Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sign Here, ...and Here and Here...

I suppose I ought to be grateful. To have to go through the necessary rigmarole simply to be able to use one's Greek debit card on line ought to instill in one the feeling that one's cash is secure where it lies, more safe from potential electro-thieves than if it were stashed in some other places, …I suppose.

It doesn't alter the fact though that I was well unimpressed when, after going through the booking procedure with a Greek airline's website for our flights to Athens for a brief three-day stay this coming June and having arrived at the page where you part with the cash for the tickets (including all those annoying extra taxes and stuff) I attempted to type in the details of my Greek card. All of that very long number entered, then the expiry date, then that three number code on the reverse of the card, I arrived at a box that asked me for "Your debit card security code". My debit card security code? What was that then? My PIN perhaps? But then it didn't say PIN and the box looked far too long for a simple four-digit number.

Frantically flipping through the files under my desk in the search for paperwork from the bank, I ended up with sheets of A4 paper everywhere, bank passbook on my lap (quaint I know, but Greek banks - at least our Greek bank, which is one of the largest and most stable [fortunately] in Greece, still issue passbooks like those we used to use for our Post Office Savings account in the UK) - I drew a blank. There was no sign of any extra security code for my debit card, yet this payment page on the website demanded it still. I had no alternative but to call the bank and see what was what. Of course here in Greece, like the world over these days, you call your bank and you get all those irritating choices and then you have to press another key on your phone's keypad, and another, and another until eventually for the very briefest moment you hear a ringing tone before a pop song kicks in.

And why is it that whenever you get put on hold and a really irritating pop song is played down the phone to you it's always so loud that it distorts terribly? Do these companies really think that you want to hear some awful American or British woman trying hard not to sustain a single note without improvising all over the scale in a voice that I can only describe as a cross between a strangled cat and someone having their toenails pulled out? Why can't they play us Vivaldi's Four Seasons or something that at least soothes the pressured client hanging on the line and ever hoping in vain that they'll get to speak to a human before they die?

Then, just when you think someone's going to pick up the phone at their end, it's only a pre-recorded voice telling you just how much they value your custom and how sorry they are to keep you hanging about while all their operatives are busy. Then it's back to "Scream" Dion or Mariah Howling-Bansee Carey or somesuch. "Look, buster," I'd like to say to whoever chooses the music, "If you value my custom so much, why torture me with this awful musak?" What about some BB King for a change, eh?

I finally did get through to someone who, before giving me the chance to get on with my frantic query, insisted on apologizing again for the delay, not quite realizing that the apology was further delaying me in the pursuit of my query. Anyway, I eventually got to put my question.

"Why does the website ask for an extra security code when I try and use my debit card to by some air tickets on line?" I asked. I've had this bank account since I arrived on Rhodes in 2005 but have never tried to use the card on-line before, having so far used my UK cards, but the card has always worked in stores and at the ATM. The bloke at the other end replied, "Ah, well, for using your card on-line you need to have registered your card for internet use, then you get issued with the security code that they're asking for."

"Right, OK." I replied, resisting the urge to scream "WHY DIDN'T ANY OF YOUR CORRESPONDENCE TELL ME THIS WHEN I FIRST RECEIVED MY CARD??!!" I continued, calmly (well, my version of calmly I admit) "OK. So how do I go about doing so?"

"Have you internet access now?" He asked. I told him I did (good, methinks: this is going to only take a jiff - not!) and he navigated me into my internet banking account details (at least I'd set that up right from the beginning) and told me which tabs to click on until I reached a particular page. "Right," I told him, "I'm in, now what?"

"Is there a box saying thus and so?" he asked me. There wasn't. I told him. "Ah," he helpfully replied. "That means that you'll need to visit your branch in person for them to set this up for you."

"But," I told him, "that will mean a round trip of over 100 kilometres." He wasn't budging on this one. Sorry though he was, there was no alternative. Having told me again that I'd need to visit the bank in person, he also told me to take along my "afeemee" [Greek Tax Number] my passport and my AMKA [a kind of social security] number. At least no urine specimen, that was a plus.

