Looking at Greece

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Service with a snarl

A few nights back we went up to a place at the top of the hill in the town where I live, a place (imaginatively named “Hill” in Greek) where they serve drinks and snacks.  For many years this place was council-run, and therefore it was diabolically badly run.  The service was appalling, the tables and chairs outside consistently dirty, the waiters surly and the prices a rip-off.  Then the council decided to put the operation out for tender, and a pair of local businessmen won the contract and refurbished the place inside and out.  It started operating again in the early summer, and the refurbishment was a big improvement on how it had been before.  But – sure enough – the refurbishment was only skin-deep, as they made the fatal error of hiring serving staff from local adolescents and young adults who were unemployed and on a job placement scheme with the Greek Manpower Commission.  This was because the new owners would then only have to pay the pittance prescribed by the Manpower Commission rules on hiring such people.

As a result the new place looked good, but the service was once again appalling.  Ask for a pint of beer and the witless chumps they hired would pour cold beer into a thick pint glass fresh out of a hot dishwasher and within a few minutes your cold beer was lukewarm suds.  Time after time we had to wait upwards of fifteen minutes for our order to arrive and when it did arrive it was invariably wrong or flawed in some way.  Some of our group would order one sort of beer, some another.  When the waiter arrived he wouldn’t know which glass contained which type of beer.  One night my girlfriend ate some salted fish with some ouzo there and was violently sick with food poisoning two hours later…

Well, the latest incident highlighting the utter incompetence of the staff of this place came those few nights back.  We went inside because it was too cool to sit outside, but the music was far too loud (an all-too-common phenomenon, as mentioned in a previous post about places of “entertainment” here in Greece), so we decided to head for the quieter upstairs area.  However, a waiter pointed out that the upstairs area would be opening in ten minutes’ time for a special function and that we couldn’t sit up there yet, so I said that we didn’t want to sit downstairs as the music was far too loud to be tolerated.  This bright spark of a waiter then piped up, “Well, the downstairs area is more for young people.”  “Thank you very much!” I replied, and we left, but not before telling one of the two owners what his waiter had said to us.  After all, I am forty-two, not in my eighties…  In typical Greek style, the owner, on questioning the waiter, shrugged it all off as some big joke.  Needless to say, they didn’t receive our custom that night.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A less than electrifying Sunday

Sundays are the one day when I have enough free time from work to do the myriad things I need to do on the computer, a combination of work and personal projects, and naturally enough I look forward to Sundays with some relish.  You can imagine how annoying it is, then, when the electricity board decides to turn the power off for seven-and-a-half hours on a Sunday, as happened on the sixteenth of this month, and you are left sitting staring at a wall or desperately trying to find something to do which does not require electricity (and how easy is that nowadays, especially if you a child of the information age?).  To be fair, the power cut was announced in the local paper, but it makes you wonder just how incompetent a power supply company has to be to have to cut a whole town’s power off for so many hours “to carry out necessary work”, as they so vaguely put it.  How atrocious, then, was the original work they did when installing the town’s power supply?  This sort of power cut, where the whole town is deprived of its supply, is, thankfully, a relatively rare occurrence; more common, though, is the case where sections of the town are cut off for six or more hours on a Sunday.  Laughably enough, the power company will postpone such power cuts if the weather is bad – maybe their employees refuse to work if it is raining or the sky a tad grey?  The thought of such ridiculous power cuts in any other European country would be nigh on impossible, but not in Greece.  There again, Greece is a country where they haven’t even got around to putting power supply cables underground yet, a practice many other European countries adopted many years ago.  Hence towns and villages are blighted with unsightly power cables straddling between buildings, and inevitably trees growing upwards present a real threat of short-circuits as the branches entangle with the exposed power lines.  Each year in early Spring, on “Shrove Monday” (or “Clean Monday”, as it is called in Greek), youngsters fly kites, and sure enough each year there are the cases of children being fried to a cinder as their kites make contact with overhead power lines…


