Δευτέρα, 12 Μαΐου 2008

Police? I think I'll call my bowling team instead.

Greek "Chips"...


Hello people,

As an interesting cultural observation, notice how facebook has gotten into the fabric of our lives: I am already seeing the results of the gas stations strike in Athens through my friends's status updates. They range from "Did anyone manage to get to work today? I stole my father's car!!" to "GIVE ME GAS, DUUUUUUDE!!!"
Because of course, the cab drivers are also on strike.

Anyway. On to another interesting story, although a much less funny one.

Last week, the news kept showing the shocking story of an escaped convict who killed a father of two while on the run. The most shocking part was not even the murder itself, but the stupidity/ineptitude of the Greek police, who not only left the guy unchained in an open van (no handcuffs or anything) - but get this: one cop even obligingly left his gun in a bag next to the guy.

Way to go, Greek police!

So the guy grabbed the policeman's gun, exited the van, jumped into a civilian car and ordered its terrified owner to drive at gunpoint. After a while, the convict got out and took yet another car and its driver as hostages. Those two escaped unharmed. Meanwhile, where was the police? I believe they were tamely following behind - in any case, not doing their job.

Finally, the convict jumped onto a bus and ordered the driver to go someplace. I am not sure of the details, whether the guy refused or called the cops - in any case, they were too late as usual. The convict shot the bus driver dead - with the cop's gun - before the police caught him.

Who's more guilty? The convict or the cop?

This reminded me of another escapee story that took place last year. A police van transporting 3 prisoners - including one notoriously dangerous Russian mafia guy - had a similar incident. In the middle of the 5-hour transport to the northern jail where they would be imprisoned, the Russian guy asked if he could pee.

The Greeks, being fundamentally decent folk, not only agreed to stop the van so this hardened convict could pee, but one guy even took off his handcuffs so he would have it easier. Agreed, bovine stupidity, but stupidity that was motivated by kindness nonetheless. That's what made the ensuing events so sad.

For guess how the Russian guy thank his kindhearted guards? Yep, he grabbed the cop's gun as soon as his hands were free and shot him dead, then killed another cop and wounded the third.

The Russian then escaped into the Greek mountains close to the Albanian border. He was followed by one of the other convicts, an Albanian. The third convict (also an Albanian, I believe) wisely decided to stay in the van and told the entire story to the authorities when they finally arrived. A manhunt ensued for several days, after which both escaped convicts were recaptured.

But these incidents beg the question: where do Greek police officers get their training? At the local fairgrounds? "Get a free police license if you manage to shoot the duck!" Or are they all nephews/cousins/godsons of high graded police officers? "Failed your exams for the 7th time? No problem! Uncle Takis will get you in the force!"

Thank god we do not have a very high rate of criminality compared to other Western countries - or most of the police force would probably have been wiped out already.
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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:
John T:
"The most shocking part was not even the murder itself..." I think you've been in Greece for too long.
Linus L:
I can't help but think how your life would be in danger if the authorities had the wits to actually hack into your computer and see these emails.
Keep fighting the good fight Laura! We miss you and the Belgian flag thing was absolutely hilarious.

Σάββατο, 10 Μαΐου 2008

Confused…?


German flag


Belgian flag


You are probably far removed from such concerns, especially in faraway L.A., so you most likely had no idea that the Greek government recently agreed to privatize the national phone company, OTE, by selling it to a German company. (Or selling parts of it while retaining some of it - I'm not quite sure.)

Anyway, this has caused a general furore here, since the Greeks are convinced this will mean huge increases in prizes, disruptions in services (even though more or less everyone agrees that the Germans are light years more organized than the Greeks), and basically the end of the universe as Greeks know it. Plus there is of course a huge national identity/pride issue at stake.

So what do the Greeks do? Apart from the usual complaining on every TV channel/"news" report etc., the general doomsday predictions in every newspaper and the students demonstrating and closing down the universities/destroying the dearly bought computers/equipment that is there for their own education…?

Why, they burn flags, of course! Because that's one big thing the average Greek has in common with the average American: burning a flag is considered sacrilegious and possibly deserving of death.

So some guys, feeling particularly smart/brave/justified, no doubt, grabbed a German flag and publicly BURNED it… Except they got it wrong. They didn't quite check their facts and actually burned a Belgian flag, which, OK, I'll admit, looks rather like a German flag on its side.