Having concluded that conversation, I decided that, although I hadn't wanted to use funds from our UK account to purchase the air tickets, if I wanted to get the seats on the flights we wanted I'd have no choice. Whipping out my UK debit card, I clicked on the tab for the page where I was going to enter the payment details and was really impressed when it told me that my session had timed out and that I'd have to start the booking process all over again from the beginning. You can imagine the kind of mood I was in by now.

So, there we were a week or so later walking through Rhodes town, me with my file full of necessary paperwork under my arm, so that we could drop by the bank and get the card authorised for internet use. Once inside the banking hall, which these days means going through the air-lock of two plate-glass doors, the second of which refuses to open until the one behind you has closed, which it does really slowly at it's own leisure (Try pulling or pushing them, they won't have any of it), we were met with the usual queue of about twenty customers. In our bank there are also glass booths in the banking hall, inside of which sit various bank officials at their desks and all of whom specialize in some aspect of bank bureaucracy or another. All of these had customers already seated in them who were showing signs of entering comas as they waited for the person on the other side of the desk to do whatever it was that they were doing.

After a pleasant twenty minutes or so in the queue with my wife, who was clutching the passbook with a view to having it updated, since we'd used the local ATM a few times of late, I deftly ducked under the elasticated barrier and cut to one of the booths just as a couple exited it and politely asked if the girl seated in it could assist me in sorting out a security code for my card and she told me that the girl in the next booth was the one I wanted.

The next booth had two men already waiting to enter it whilst a woman was being seen to within. The second of the two men was an old fellow with a kindly face and he assured me when he saw the look on mine that he only wanted to ask a brief question, thus assuring me that he wouldn't be long. Further studying my face as I scanned the bustling banking hall, packed as it was with people losing the will to live, he nudged me and said, "Yes. We Greeks, we've always been like this, eh?" I presume he meant that everything they do out here takes three times as long as anywhere else in the world and so I smiled and agreed with him.

When I eventually got into the booth and sat down, the young woman across the desk, I have to say, was courtesy itself. I began by explaining that I had come to get my debit card's security code and she said, "But you didn't need to come in for that."

OK, OK, I could have.. yes!! [Bet you're thinking what I was thinking, aren't you? See, told you] but instead I answered that the bloke on the phone from her head office in Athens had told me that I needed to. "OK," she answered, "since you're here, do you have your ID and the card with you?" I handed over the card along with my passport. Then she asked for my tax number, so I rummaged around in my file and extracted that too (which is a rubber-stamped A4 sheet, no surprises there then). Then she asked what work I did and I told her. "Do you have your most recent tax return?" She asked. Like - don't we always carry that around with us?

Now actually, after living here all this time I'm wise to all of this. Whenever you go anywhere that might involve sitting across a desk from someone, always take the entire contents of your filing cabinet with you. Unwritten rule. I handed her a huge folded piece of paper from my file with boxes and figures all over the place, "Umm, no, this is 2011," she said, handing it back to me. Rummaging again, I came up with another sheet, pretty much identical to the first one, "This is 2009" she muttered, again handing it back. Just about to panic that I'd stumble at the last hurdle, I found another one and proffered it. Bingo! See the thing is, when I'm confronted by a sheet packed with figures my brain says "no way José" and I can't find the date on it anywhere. Mind you, to the untrained eye no one could on these babies. Fortunately, she knew where to look.

Now she got up, excused herself and wandered off, returning a few minutes later with about six printouts plus photocopies of the stuff I'd given her. Thrusting the first new printout across the desk at me, she offered me a pen and said "If you could just sign here" pointing to a space for my signature as she said this. I signed as requested, "..and here, and here, here too, now here, and, umm, here and here…" all the while flipping over sheets, producing new ones etc. and pointing each time.