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Meatheads banging away with the bouzouki

In recent days the bars and so-called “places of night-time entertainment” in the centre of this town have been closed, in protest, they say, at the fact that the local town council has shut some of them down for a period of ten days as punishment for the fact that they have been breaking the law regarding after-hours noise levels.  In Greece there is a law which specifies when you can and cannot make noise in a built-up area.  This includes noise of any sort, from using a power drill through to playing loud music.  The times specified vary from place to place, but generally as a rule of thumb you shouldn’t be belting out your bouzouki music or bashing away on your Black & Decker between three and five in the afternoon or after eleven at night.  As of seven the next morning, you can annoy those around you to your heart’s content again.

So, in the centre of town there are a number of fairly seedy places where the young and wannabe-young of town gather to be ripped off for a drink (€5 (about £3) plus for a drink, if you please) and have their eardrums pierced by a combination of mindless Greek music and the appalling rubbish that purports to be pop music nowadays.  Some places have more style and play music which appeals to those with a tad more intelligence than the average punter, but these places are quite rare.

Recently residents in the streets where these bars are to be found have been so incensed by the level of music being played after eleven at night that the police have been called in, and as a result a number of them have had their licences withdrawn for a period of ten days.  The bright sparks who run the other bars decided to protest at this by also closing for a period of a few days, and incredibly the local Chamber of Commerce deemed it necessary to support them!

This is the sort of mentality which makes it hard to take this country and its people at all seriously, a feature of Greece which I am sure will recur throughout future posts in this blog.  A clear case of one law for me and another for the rest of you…  

My girlfriend and I occasionally spend an evening at one of the places which plays well-chosen foreign music (Greek music is, naturally enough, anathema to me) and another bar directly opposite plays its music so loud that it often completely drowns out the music at the place where we are sitting.  Naturally enough, the place opposite is full of the sort of meathead and brainless bimbo that you would expect, but directly above it there are flats where people are trying to sleep.  The lack of inconsideration shown to these people is beyond belief, and the bar owners actually have the gall to protest when the law is enforced against them!  These are the same people who recently have suddenly found themselves compelled by the Public Prosecutor to stop serving alcoholic beverages to minors.  Again, one law for me…

Strangely enough, a number of the places which closed down “in protest” at the “unfair treatment” of those bars being punished later re-opened with a complete new paint job on the inside, refurbished and ready to bring in the punters for another round of bouzouki bashing.  Double standards or what??


Thursday, October 06, 2005

An introduction

Most people back in Britain, on hearing that I live in Greece, come out with a trite "Oooh, how lucky you are..!”  They mostly imagine that life here is fairly similar to a holiday they may once have had in Greece, or that the climate is wonderful, or that the food is good and cheap.  Understandable (and spurious) as this view may be, it starts to grate after some time and I find myself trying to persuade them that life in Greece is very far from being a bed of roses and that they should count their blessings as they live in a country where they can take for granted so much that is missing here in Greece.  

This blog is intended to present a wry view of life in Greece, viewed through the eyes of an Englishman who has extensive knowledge of life here.  I am fluent in Greek (my university degree was in Modern Greek, taken before I came to live here), in the culture and ways of the Greeks – I was married to one for twelve years and now live with my Greek girlfriend, and have been subject to the horrors of Greek bureaucracy, as I am self-employed.  But I find myself turning ever increasingly into some sort of Victor Meldrew character regarding life here, and am frequently heard to exclaim the equivalent of “I don’t belieeeeve it!!” in Greek…  Any Greeks reading this might well take offence, but I have come to realise that the Greeks are only too happy to criticise their own country and yet find it particularly hard to accept any criticism from non-Greeks.  Strange and worrying!  

The blog is likely to be a touch tongue-in-cheek, but everything I mention will be from my personal experience of life here.  I hope you will enjoy reading it!