Now, this is something I would expect the average American to do. (Sorry, but you've got to admit it's true.) But the Greeks have been in the European Union (with the Germans AND the Belgians) since 1981, and should by now have learnt to differentiate between their respective flags.

Luckily for us, most other countries do not feel as strongly about flag burning, and do not feel the need to shoot someone in retaliation. Instead, the Belgian news showed the incident, while the amused presenter jokingly thanked the Greeks… in Greek.

Possibly because burning the wrong flag did not insure the results they hoped for, the Greeks have now reverted to their favorite strategy and have started yet another strike: gas stations. Since yesterday, one cannot buy gas anywhere in the city, apparently.

I was unaware of that, and now only have 1/2 a tank full. When will the gas stations reopen, I asked? Why did I bother to ask? No one knows, of course. This will no doubt provide interesting developments, as the work week arrives and gradually less people will show up at their office, being unable to get there… Good for the economy, no doubt. Seriously. The coffee shop economy, I mean. Because you know that's where the Greeks will spend their time, given half a chance.
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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:
Mikky J:
Come on. Realistically, what could the Belgians do, anyway--sic their Smurfs on you?
Marc O:
Quelle belle histoire ! Et dire que je l'avais ratée ! Ca s'est passé quand ? Je crois que je vais en parler dans mon billet du Vif de la semaine, je cherchais justement une idée...

Πέμπτη, 1 Μαΐου 2008

Priorities


Remember how my little grandma's pension was brought to her home by a very nice man who expected cookies in return? Well apparently it also works the other way around. The other day I got a phone call from the local equivalent of AAA. It was time to renew my 6-month subscription. Could their employee come to collect the fee Tuesday morning?

What about wiring the money? How about sending them a check? Credit card, anyone? Nope. Their employee was there the next morning, explaining that if I had any grievances, he would report them to his office. No phone calls, no complicated forms to fill out. He handed me a handwritten receipt and wished me a happy Easter. [The Greek Orthodox Easter was on April 27th, by the way.]

The personal touch, I guess. Although I cannot help wondering about what this sort of personal service does to their expenses/benefits margin, I have to admit it was rather pleasant to have everything taken care of for me. Plus, the guy was cute, for once. I was almost tempted to report a complaint to keep him there longer.

But on to our subject: priorities.

The other day my grandma and I were watching the “news” on one of her favorite channels. The presenter had invited a physiognomy specialist and for roughly ½ an hour they proceeded to analyze in details the wrinkles and eyebrows of various Greek politicians.

According to the specialist, triangular eyebrows were indicative of an acute mind and very common amongst politicians. [I tried in vain to remember whether Bush’s eyebrows matched the description.]

Laugh lines that continued below the cheeks and framed the chin were a good sign, apparently indicating a good and jolly nature. [This was used to describe a politician who stole millions from Greece – I shall not name him, because every Greek will come up with a different name.]

The “news” thus passed rather entertainingly, until it was time for a news update about a missing person in a remote area of Greece. The news correspondent had barely started explaining that the 25-year-old missing woman was now presumed dead, when the presenter started looking at his watch. The correspondent started explaining that 3 persons, including a woman, were being held under suspicion of the 25-year-old’s murder, when the presenter rudely interrupted him and said it was time to move on to something else.

Outraged, I switched channels.

Unfortunately, the next program showed an incensed citizen who described how the city of Piraeus (a part of Athens, kind of the Athenian version of Marina Del Rey, I guess) had spent 2.5 million euros on Christmas decorations while trash was accumulating in the streets because of… budget restraints.

But hey, maybe they saved a ton of money by not buying any Christmas trees: instead, they probably just decorated the piles of garbage in the streets.

See? 2.5 million for decorations, but not a cent to spare on trash rotting in the streets.
1/2 hour for the eyebrows of public personalities – perfectly normal. ½ a minute for a murdered woman – too long.

It’s good to know where Greek priorities lie.

But on a positive note, the Greek TV channel liked my script (especially the dialog, apparently!) and asked me to make a few changes. They are currently reviewing my rewrite, so keep your fingers crossed and wish for me that:

a) They pay me a decent amount of money
b) They let me direct the episode I wrote!!

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Christophe N:

Énorme ! J'espère que tes priorités sont rangées différemment !

Corey Z:

FINGERS ARE CROSSED!!!

It does pain me to know that Greek priorities are only slightly higher than American ones (instead of significantly higher)... Here, we'd get the 30 minutes on eyebrows, and then a 2 hour nightly special about the dead woman, how she was murdered, a reenactment of the murder with closeups of blood flying across the screen... ;) Seriously, though, good luck with the script!! I have a feeling it's going to work out perfectly for you!

