Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A Thousand Pieces of Paper

"I'll need to pay your ensima," my wife's "boss" told her. "…It puts you on a legal footing while working for me and will also bring benefits if and when you need any prescription drugs in the future." Being in the IKA system means you get them at a huge discount.

Seemed to make some sense. Although Yvonne-Maria only works part-time out here, she agreed. This, though, was going to entail her exchanging her recently acquired Residency Permit for a Work Permit. More bureaucracy loomed large on the horizon. It was earlier this year when we'd steeled ourselves for the process of renewing our residency permits and we'd be pleasantly amazed at how smoothly the process had gone. But here we were now facing more visits to accountants, Police Stations, Governments Departments… Oh, well, once again it was a case of "When do we start?"

The "ins" and "outs" and benefits or otherwise of being in the Greek "system" are often hotly debated among ex-pats and, frankly, everyone you meet gives you a different opinion as to where they think you stand. So you analyze your own situation and decide what's best for yourselves and try not to discuss it too much as, sure as eggs is eggs, if you mention it to anyone else they'll tell you you're wrong and their way is how you ought to be doing it. Seems that the British tendency to lean on the bar of a pub and explain to one's companions how to solve their friends' and the Government's (nay, the world's) problems extends to sipping a beer or a frappe around a table here in Greece as well. As many people as there are in your company, there are frequently that many "experts" present too!

Anyway, in Yvonne Maria's case, if not my own, we hesitantly agreed to go down the "ensima" road. The "ensima" is roughly the equivalent to what back in the UK we used to call our "stamp," ie: our National Insurance payments. First stop, then, the accountant who looks after the affairs of her employers, where she needed to pick up a form (you knew that didn't you). Oh, no, wait, my memory's already a blur, it may have been the Police Station in Arhangelos, a half-hour's drive North from our house, where she had to go to collect a form which she then had to take to the accountant. Of course, the accountant in question has an office in the tiny whitewashed streets of Lindos and hence one can't simply pull up outside and trot in. No, one has to park way down in St. Paul's Bay, then walk the sweaty walk up the hill past the "Dimos" (Town Hall) and into the labyrinthine lanes of the village and arrive in the hope that someone will be "in" as it were.

Having made the trek to the Police Station in Arhangelos, where the grumpy bloke who does all the permits (and whom we'd hoped we'd never have to clap eyes on again last January, when we'd finally walked out with our new and - even more important - permanent Residency Permits) had to hand my wife a form which she'd then have to take back to the accountant in Lindos, we thus found the time to whip over to Lindos one steamy hot summer morning to start the ball rolling with the accountant.

We walked into the Accountant's office and sat down to wait whilst he (actually it was his assistant we were looking at, but he seemed to know what he was doing) finished dealing with another client. We Brits are good at that sort of thing aren't we? You know, waiting. If there's someone ahead of us, we'll smile at each-other, stare around the room in the search for anything which may take our attention or distract us long enough for our turn to come without our having become too restless, and resign ourselves to await the call. Pretty soon the woman in the chair on our side of his desk arose, which was a start anyway, then proceeded whilst jangling a set of keys in one hand and her mobile phone and handbag in the other to pursue a conversation about the family for a further five minutes before eventually exchanging a "sto kalo, na'ste kala" or two with the Accountant's right hand man, throwing us a half smile as she turned and exited the room into the furnace outside.

I stayed in my seat where I was to quietly dissolve into a mass of sweaty human stickiness while my wife approached the desk and took her seat. After he'd asked what he could do for her she mentioned who she worked for and that he probably had been told to expect her and, after a few moments rumination and a sip of his take-away frappe, he nodded and said that, yes he remembered. She was the κopella (which means girl - she was well impressed with this) he'd been expecting. On picking up the form which she tossed across his desk he perused it and asked, "What do you want me to do with this?" whereupon she replied, "I was rather hoping that you'd tell me."

At this juncture a man with a motorcycle helmet and jeans (yes only Greek men will still wear full length jeans when the temperatures touching 100ºF in summer) walked in and, approaching the desk began to make some enquiry of other of the deputy accountant without so much as a "by your leave" to my very patient wife or the pool of shorts-clad perspiration (me) in the corner. Within milliseconds the deputy accountant and this bloke disappeared through a side door and left us exchanging bemused glances with each-other. Not that we were really surprised at this. It's how things work here. If you don't want to wait around in the queue you just act like the person in front of you doesn't exist. We're British so we've never tried this, but maybe some day we will and then we'll feel truly Greek.

Eventually, having seen off this interloping queue-jumper the bloke behind the desk told my wife that she now had to take this form, on which which he'd by now scribbled a few details, to the local Police Station here in Lindos, accompanied by her boss' husband. The two of them needed to sign it in sight of a Police officer. So it was that a couple of days later Y-Maria and Alexandros entered Lindos Police Station, did the necessary and exited to begin the next stage. Apparently, she now had to take this form back to the accountant who'd then give her another piece of paper which she'd need to take to the OAED office.

