as a snowflake in summer, although it must be said, generally rudeness is unfortunately creeping into Australian society. I live in Poland now and by comparitively speaking, people that sit behind jumps of any description are very polite.

On another tangent, the other thing I find sickening and embarrassing as someone of Greek descent is the way they treat animals. If they think of dogs and cats (dogs especially) as vermin, why don't they sterilise them to stop them breeding in towns and villages unchecked. Gandhi once said that the moral compass of a society is measured by how well they treat their animals. By that logic, Greece is a nation of misanthropic mutants. While not entirely true, I think the archaic 'kouproskylo' mentality has to go.

As for rudeness, there's nice people in the villages and islands. My grandparents were from Samos, the island of Pythagoras and pine forests. And it isn't as heavily worn by tourist detritus as, for example Rhodes or Santorini, which is part of its charm.

By the way, if you would like to practice your Greek I'd be happy to help. I almost never use mine now and I need to practice or it'll get imbedded into the recesses of my subconsious. My girlfriend and I are planning to go to Greece in May; it'll be my first time since 1994. For all that I know is wrong with the place, blood is thicker than water.