Δευτέρα, 14 Απριλίου 2008

The Amazing Bitch

How can you not love a country where ATMs promise tantalizing things such as: “Please wait. This ATM will service you in a few minutes…?”

Needless to say, this ATM didn’t service me or anyone else, even though we hopefully waited in line for more than a few minutes.

Nevermind that, I am proud to say that I have just been accepted into the Greek equivalent of the DGA – based on my 2 short films (with their festivals and awards) and 1 medium length doc, for the onetime amount of 20 euros ($30), and thereafter a monthly fee of… 2.5 euros. That’s less than 4 bucks a month.

Eat THAT, DGA!! Who needs you and your bloody several-thousand-dollars-a-year fee?!...

Moving on, I’d like to share with you the joys of trying to work in this country. I’m not talking about finding work, which I’ve been trying to do for the past 6 months. I’m talking about actually working – which frankly, is starting to seem worse.

Before you get all excited, I still haven’t worked as a film director. I have, however, been asked to turn one of my proposals into a script for one episode of that bloody “lots of sex” serial I was supposed to direct.

Here’s how that came about… I had gone for yet another interview, this time with the local equivalent of a big studio boss. (This guy actually owns the largest and only state-of-the-art studios in Athens – at least according to his prospectus. I haven’t been invited to check the premises.)

An interesting note on the way Greek execs conduct business: whereas almost all of them have insisted on giving me their cell phone number and email (just try to imagine Harvey Weinstein giving you his private number. That’s right, you can’t even imagine it. Because it would NEVER happen.), very few of them have actually sounded pleased when I used that info… Well then WHY ON EARTH would they give it to me?? Is it just to show off their brand new business cards?

Anyway, while I was waiting for the big boss to see me, I met a friend of a friend in the lobby, who remembered me from 2 years ago, when he’d seen my short film and liked it. He mentioned another friend of his, who’d also loved my short, was now working at the TV station for which the “lots of sex” serial was shot. Why didn’t I give her a call? She had other [better] serials going on and there might be something for me.

So I called her [we’ll call her Cool Gal] and got an appointment to see her the next day. While we discussed the possibility of my working on another show, [“Nothing right now, but I’ll forward your CV as soon as we have a new episode”] Cool Gal asked me how come I still hadn’t directed an episode of that “lots of sex” serial.

I said I had no idea, kept being told there were no scripts, then handed in 2 episode proposals which I offered to write, was told I couldn’t possibly write them myself because the TV station would never approve, had then gone as an “observing director” to a lot of shoots and had generally had my chain yanked a lot since then.

At which point Cool Gal interrupted me to call in her supervisor, [we’ll call her Tough Gal] who’d apparently also loved my short, and had me repeat everything to her. That’s when they told me that:

a) They had been sent a list of potential directors with my name on it and
HAD SPECIFICALLY APPROVED ME back in September
b) They had NEVER been forwarded my script proposals
c) They were DESPERATE for good scripts and would have LOVED for me to write one

Cool Gal said it was for sure the head of physical production at the production company who was responsible for blocking my every attempt. [I can’t remember if I’ve named her already, but I think THE BITCH would be appropriate at this point.]

Apparently, The Bitch hates women and only ever works with men. Cool Gal’s theory was that she’s a lesbian who hasn’t yet accepted the fact and therefore hates all women. I believe it’s just as likely she’s a man eater and resents the intrusion of anything that looks vaguely female in her male-dominated universe.

But that’s neither here nor there. That’s when I stepped into a Woody Allen movie. You know that moment where someone is discussing the movie they just saw and the director steps out from behind a bush to defend them and says they’ve gotten everything right, unlike the asshole who was saying the opposite? This is a bit what it felt like.

Without warning, Tough Gal decidedly picked up the phone and dialed The Bitch’s number. Acting as though I wasn’t sitting right there, she proceeded to cream The Bitch in front of me. I could only hear her side of the conversation, and that was enlightening enough. Here’s roughly how it went.

“Hi, Bitch” [well, obviously she didn’t call her that].

“Tell me, how come Ms Neri still hasn’t directed an episode?”

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“Not her first language? I saw her last week, she speaks Greek perfectly well.”

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“From America? Expensive ideas? I don’t think so. She seemed perfectly reasonable. And she’s been to the set, right? So she knows what equipment we have.”

