Τρίτη, 30 Οκτωβρίου 2007

The rematch

October 30, 2007

Hello, beautiful people!

I know I have been very remiss lately in sharing my latest Greek news with you. A lot has happened, quite a bit of it bad, some of it that leaves some room for hope, and most of it ridiculous and crazy as only the Greeks can do it, of course.

First of all, my Greek nationality is still pending. But first, I must tell you about THE REMATCH…

A few weeks ago, I went back to the office of the “Surround” in order to try once again to get my case submitted for approval. You see, in case you guys didn’t quite get this part, all my efforts of the last 10 years didn’t even get me as far as submitting – they always sent me back for more documents, so that my case was never actually under consideration.

I had always assumed that state employees simply didn’t want to go through the effort of submitting/reviewing my case, but lately my perspective has shifted. After seeing all the effort that goes into devising cunning new ways to send me away, one cannot help but realize it would clearly have been less effort for them to simply tackle my case from the first.

Therefore, I have come up with a couple of possible explanations:

a) It is a kind of sport for them – possibly complete with bets between employees as to which one will manage to do the less work/send the more people away/drive the more people insane
b) They simply, honestly have no idea what they are doing and assume that by not doing anything, they are keeping themselves free of blame
c) They just hate my guts on sight
[I have a problem with this last one, but one must face the possible truth, after all, since my Greek friends insist that THEY never have problems like ME and that I’m the ONLY one who EVER reports such dysfunctional occurrences.]

The Greeks of course have other theories:

d) It is a conspiracy from the opposing party to unseat the current government
[I don’t really see how that would work, but knowing the intricacies of Greek politics, I’m sure there’s a perfectly Greek explanation for it.]
e) The employees are expecting a bribe.

This one almost seems too easy for Greek reality. What, hand in a bribe and all your problems go away? How un-Greek. One must suffer to accomplish anything. After all that’s the whole point of living: suffering. Right?

Also, I would never do that, simply on principle. Call me crazy, but I refuse to bribe people to do their job – even though I know that bribes are a perfectly normal way of conducting even the simplest everyday task here.

After all, this is the only EU country I know where you need to bribe your surgeon to make sure you get better service. But mostly, it is the only country I know of that doesn’t even feel the need for shame at this corruption, much less the need to change things: one minister once went on TV and actually delivered the following speech: “Come on, guys. Take your bribes, but let’s not overdo it, OK?”

Some of my Greek friends actually use this as an example of how honest Greeks are: “You see?” They say. “No one denies there is corruption! A least we’re not lying about it.”
Oh, sure. My heart swells with pride at the thought.

But let’s get back to the Surround.

I went there at 8 am, as I had done in the past, expecting to get a number and then come back around 1.30pm in the hopes of seeing an employee before closing time at 2pm. Unfortunately, the system had just changed: we now had to come at 11.30 am, at which time they would start letting people in right away.

Thinking I had a few hours to kill, I went for a stroll and had breakfast on one of the gorgeous squares in the area. Coming back a little before 11 am, I realized there were now 20 people sitting haphazardly on the stairs or the floor.

Having no idea who was first or last, I simply stood there and waited, striking a conversation with a Scottish woman who was also trying to get her Greek nationality through her mother. She lived 5 hours away and had to go home that same night, but one can only apply for citizenship in person, in Athens, in this one office.

A little after 11.30, by which time our numbers had grown to roughly 50 people, an employee came down with little numbers that he started handing out, saying only the first 14 people would be allowed in, then another 14, and that would probably be it for the day.

That’s when the melee began: everyone rushed forward, suddenly remembering they were first, no me, I was before you, because I was after that lady with the hat, and who were you behind? Because I distinctly remember you weren’t there when I arrived. Of course I was, and who do you think you are, calling me a liar?!

Of course it was impossible to tell, and the Surround employee, after half-heartedly berating us for not respecting the first-come first-served rule and being unruly, simply shrugged and started handing the numbers to whomever had the longest reach.

Seeing a mustachioed old man trying to slink his way past me, I instantly moved to block his path, but he skillfully evaded me – he’d obviously had a lot of practice. Forced to stand behind him, I eventually got the number 19, ensuring that I would at least get in to see someone, and probably proving that I had also managed to steal someone’s spot.

In the same melee, we climbed the stairs to the 2nd floor, where the offices were located, and had to wait for another hour while the first batch of 14 people went in. There was almost a slight incident when the people behind, forced to wait on the staircase as there was no room on the tiny landing, started pushing forward and were rewarded by the people in front pushing just as hard backwards so as not to be crushed against the wall; one tiny man almost went over the railing, but a couple of strong guys managed to right him up before we had a live remake of “Vertigo”.

When my time finally came to go in, I was directed to one of 4 offices, but having previously experienced the paperwork-stealing hysterical woman of office number 1 [whom you probably remember], I pretended I didn’t hear the guard and slipped into the 2nd office. The good think about Greece is that no one came after me to order me into my assigned office.

Sitting in front of this new woman, I proudly showed her my letter from the Ministry of the Interior [although carefully holding on to it in case she decided this was WRONG and had to be shredded], pointing out to her the “IT IS A POSSIBILITY” line and the various required docs, which I proceeded to lay on the table in front of her.

But she was already shaking her head. No, she said. I was still missing the following documents – and she proceeded to list 8 docs, most of which had to come straight from Brussels, since that is where I was born.

Notice that not only had she also managed to once again refuse considering my case, she actually managed to set me back several months, since I would need to fly to Brussels to gather all these docs, have them translated by an official translator in Athens [“But some of these have already been translated by an official translator!” “Yes, but that was in Brussels.” Shark smile], before finally being allowed back in her office.