I kid you not folks. I genuinely lost count of the number of signatures I was required to write. In fact I joked with the young lady (and I did actually like her, it wasn't her who designed this system after all, she only has to execute it) that I was getting writer's cramp in my right hand.

Finally, when she handed back my personal documents together with a considerable sheaf of new A4 ones of which she also had kept signed copies, she shook my hand and said, "Now, when you get home, go on line, to such and such a page and you'll see a six-figure number in a box. You'll need to enter this in a new page you'll open under such and such tab where you create an account for your debit card with a new username and password." I looked at her incredulously, a new username and password was required just for the card, in addition to the username and password I use for internet banking itself. Was it ever worth it?

Later that day, on our way home and, dare I say, feeling quite proud of myself for having navigated my way through the afore-described interview and hoping that by the evening I'd have a Greek debit card that actually worked on-line, we stopped by the Lidl store on the way out of town for a "big shop". As usual there were a couple of shabbily-dressed dark-skinned young men hanging around the trolley park in the hope of cadging your Euro coin when you returned your trolley or just extracting some cash from you and one approached me even as I inserted my coin to unlock my trolley before entering the store.

These guys can be mistaken for people from the Asian sub-continent, but are in fact Greeks more than likely of "Pontos" (or Pontus, Ponti) origin. Their antecedents having originated in the Black Sea region, many now live in northeast Greece. Many of them too have spread across the entire country in recent times in search of work.

Anyway, I was by now feeling quite magnanimous at the thought of finally having a debit card that I'd be able to use for on-line purchases and might well have shown immense generosity until this young tyke said, "You have a few small coins for me please Pappou?"

"PAPPOU?" You know what that word means? I'm sure you probably do, but just in case, it means "grandad." Yes, you did hear me right, he called me "GRANDAD!!!" That was it, he'd cooked his goose now. I found myself replying, "Pappou?? PAPPOU??? Well thank you VERY much! Pappou indeed…" as I gave him a look of disgust and steered our trolley in through the automatic doors.


Now don't judge me too harshly on this. Firstly, we usually do end up giving them something and one does get a little fed up when every time we arrive at the store we get "tapped" in this way. Secondly, these guys aren't always as hard-up as they would have you believe. They sometimes play the wife and kids card and there'll be a woe-begotten looking mum with a toddler in a stroller holding out her hand to you as you enter the store as well. I once saw one of these "poor" women loading her kid's stroller into the back of a BMW before driving home at the end of  a long day's "work" outside the store. There were quite a few full shopping bags getting stashed in there too. Forgive me if that made us a little skeptical here.

Anyway, very much later that evening we got home and I was straight onto the laptop and signing into my Greek bank account. Wonder of wonders, the whole thing went smoothly. It may have been a long drawn-out affair, but I got there in the end. But would you have seriously believed all that's involved in just getting your bank to allow you to part with your own cash by using your card on-line? If I hadn't experienced this myself, coming from the UK I'd have said you were having me on.

But seriously - Pappou indeed. Now, where did I put my specs? Oh, hah! Yes, here they are, on my head…


  1. Good story, been through similar experience myself after my small bank was swallowed by Piraeus Bank. I needed to pay someone but to do that I needed a code sent to my mobile. Somehow on the change they got the number wrong & I had to speak to head office to try to explain they had the wrong number.
    Took forever and I still can't use my card online I was told only a credit card would work over the phone & online, my debit card was useless. Looking forward to the trip into Rhodes town to try to sort this out.
    At least I am forwarned to take everything I own with me.....

  2. Better writers' cramp than writers' block, eh? What a funny and enjoyable post. A little hint regarding finding the date on 'official' bits of paper. I always use a highlighter over the date. Whether it be invoice, utility bill, bank missive or whatever. the minute it's in mine hands I highlight the date. Makes for an easier life when one is trying, like you, to find a particular one.

  3. Mine hands? Sorry, went a bit German there!

  4. Could only happen to you. Another tale to tell in your exploits on Rhodes