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“High opinion of herself? I think not. She seemed perfectly agreeable. Not at all arrogant.”

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“Not much experience? On our new show, we use young directors who’ve only ever done shorts. That show is doing a LOT better than yours, actually.”

[TAKE THAT, BITCH!]

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“Lots of questions about the available equipment and lighting? Well it seems rather positive to me that she’s that interested in the process.”

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“You know what? We really want to try new people to see if we can bring that show around. No, we don’t want Mr. BLA for the noir script. We’d like you to try Ms Neri.”


[Pregnant pause…]


[Then: another inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“Oh, she’s helped you a lot on set?”

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“She’s been there from morning till night?”

[Slightly exaggerated, but anyway.]

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“She’s even worked as an extra without being paid?”

[True. With my clothes on, might I add.]

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“I see. So it’s not your fault. You actually really like her.”

[Inaudible answer from The Bitch.]

“So YOU’re not the one blocking her way. It’s someone else. Sure. I’ll talk to the boss. Goodbye, Bitch.”


Hanging up, Tough Gal looked at us and said: “She really thinks we’re retarded. After spending ½ hour trying to convince me that you’re worthless, you have suddenly become the angel of the second coming. Wait, let’s keep this ball rolling.”

While I was still reeling from that conversation, Tough Gal picked up the phone for the second time and called the production company’s boss [we’ll call him Teddy]. Here’s how that conversation went:

“Hello, Teddy. Why hasn’t Ms Neri directed an episode yet?”

[Inaudible answer from Teddy.]

“We’d like to try new people, since that show isn’t doing well. And how about trying a feminine approach for once? This show wasn’t supposed to be a porno series. It was supposed to be subtle.”

[Inaudible answer from Teddy.]

“No, we’re not happy with the show. And neither should you be. We have about 8 episodes left, let’s try to make something out of them.”


Needless to say, I could have hugged both Cool and Tough Gal. I remember thinking that even if nothing came out of this, it had been a moment worth living for and I would feel forever thankful I was allowed to witness it. It’s a good thing I’m happy with little things, because it looks like that’s exactly what will happen.

Frankly, after that scene I was expecting the production company to call me right away. Maybe the next day or the day after. But a week passed, then 2, then 3. It’s now been 6 weeks. This country is weird, as you know by now. Apparently, even the TV station [who is paying for the serial] cannot order the production company to hire who they want.

So the only positive thing to come out of this (other than a very welcome balm for my ego) was that the TV station asked me to forward them my proposals directly. I emailed them the very same day. A week passed, nothing. I asked whether they had received the proposals. Yes. Another 2 weeks, then 3. I concluded that they weren’t interested. Then I got an email saying they liked the second proposal. Nothing else. I tentatively asked whether they wanted me to write it. Well, yes, was the answer. I had 10 days.

So I started feverishly writing, for although my spoken Greek is good, my written Greek leaves much to be desired [think, “Eef ahi was riting eenglish layke thees”] and I had to go through hell to get my script corrected by the deadline. [That story will be for another time.]

Anyway, I sent it to the TV station last week and am still waiting for an answer. But hey, if it took them 1 month to approve the proposal, think how much longer it may take for them to approve the script/suggest changes. I’ll probably be back in the US by then.

The other question is this: will I ever be paid for this work? Probably not. They could:

a) Decide they don’t like the idea after all and simply discard it – no pay (very likely)
b) Decide to use something similar rewritten by someone else (although this is more of a Hollywood thing, really)
c) Decide I am new and inexperienced and only need to be paid some peanuts (very likely)

Next time, I’ll tell you all about my other [unpaid of course] Greek job. We can always find plenty of those, apparently…

Take care people, and think positive.

If I can get used to this, you can deal with traffic jams and smog. Think Greek: instead of grumbling, just go get a coffee, spend 3 hours on a terrace and enjoy the sunset.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Katy F:
You are amazing. I pray that you are keeping these stories for your memoirs. It's incredible.

Wes K:
For some strange reason, this email really turned me on. lol. Is that creepy or what? I'm glad there is some measure of justice for you in the encounter.

Christophe N:
Haha!!! Tu m'avais parlé de cette conversation! "Ravi" (ahem) de voir que ça n'a absolument pas avancé...... Bon courage en tout cas, et j'ai hâte qu'on se retrouve à LA!!!!!

