Friday, 12 September 2014

Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick, Slow

One of the best things about living out here is that nothing is done in a hurry.

Of course, that's one of the worst things about living out here too, it all depends on what it is you're doing at the time.

I'll illustrate.

When you're sitting in that water-side taverna, having just finished a sumptous lunch and still with half a jug of the house retsina to go, you're lazily throwing breadcrumbs into the crystal blue water that's lapping just feet away from your flip-flops and enjoying watching the water boil as hundreds of little fish appear seemingly out of nowhere to feast on your offering, you're feeling extremely mellow and the table is littered with the debris of a lunch well-enjoyed and you're in good company too; when you really don't have anything else to do for the rest of the afternoon apart from possibly drag your tootsies back to your sunbed, where you'll drop off for an hour before having another dip in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea, it's then that you don't really want the waiter turning up and clearing your table of everything except that jug of Retsina and perhaps your wine glasses. You don't want the staff making it patently clear that they'd like to prepare the table for the next set of diners, or perhaps simply to close up for the afternoon, hence the implied pressure to make you ask for the bill, pay up and leave well before you really feel like bringing this exquisite little interlude to an end...

...At those moments, you're glad that a trad taverna will never rush its clientelle. Incidentally, if ever we eat in a Greek restaurant where they do the above, we never go back there on principle. In Greece, to eat a meal is to take as long as you flamin' well want to about it. Dining in Greece is an art form. Especially if you're in good company and you're putting the world to rights in genial conversation. Yes, slow is good.

So, in summary, it's at such moments that you're glad that nothing's done too quickly in Greece. 

On the other hand, when you simply want to pay a utility bill, you want to get it done and dusted so that you can get on with doing something you actually want to do. OK, so in the past year or so I've finally been able to set up the paying of our electricity and phone bills on-line, which is quite a quantum leap for a Greek island. Yet I am aware that lots of folk I know still traipse to a bank or Post Office, perhaps a particular store, in order to pay their electricity, phone, Satellite TV contract, mobile phone and a few more types of bill besides.

Up until a couple of years ago the water bills here were all handled by the local "Dimos", or Municipality. It was and OK system. Once or twice a year a battered pickup truck would charge up the lane below us, leaving the usual smoke-screen of fine dust behind in its wake, screech to a halt at the "spitaki" or small breeze-block shed a few hundred metres below us which houses the electric pump that sends our water up the hill for us and a woman would leap out of the passenger side with a notepad and pen and she'd read the water meter that's down there. Having done this she'd jump back into the cab, the driver would engage gear and they'd charge up around the remaining couple of blind bends in the lane to our front gate, where once more they'd screech to a halt, the driver would perform a three-point turn whilst the woman would leap out and rattle our front gate to gain our attention. I'd saunter out there and she'd wish me a good day and thrust a small post-it note at me with the current reading scribbled on it in ballpoint pen.
Some months later we'd receive a bill, which in those days was an A4 printout, prepared by the local Council, to whose office we'd have to go in order to settle up. Since our local "Dimos" is at Gennadi, that meant a trip of only 3 km or so, where we'd go in, stroll along a corridor and around the corner to the desk, then pay the bill whilst chatting to Yanni, who not only worked for the Council, but also ran (and still does) the Ekaterini Hotel just down the lane from us and sings every Friday night at their low-key but extremely acceptable Greek Night...

That's a rather blurry Yanni standing by the doorway, awaiting his next cue...

My better half giving it large on the floor

Yanni's wife and sister plus a selection of locals get jiggy with it

...So, anyway, that was all quite straightforward and fairly quick really. Of course, you always ran the risk of arriving at the Dimos to find that there was a strike on, or perhaps a 'yorti' [religious holiday, of which there are far too many and often!!] or someone had forgotten to turn up with the front door key - that kind of stuff; and you'd have to go away and come back another time. But by and large, notwithstanding the fact that the bill could come anything up to a year after the woman had handed me the post-it with the meter reading on it, it worked. The bill would always display the same figure that the woman had scribbled down for us and everything was hunky dory.

Last year though, what with all the 'rationalization' that's been going on, they've 'centralised' the water bureaucracy haven't they. Now there's a national water company with its main office all the way up there in Rhodes Town and no longer can one pay one's water bill just down the road. 

So, there I was, having received the first water bill in something like eighteen months [slow, or what, eh?] a few weeks back, and opened the envelope in trepidation at what I was going to find within, only to see a bill of, ...wait for it, €10. Yup, I kid you not. It even said on the bill that the meter had been read. But how the princely sum of €10 was arrived at I haven't a clue. The fact was though that it was going to need paying and, at least doing an excursion to Rhodes Town every Tuesday, I was not going to have to drive all the way there to pay the thing. The only trouble was, I hadn't a clue where the Water Company office was.

