Looking at Greece

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Government "services" offices

Government services public offices in Greece. Now there’s a rich subject… Bureaucracy in this country is a scourge to be reckoned with, one not to be taken on by the meek, and it will have to be the subject of a longer blog entry than I have time for right now. Suffice it to say that I am at present in the middle of both changing address for my business concern and getting a set of new receipts validated by the Inland Revenue here, a process involving traipsing around various government offices. Incidentally, the Greek word for “euphoria” can be transformed into the Greek word for “Inland Revenue” by removing one letter, which is one helluva change of meaning to make with just one letter…!

So today I had to trundle along to the offices of the national insurance organisation responsible for my sort of business, an organisation called TEBE (pronounced tehveh), and the offices in question are on the second floor of a building devoted entirely to offices, dentists’ surgeries and the like. Now, in any other European country the national insurance organisation would have a slick plaque on the wall in the entrance stating which floor the office is on, and equally slick office premises to welcome the visitor. This being Greece, the equivalent of the slick name plaque is four pieces of roughly-cut, much fingered and therefore grubby sticky-back paper, each the size of a large stamp, stuck in line on the interior wall of the lift next to the second floor button. The first sticker had a biro-ed T on it, the second an E, the third a B and the last an E again. And hey presto!TEBE

Once you get to the office – and let’s remember that this is the premises of the organisation insuring you compulsorily, as a self-employed person, for health insurance and your state pension – you go in through a door which opens to a thick fog of tobacco smoke from the staff’s cigarettes. Coughing and spluttering as you go through the office, you find it doubly annoying to see that of the six staff in there when I visited it today, two were working, three were playing with their mobile phones, and one was standing at an open window watching the traffic below. Do I feel that my compulsory contribution of €562 (£382) every two months is well-spent? Do I heckers!!!

From there it was over to the neighbouring Chamber of Commerce office to get a certificate to take to the Inland Revenue (or is it euphoria?!). There, at the Chamber of Commerce, I walked into the empty office where the clerk was sitting idly at a computer, and I chirped up a breezy “Good morning!”. And I got no response. The chap didn’t even look up. After about ten seconds, during which the eyes played around the computer screen, there was a gruff “What do you want?” and a pair of bored eyes looked up from what had evidently been a hard session of web-surfing, those eyes clearly saying “How dare you interrupt me?”. The lack of civil politeness in everyday life here is something you eventually get used to, “civilisation” being a word which Greeks bandy about in reference to their country of two millennia ago but also a word which they do not usually even attempt to apply to their daily behaviour, but when it comes to public services offices it is in absolutely no way justifiable. These clerks, civil servants and various skivvies are being paid by our taxes, and this particular clerk by the €50 (£34) I have to cough up tomorrow to get my certificate when I go back.

Disgraceful does not begin to describe the state of government services offices… But it is a good start.