Sasha VK:
??????????????????????????????????????????????
How the hell do you live in that country, is it possible to earn money if you have been educated or is it better to just marry a rich guy and be a house wife? I would explode..... Do a TV series abour job searching in Greece!

Melissa E:
I think this is my favorite so far. : ) I am wishing you luck!

Amy T:
Yikes! All of that energy from the network to get you a show and they don’t get you a show. It sounds like Hollywood!?!!

Πέμπτη, 20 Μαρτίου 2008

Trash












People,

There is still a lot of catching up to do, so I'll try to condense things.

First of all, I don't think I mentioned what the strikes (still going strong by the way) are about.

From what I could gather through all the general yelling on TV and with people whenever I broach the subject in public, the Greek government is trying to make the pension system more efficient by reducing the number of pension plans through various mergers. Namely, we currently have about a hundred pension plans, and after they have been merged we should have about 14.

To be honest, this sounds like a rather reasonable plan to me, a good way to simplify things and reduce costs. But of course, many people complain that this will make things worse instead of better, and that those who have good pension plans now will have worse ones. Since I usually tend to root for the underdog, I am thinking more of all the people for whom this might be an improvement, but it is true I do not have a pension plan here, so it's easy to be generous with other people's money.

But I digress. I also forgot to mention that during the strikes, the trash does not get picked up. At all. We now have piles of stinking trash rising steadily all over town. Thank god it's not summer. I have included a couple of pictures in this email, so you can see what the city is starting to look like. I especially like the 2nd one. Notice how the Greek flag is slowly being swallowed up by trash? Clearly, the European flag is next. Maybe it's just me, but I thought this was a highly symbolic picture.

I shouldn't complain, though. A few weeks ago, the same thing happened in Italy. In Naples, the piles of trash had apparently reached the second floor windows. So overall, I'd say we're doing pretty good, here in Greek-land!

Now, I don't know if you heard, but back in January/February, it snowed quite a bit in Athens. Not only that, but the snow actually held, reaching about 7 or 8 inches deep for a couple of days - even in my usually warm Southern suburbs! (I'm including a picture of my balcony.) I'm sorry I don't have the picture to prove it, but the beach was actually covered in snow. It looked a little like Greenland, except with palm trees.

Of course, the Greeks used the opportunity to close everything down again: schools, public services, post offices… I don't remember getting one single day off from school during the much harsher winters in Belgium, when there was snow up to our knees. But in their defense, Greeks hate being cold, and the schools are apparently terrified that the pipes might freeze over and the little cherubs might catch their deaths. Knowing what an angry Greek parent can look like, I rather understand them.

As for my nationality, I went back to the town hall, and they did register me [the strike apparently relented for 1 day, so some worker was bored enough to stamp my paperwork]. All that remained for me to do in order to obtain an ID card was go to the police station [by appointment only]. I had to bring the town hall's paper, the government's paper stating that I am Greek, 4 black & white photos and my poor grandma as a witness - to WHAT, I'd like to know. Clearly another case of the Greeks not trusting their own government, yet trusting the word of a total stranger, and a biased one at that.

So to the police station we went with my little grandma, whom I practically had to hoist up a very steep flight of stairs - for who needs an elevator in a police station? Probably an economical way of keeping their police officers fit. I should also mention that police stations in Greece usually have a guard armed to the teeth stationed at the door, asking you what your business is before letting you in.

I'm not kidding. These guards are literally dressed in full combat gear, with a bullet proof vest, combat boots and a giant firearm to match. I know strictly zero about weapons, but to my untrained eye it looks rather like a Kalashnikov. I do not know exactly what vicious attack they are there to prevent in my peaceful suburb, but it certainly makes one feel less safe to see them armed like that, wondering where the threat is coming from. Probably other would-be terrorist photographers such as myself.

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this either, for I am not risking imprisonment AGAIN for you, guys - remember my little adventure with the DANGEROUS PHOTOGRAPH??... For those of you who don't, there now is a blog with all my newsletters, complete with photos AND your comments too! [http://atouchofgreece.blogspot.com/]

Anyway, we got into the IDs office and the guy made me fill out a couple of forms. Which is when I realized that Laura Neri was apparently too foreign a name for the town hall people, and I had been rebaptized Lora Nerh.

Short history of Greece and names. About 99% of the population in Greece is Christian Orthodox. Priests/churches supposedly will only baptize your child if his/her name is a recognized name, a.k.a. in the Bible. [Although that is rather flexible, since most ancient Greek and mythological names aren't, yet have been extremely popular lately.] Clearly, whoever registered me at the town hall decided that Laura was too pagan a name and decided to change it to a more acceptable one. The 'h' is just the Greek way of writing 'i' in this case.