"The OAED office?!" My wife had asked the accountant (or his assistant, whatever!), "I've never even heard of that one." Apparently it's the Government department which deals with recruitment. OAED stands for οργανισμός απασχολησέως εργατικού δυναμικού. Go on then, tell me what that says.

Of course, all these visits for form-filling, gathering and exchanging pieces of paper had to be fitted in between occasions when I was working, she was working or there was nothing else of an urgent nature which needed to be attended to. Phew. The following week we had a day off together. No nice few hours down the beach this time. It was off to OAED, which fortunately does have an office in Arhangelos and so didn't entail a trip into Rhodes town. Mind you, you could be forgiven for thinking that they don't really want anyone to actually find the place. We were only lucky that my wife's workmate had been through the process before and she was able to explain to us how to find it. It's down a narrow residential street off the main road which by-passes Arhangelos and is set back in a small courtyard between two-storey private homes. Granted, there is a sign over the entrance, but first you have to walk along the street and stare left and right. Then the eagle-eyed seeker will spot the sign at the back of the courtyard through the undergrowth of trees and bougainvillea ...if they're on their mettle.

Having navigated our way to the OAED office, once again I found a chair to plonk myself into whilst the better half approached a desk, where the person sitting behind it, without looking up, thrust a thumb in an easterly direction, thus directing her to the man she actually needed to see. Amazingly, this bloke was on the ball - and [yippee] there was NO QUEUE. Seeing the A4 sheet in my wife's hand, he extended one of his, took it and nodded. Placing it on the desk in front of him he rubber stamped it with a flourish (you just knew that a rubber stamp was going to feature somewhere in this story didn't you) and handed it back to her.

"Is that it?" She asked, incredulously. "That's it!" he replied. "Na'ste kala." And off we went, into the main street of the village for a well-earned frappe, which ended up being accompanied by a crèpe stuffed with Nutella and vanilla ice cream too. Well, to salve our consciences we did share it, albeit it was big enough to feed a family of four for a week.

"Are we nearing the end of the process?" I asked, with some degree of caution.

"Well," she replied, wiping some chocolate from her lips with a paper napkin, "I now take all this back to the accountant. I think. Then HE gives me some papers to take to the IKA office." Guess where the IKA office is folks. Yup, just along the road from the café in which we were now seated. So, now it was back to Lindos, into the accountant's office, which as stated earlier (you are still awake aren't you. Pay attention. I'll be asking questions afterwards) entailed quite a long walk from the car, then back here (half an hour up the road) to the IKA office, where finally the process would end. Well, not quite. Y-Maria then would have to take all the relevant forms to the Police Station, this time once again here in Arhangelos, to get the grumpy bloke to issue her a Work permit to replace her Residency one.

The following Monday we went to the IKA office to find that the woman who deals with such things was on a week's holiday. "You'll have to come back next Monday" another female staff member told us, I think with rather too much glee. So often here in Greece quite important procedural bureaucratic things are handled by a single member of staff. If they're not in, you don't get the job done. End of story. No one covers for them if they're off. It even applies to my wife's favourite weatherman on ET3 TV here. When he takes three weeks off during August, you don't get a weather forecast. Like it or lump it.

So, with yet another week under our belts, we once again walked into the IKA office in Arhangelos in the hope of getting all the loose ends tied up, so that my wife could go back to the Police station and thrust a huge pile of nicely rubber-stamped forms at the grumpy policeman in the hope that he would issue her permit. After having queued awhile she eventually made it to the glass screen behind which sat the now well-rested staff member (after her holiday, remember? Do try and keep up).

"Oriste!" the woman said to my wife, whereupon my wife passed a pile of papers through the gap in the glass for the woman to peruse. Part-way through this "perusing" process, during which she had to photocopy all kinds of stuff and rubber stamp even more, another woman of indeterminable age walked in and with no ceremony whatsoever immediately addressed a question to the woman who was serving my wife.

"What do I have to do to get a work permit?!" She demanded. The lady behind the counter, beckoning with her hand for my wife to move ever so slightly to one side, replied loudly: "YOU'LL NEED ABOUT A THOUSAND PIECES OF PAPER, LIKE THIS LADY!!"

A few days later Y-Maria was finally able to go into Arhangelos Police Station with the relevant paperwork for her Work Permit to be issued. Having sat for a few moments across the desk from the grumpy bloke, who seemed quite disappointed that she had everything in order, she enquired (having in mind the speed at which our Residency Permits had been ready a few months earlier) as to when it would be ready for collection.

"Dunno," replied the man, "We're out of cards. Got to wait 'til we get some new ones in."


  1. Manpower Employment Agency.................or something?

  2. It sounds very very complicated!! I bet the Greeks have more departments than the UK!


    1. The business to be in here is rubber stamp manufacture!!!

  3. I suppose that would complement the desk manufacturing business you were once considering, John!

  4. this really made me laugh because I know its oh so true - but no queue at OAED?? Lucky lucky! My residency permit once spent 3 weeks on the back seat of the chief of polices' car after he decided to deliver it (as he was passing my way) then promptly forgot and then didn't use his own car for ages!!