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!

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