Did I mention that the Greek way of pronouncing that is LOR-a, pronounced like the last 'OR' from 'horror'? I hate that name. I really do. For those of you who don't know it, my name is Italian and should be pronounced something like 'Lah-oo-rrah' - but only by Italian/Spanish speakers. The rest can stick to Laura.

The police officer very seriously suggested I return to the town hall to have this corrected, but picturing another 3 months delay because of the undoubtedly inextricable complexity of altering something that had now been officially recorded in the Greek registers, not to mention more strikes and a new appointment at the police station + hoisting of grandma up the stairs, I declined.

I would be LORA in Greece forever, he warned. Gritting my teeth, I said that I would live with it.

One more thing before I run off to play badminton: the city apparently intends to repave the streets in my area. I say "apparently", for about 6 weeks ago, they stripped our street of tar, along with a couple of other random streets in the area [don't ask me why they don't do an entire block together - I'm sure there is a Greek reason for this] - but the workers have since then disappeared, never be seen again. My street looks all forlorn, naked like that.

Hopefully they'll repave it before I leave the country.

L.
PS: I should have sent this yesterday, for now this last point is moot: as though they'd somehow read my complaint, the workers magically reappeared yesterday and covered my street in tar once more. I was so grateful I didn't dare ask what took them so long.
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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:
Christophe N:
Bon, ben au moins, t'as ta nationalité grecque ma chère lora. non?
Gavin K:
I'm so glad to see that the bitingly humorous observations/commentary of the Laura Greek Chronicle emails are back again!!! Love those trash pics - wow. Can only imagine the pleasant smell that goes with them...!

Δευτέρα, 17 Μαρτίου 2008

Death and Taxes

Hello people!

I know, I know, I've been bad and lazy this last couple of months… So here's an update of what has happened since my last letter.

After receiving the long-awaited letter stating that I am indeed Greek, I started the whole procedure of getting registered at the local town hall and getting a Greek ID/passport. Of course, you know Greece by now - none of it was as simple as it sounds.

First, I was told I had to go to Athens, to the office that had erroneously given me the famously disputed birth certificate. (Remember that piece of paper I almost wrestled someone for?) Anyway, I apparently had to have it annulled before being able to claim my nationality as the daughter of a Greek woman. Because that paper implied I was Greek by birth, not by blood. But, I said, since I'm Greek anyway, does it really matter… YES! Of COURSE it did!!

Knowing by now discussions are useless, I made the long trek to that office. After waiting in line forever as usual, I finally got a woman to take care of the problem. I'll give you the short version of that discussion: "Wait, so you're Greek?" "Well, not yet." "But this says you're Greek. Why do you want to cancel it?" "So I can be Greek." "But you are Greek." "Look, will you just cancel the damn thing?!"

Having learned by now the circumvoluted way in which the Greek mind works, I insisted she give me a paper proving that this had been cancelled. Proudly brandishing that, I returned to the town hall.

Unfortunately, a series of strikes had just started paralyzing the city, and the town hall was officially closed until further notice - even though half the employees were in their offices. [I don't really get it, but anyway.] They might reopen in a couple of days, or maybe next week.

Greeks being a people that jumps at such opportunities, the strike of course was extended to roughly 10 days, during which most public services didn't function, including public transportation, some schools were closed - and the electricity was cut off for several hours every day, generally at lunch time [possibly they hoped that the irritation at having to eat a cold lunch for an entire week would prompt people to support their cause in the hopes of ending the strike] - or in the evening, so that we were all reduced to 18th century devices: candlelight and quiet conversation, since most bars don't have a generator.

And let us not forget the best part: no electricity = no lights. No lights on the streets, a.k.a. no red lights, no green lights, no policemen anywhere of course, and tons of enraged Greeks trying to pass crossroads at the same time, at the speed of… light.


Ah, lots of excitement in Greece. Living dangerously. I tell you, James Bond has nothing on us. Iraq? Afghanistan? Naaaaah. Statistics say our death rate each year is that of a country at war. Except our war is waged in cars, by people furiously manipulating stick shifts and stomping on gas pedals.

What else happened? Taxes of course!