Enter me friend and colleague John (yup, another one. Avoids any confusion I suppose. Remember the Monty Python Auzzie sketch in which everyone was called Bruce?), who, bless the little chap, knew exactly where the office was and thus told me. Tucked away in a back street beside the Police HQ and the main Fire Station, there it was, one little doorway with a new sign above declaring that this was indeed the Water Company office, a result!

Of course, if you want to visit your bank in Rhodes you do have to be aware that you should have at least an hour (preferably two) to spare. Many's the time my dearly beloved and I have taken our passbook with us to town, approached the main branch of our Greek bank and peered through the double security doors at the huge queue in the banking hall within, only to look at eachother and say in unison, "another time, eh?". 

I'm quite bemused by these double security doors they have on all the banks now. They seem to me to be the kind of airlock you'd expect at some germ warfare establishment, to contain the environment within and not let any nasty strains out into the atmosphere. They're that solid. You know the form, you have to press a little red button and a voice says, "wait until the light turns green and then open door". Why is it that I always push when I should be pulling and vica versa? Plus, they have such a strong return spring on them that you really have to exert yourself so as not to seem like a wimp to the person standing behind you and also wanting to enter the inner sanctum of the banking hall. There's never enough room between the two doors for more than two people and how anyone with a baby in a stroller manages I've no idea.

Anyway, armed with this knowledge, plus with mental pictures from Greek TV News that almost every night seem to show footage of great long snakes of people trying to pay their car tax or their electricity bill in Athens, many of the men in which will probably need another shave by the time they've reached the desk, I popped my head into the Water Company's door fully expecting to see a long queue of folk trying to pay their water bills.

To my amazement and delight, there was only one man at the desk and no one, repeat no one queuing behind him. For a moment I told myself inwardly, "You chump, Johnny boy. You've come to the wrong place." But no, for there in the hands of the bloke behind the desk, as he handed it back to the customer, was a water bill exactly like mine. Oh joy!! I strode in, went straight up to the desk and thrust the fella my €10 note along with the bill and - before you could say "rubber stamp" the man had rubber stamped it, printed the proof of payment (which when you think of it, kind of invalidates the need for a rubber stamp. But then, I don't think a Greek would feel right without one) and handed it back to me. I don't think I spent more than 90 seconds in that office.

Of course, discussing this later back at the Top 3 with fellow reps Tim and John I learned that just about everyone had received a bill for a trivial amount, in essence, simply to get the new system functioning. The given wisdom is that probably toward the end of this year we're all going to be receiving huge bills catching up our water charges for at least a year and a half. 

What's the betting that I'll be queuing for a while then, eh?


  1. I've been following your blog for a while now, always enjoying your posts, so it's about time I write to say Thank You for all the great reads!
    Living up to half the year in Nafplio, Peloponnes, I often say to myself, Yes, it's the same here. Except for the water, as long as I've had my apartment here, it's been the "modern" way as you describe at the end of your post. And here is what I've learned: pay the water bill as soon as it arrives = no queues. Pay it close to or on the due date: Long queues. pay it the day or week after the due date: Horrible queues, unspeakably horrible queues. Easy for me to say, since the DEYA office is 1 km from my front door, but still...
    I'm Norwegian, a very organised country, but in general I love the sometimes chaotic, somtimes lazy, but never boring day-to-day life here. But queues: just can't deal with them at all.

  2. Yes, me again, sorry! Forgot to add my anecdote: because I go for long stretches to Norway, I asked the guy I pay at DEYA: I'm often in Norway for months, what happens if a bill should be payed while I'm there?
    His answer: Oh, don't worry! If we check your account and see you haven't payed for a year, MAYBE then we'll cut your water supply.
    Me being Norwegian, having it in my blood to completely obey when someone sends a bill for what I owe, have arranged for a friend to make sure it always is payed on time :-)

    1. Thanks for your feedback GGF. I know Nafplio well as my wife has relatives nearby. Had a wonderful evening dining at a waterfront taverna there many years ago with a view of Bourtsi, all lit up and reflecting in the calm waters. I wrote about it in Feta Compli!. Regarding paying bills early, I'm afraid it doesn't make a lot of difference here, not since the ELTA offices have reduced their staffing levels, making the whole business of paying a bill, or even posting a letter a very tedious task indeed if you try to do it at a post office. I have tried to sort out paying the water bill on line, but it didn't seem to be possible on the website yet. Still, who cares? The pluses of living here still far outweigh the minuses as I'm sure you'll agree.