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!