Obviously, I never had to pay taxes in Greece up to now. Since I made exactly 200 euros since I got here, I didn't think taxes would be a necessity. But of course, a law had just been changed, and since my mother has put her apartment in my name [Greeks do that a lot to avoid the huge inheritance taxes on property], I now had to file taxes.

There were half a dozen papers to obtain in order to have the privilege of paying taxes, and no sooner had I mailed the damn thing than I was summoned to the tax office in Athens. The very next day, might I add. Apparently, there are some things for which Greeks are VERY quick and efficient…

It appeared I hadn't signed my declaration ["I DID TOO!!!"] and had written an address in Greece while declaring I was a foreign resident. Tsk, tsk. Another long trek to Athens. Except I hadn't been told which office to go to - and the tax building comprised 5 floors full of offices. Fun.

When I finally found the right office, I pointed out to the person that I had of course signed my declaration. Her response? "It's barely legible." It was perfectly legible blue ink. What was I supposed to do? Print it in blood???

Anyway, once that problem was solved, there was the question of: did I owe the state any money?? I had been told that the law stated there were no penalties in cases like mine, but - of course - the law had changed that same week. This is Greece, after all. The woman gleefully started sorting through memos, but then she dispiritedly discarded them. The law had changed again the previous day, and I owed nothing once more. Glory be to Greece. Until the next time, of course. Tomorrow I'll probably owe a fortune.

More catching up in the next installment...

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Amy T:
Ha! Very funny! And now you’ll probably have to get a permit to live in your apartment. Wait! That’s only in germany. You have to file paperwork every time you move!

Christophe N:
Hé bé! C'est quand même la folie ton pays !

Linus L:
Oh Laura - you are a good girl - this is hilarious.
When are you coming back?

Pete S:
Ah, Laura-- this one was priceless! Thanks for the ray of sunshine.

John H:
I love your emails. You will triumph!

Σάββατο, 15 Μαρτίου 2008

Starting 2008 with a bang


The famous letter from the Surround. I was so happy to get it that I didn't notice they misspelled my name... This would come back to haunt me later. (See "Trash", March 2008.)


Hello, beautiful people!

I know, I have been silent for a long time, but not for lack of things happening since I came back to Greece after spending Christmas in Belgium.

Let me tell you the epic fight of having to go shopping for groceries on New Year's Eve with my little grandma. ("But grandma, why today of all days??" "We have nothing to eat for New Year's Eve." "How about shopping 1 or 2 days in advance?" "We must have fresh meat on New Year's day." "Grandma, I really don't care. How about we eat bread and cheese, maybe a salad, and go shopping after the craziness is over?" Oh, the shocked look. Heresy. No meat on New Year's day?!?! What did I learn in America? Barbaric people.)

There is no arguing with my grandma once she's decided something. She is deceptively small, for such a strong will. So we found ourselves at the supermarket at 11.00 am on the 31st. I wanted to go at 9.30, knowing that Greeks are notoriously late-risers and hoping we might avoid the brunt of the shopping onslaught, but we had to wait for my grandma's pension to be delivered to her house at 10.30 that same day.

Yes, in this country, one's pension is not wired to a bank, apparently; it is delivered by hand, by a sloppily dressed guy who stays for a cup of coffee and some biscuits (sorry, cookies), always thoughtfully provided by my grandma (and, presumably, by the other 50 old ladies he delivers a pension to every month - I wonder how he's not obese).

Once that immutable ceremony was finally over, ("Grandma, can't we skip the coffee and cookies for once?" "This poor boy has come all this way to bring me my pension!" "But that's what he's paid to do." Yet another disapproving look. Clearly, those Americans also took my sense of hospitality away.) - we finally got to the supermarket.

One look at the throngs of cars lining up 10 deep outside, waiting to get into the overfull parking lot, and despair grabbed me. We would be there until 2.00 pm. I dropped my grandma at the door and went to park 2 blocks down the street. (Only smart move of the day.)

Inside, claustrophobia briefly squeezed me when I saw the hordes of people, packed like rats (or sardines, whichever you prefer) as far as the eye could see. I'm not kidding, wading through that crowd was physically exhausting, not to mention mentally, since Athenian shoppers on or before any given holiday are notoriously NOT filled with any kind of Christmas spirit.

Trying to find my grandma in the crowd, worried that she might already have been pulled under and trampled by thousands of enraged shoppers, I didn't notice right away the woman who was repeatedly pushing me with her cart. After the 3rd time, when she viciously bumped me on the ankle, I finally turned around and asked if she could please stop hitting me with her cart, especially as she could see there was nowhere else for me to go, unless she expected me to step onto the head of the grandpa in front of me.