That is when this newly discovered Greek in me took over once again. Humbly nodding, I made her write everything down, thanked her profusely, and instead of leaving like I had been ordered to, I discretely slipped into the next-door office.

The woman asked about my business, but was very quickly bored with me and told me to go either to the earlier office or the next one over. I of course went to the next one over, where a young woman had half a dozen hopeful people waiting for her to help them. She was my last hope too.

Looking up in dismay when I came in, she exclaimed: “Are you all coming to me? But there are other offices you know!” I thought this was rather a good sign, and when another guard came to direct me to another office, I assured him I had been sent here by the previous office and gently but stubbornly refused to budge.

While I waited, I saw the Scottish woman walking out with a dazed expression on her face. What happened? I asked. They said she had to come back. She’d had to drive 10 hours back and forth in one day, and they told her to come back. How long had she been trying to get her nationality? 1 year, she replied, indignantly. Nodding in sympathy, I thought it best not to tell her it had been 10 long years for me. After all, if you take a person’s hope away, they tend to stop fighting. And the more people fight this bloody Greek system, the more chances we might see a change some day.

After 45 minutes, the young woman finally turned to me. “Sorry about the long wait”, she said. “How can I help you?” I almost hugged her right then. It was the first time since I’d been coming to this bloody Surround that I had heard that sentence.

I handed her my letter from the Ministry, trembling. She took it, read it, and in about 2 minutes she was stapling things together, filling out a form and asking me a couple of questions. In another 5 minutes, she had shown me to another office, deposited my paperwork with them and handed me a receipt.

I found myself on the sidewalk, stunned. Looking at the tiny piece of paper in my hand, the proof that it had not just been a dream, I still did not quite dare to believe that my case was actually going to be considered, after 10 years.

If there is a God, I do believe He/She is Greek. After all, who else would thus reward disobedience such as I had shown?

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Linus L:
hahahahahah! the bribes! I was dying... thank you for always updating about your travels!

John T:
You know, Laura. I've heard Greece is a beautiful country with a rich and interesting history. However, after all of these emails... I will NEVER go there, in my life, not once. Was that your purpose? To ruin any chance of me going there? Mission accomplished.

Cory M:
Remind me to never have surgery in Greece.

Ramjasha R:
1. Awesome story
2. Im never going to Greece
3. I will never complain in line @ the DMV again

Katy F:
your struggles with citizenship remind me of what it has been like getting my husband's visa for iran! or trying to get anything renewed, including my own passport and ID papers.

Correction

Oct. 4th 2007

Hello people,

I just received a furious email from a friend, ranting about the backwardness of Greece in terms of tolerance, and while I admire her justified indignation, I just wanted to set something straight, as I realize I gave a rather one-sided picture when I told you about my mixed-couple friends.

First of all, not everyone in Greece thinks like the "peripteras" [guy from the "periptero", remember?]. There are a lot of open-minded people here, but they tend to be found in the more artistic/cultivated spheres. At the risk of sounding socially biased, I would say that a "peripteras" is not usually one of them.

And even among those who don't get it, there is not what I call "active racism". In other words, no one will insult minorities (be they gay, black or anything else), and most importantly, there are no acts of violence against minorities - unlike in France, Germany, England, and even the US, which are supposedly more "tolerant" countries yet have regular occurences of beatings, murders, and/or arson against foreigners and their property.

Instead, there is what I call "racism of ignorance" - in other words, Greeks have only recently been exposed to more minorities in their country.
It is only in recent years that they have started seeing a regular influx of Africans, Asians, etc. into their society. As a result, they know close to nothing about them, (except maybe their aunt's cleaning lady, sadly) and there is this sort of "They don't bother us, but let's stay in our respective groups"- attitude which I most definitely intend to contribute to change!

There is also, even among educated people, a lack of understanding that some comments which they perceive as completely natural or some questions they perceive as completely innocent are in fact very offensive. My favourite example? A few years ago, a friend of mine asked my half-Filipina friend if her mother's eyes were "like this", while he grabbed the edge of his eyelids and drew them into a slit.

See, he liked my friend. Thought she was great, in fact. He didn't mean to offend her, but since she looks more latina than Asian, I guess he wanted to make sure he got it right, (or more likely whether I had gotten it right)... He certainly never thought she might be offended by such a question and could not understand my rage when I started screaming that this was unacceptable. To him, it was a perfectly legitimate question, with absolutely no harm intended. He felt I was way overreacting.

I have also noticed that a lot of it has to do with culture and language rather than race. For example, in recent years there have been 1 or 2 Black actors/presenters on TV. But they were born and raised in Greece, and therefore have no accent. As a result, they seem to be completely integrated into Greek society. Now, of course, I don't know these people personally, so I have no idea whether they encounter a different, more subtle kind of racism every day, but my guess is that most of the time, just having the same cultural background as native Greeks (in fact, they ARE native Greeks) gives them more legitimacy in some people's mind than me.

After all, I was born abroad, have lived abroad most of my life, and the slightest foreign accent can be detected when I speak certain words - or at least the few grammatical mistakes I make betray my foreign origins, as some acquaintances were quick to point out. Even a close friend of mine said to me that I wasn't really Greek, certainly not like her, who was born and raised there. See? If your own friends have that kind of attitude, what hope is there from the rest of society?

But I'm working on it, fear not.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Cory M:
Well, I'm certainly happy that there is no serious racism in Greece, alone among the countries of the world. Must be very nice.