Big mistake. I saw her face light up: I had just provided her with an excuse to release all her pent-up frustration of the last hour she had spent in this hellhole, possibly even for her whole shitty week or her failed marriage.

"There is no way I can avoid pushing you", she screamed in my face, "there's too many people!" I pointed out to her that she probably could if she wanted to, since I had so far managed not to hit or shove anyone. This released a fresh burst of screaming, but I wasn't really listening, as I'd finally spotted my grandma in the crowd, fighting over some yogurt with another grandma.

I started moving in that direction, but the woman had no intention of letting her nice fight blow over that quickly. She screamed something about having the right to put her cart wherever she felt like it. I almost asked if that included my ass, but refrained and instead told her she was very rude, at which point she screamed even louder that no, I was the very rude one, and how dare I?!

Unfortunately, the crowds were such that I couldn't get away as quickly as I wanted to. Ever had those dreams where you feel like you can't move forward, and something or someone ominous is right behind you? That's exactly what it was like, being followed by this screaming harpy and her cart while slowly edging forward, except I couldn't wake up.

I finally reached my grandma (who'd won the fight over the yogurt, as it turns out), and the harpy gave up, since old people still command a minimum of consideration in this country and usually don't get screamed at as much as the rest of us.

After about 40 mn of shopping for various superfluous stuff, my grandma suddenly remembered our New Year's meal. Reaching the meat counter after an agonizing 10 mn spent crossing the supermarket, my grandma took a number, and I almost fainted: the number was 76. The counter above us read 7.

I tried to reason with her. This would obviously take over an hour, she couldn't remain standing for that long. But she wanted to choose the meat herself. I pleaded with her. Please, grandma, let's go home, I don't care if we eat nothing special, there's only 3 of us. But we had to have meat on New Year's Day. I begged her. I even threatened to leave her there, but she's crafty. She told me to go on, which of course I couldn't do.

So we stayed there, the crowd jostling us constantly, while the counter slowly crawled forward. After another 45 mn, we had reached number 41. I tried again to convince her to leave, knowing it was in vain. But she had a secret weapon, she said. She would use her age. Turning to the guy behind the counter, she wheezed: "My dear boy, I am 88 years old. Have mercy on an old lady."

I was expecting some outraged reactions from the crowd, but old age is somewhat sacred here, after all. After finishing with his current client, the "boy" (who looked in his early 50s) dutifully asked my grandma what she wanted. She pointed at a huge chunk of meat. I didn't even try to argue, knowing that my grandma always cooks for 10, then donates whatever we cannot eat to the neighbors and wonders why she is constantly running out of money.

I briefly wondered why she hadn't used her secret weapon right away, but I guess even Greeks have to see an old woman suffer for a while before ceding their place. Seeing her success, another old lady elbowed my grandma: "Say, I'm 81 years old. Could you also ask him for that piece of meat for me?" My grandma of course complied.

I'll spare you the other 40 mn spent waiting in line at the cashier's, and my brief murderous impulse when I was told I should have weighed even the pre-packaged fruit and vegetables I had bought at the special fruit & vegetable counter, where yet ANOTHER giant line awaited me.

Instead, I'll share with you the wonderful news of 2008.

Are you ready?

Drumroll...

I have received a letter from the Greek government, stating that YES, I AM GREEK AFTER ALL!!!!!!
(And apparently have been since August, when I first deposited all my docs with them, but who's counting the months before they told me?)

Of course, I must now begin an entirely new fight to get a passport/ID card form my local city, but who cares? I am seriously thinking of having that letter framed.

Hope 2008 is turning out to be a good year for all of you.

Take care,
Laura
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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Kim R:
Absolutely frame it.

Cory M:
That settles it. Greece is a jungle.
But I'm glad you finally wore them down and gained admittance to the tribe.

Bénédicte G:
FÉLICITATIONS, MA LAURA !!!!!!!!!!!
Et vive les Grecs !

Diane Lisa J:
CONGRATULATIONS!!
I always knew you were Greek. They should have just asked me, I could have told them.

I still love the story of you going from room to room getting rejected until you finally found the one helpful lady by lying and saying you were sent to that room. These are tricks you must have learned at USC.

Will M:
Congratulations on the victory!

Amy T:
Woo hoo! Glad to hear you are back and giving us updates.