Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Here and There II - Save a Tree? Hmm...

Following on from the post "Here and There" about Greeks and how they view the keeping of promises, another aspect of life on a Greek island that you have to learn to roll with is the bureaucracy. If the Greek bureaucratic system were to be streamlined (a porker just flew low over the house), a forest or two may well be saved in the process. Yea? Yea? I hear other ex-pats already saying aloud: "Tell me about it!"

Well I shall, but they already know, of course. But first, in order to satisfy the thirst for photos of Rhodes that not a few of my readers will now be gasping for, here are a few recent photos before I begin whinging...

The first six are studies of the Old Town taken just a few days ago.

The arches (have I mentioned this before?) are medieval earthquake damage-limitation measures. They must work because the place is over 5 centuries old and still standing!

And these are taken just down the road on our local beach...

There's a newly opened bar/taverna right on the beach. It's called the Anemos (the Wind) and it's a building that's been sort of waiting to be used in this way for a couple of years. As of yet we've only dropped by for a frappé, but our neighbours ate there the other evening and the feedback sounds positive.


Our local beach where we sat and sipped some chilled Rosé and ate a few savoury nibbles after a swim the other evening. So crowded down our way, eh? (I know, I do sound pleased with myself, sorry!)

Ditto, plus, that's the other half sitting there admiring the vastness of it all. It's amazing how pleasant it can be do do that when you have a flask of chilled Rosé to help you along.

So, on with the whinging then. Bureaucracy, what a great word eh? Comes from the French you know. In the UK we're so used to the entire country's infrastructure being run by computers that it comes as a shock when you get out here and find that, despite the fact that every government office you go into sports an array of desktop computers, printers and other peripheral devices, most employees who work with such wonders of modern technology use them to prop their Frappé on.

If a Policemen in the UK, for example, wants to check up on a vehicle, right there on the roadside he can tap a device and find out who it's registered to, whether the road tax is paid and - I don't doubt too - whether it's been reported as stolen. That's 'cos all those various aspects of society's infrastructure are in databases somewhere and all those databases are linked through an intranet or somesuch. Yea, impressive, eh? I know what an "intranet" is. What?

Anyway, here it's not quite so clever. Yup, the government for several years now has been running a system whereby motorists can log on to the correct site and download their road tax form. That's progress. But when you go into a Police station it's still completely normal to see piles of A4 photocopied forms and on every desk an inkpad wherein sits the ubiquitous rubber stamp. And it's not just Police stations, this applies to any government office you care to mention. And they worry about fires decimating the forests.

I'm amazed that for the past year or two I have been able to receive our telephone and electricity bills by email and I can log on to my Greek bank account and pay them on-line. Things are looking up. On the other hand though, as you'll know from the post "I Have No Thought of Leaving", to change a vehicle here involves horrendous paperwork if you do it legally. The rigmorole involved is in my view what tends to lead to lots of ex-pats running around in vehicles (or, indeed on them in the case of the two-wheeled variety) which they've acquired from someone who also couldn't be bothered to go through the seemingly endless round of office visits and rubber-stamping of photocopies and thus they've simply been handed the keys and off they go.

Trouble is, so many people in that situation have ended up in rather difficult legal messes when they've either had an accident (which you're far more likely to do on a Greek island in the "mad" season, ie. the summer months, than you are in the UK), and have found themselves faced with the courts, the paying of fines and even a few hours in a Police cell. Not fun.

The area where lots of people get tangled up is that of landing a job. In recent times the government(s) [See the "s" there? Let's face it, I'm running out of fingers to count how many governments we've had here in the past few years] have been trying to clamp down on illegal causal workers, working for companies who don't want to do the paperwork and thus pay their employees' IKA (a kind of national insurance) or indeed income tax. The idea was to protect the workers from being exploited, but in reality the system isn't really succeeding in that area. Anyway, what really gets me into a lather is the paperwork that you have to do if you are an employee and you're being taken on legally.

Off you go to the KEP office, then you perhaps visit the accountant of the person, people or company that's taking you on, then you probably visit your own accountant. You'll have to throw into the mix a visit or three to the IKA office with a fistfull of, you've guessed it, A4 photocopied forms which all need to display a rubber stamp which is date and signed too. Then you will have to get used to queueing for about three years at each government office you visit, after probably having set your alarm for 3.00am and got to the office in question before 7, only to find a hundred people already camped outside the as-yet locked front door before you. I tell you, I'd rather try and get into Wimbledon on finals day.

Having been through all of this and doubtless been told at least once and probably several times that you need to go away, get this or that other form which you had no idea even existed, then return, you'll be overjoyed to learn that you'll be going through this procedure every flaming year. And, of course, when you've gone off to your accountant and asked him/her for whatever form it was that the unhelpul clerk told you you'd lacked, and your accountant has told you that you don't really need that form, you'll probably be ready to throw the whole wad of papers in the air and march off to find the nearest bar.

And, when you'd gone back to your accountant for the second or third time you'd probably found the office closed at a completely normal business hour. You'd have called him/her and eventually, when you got an answer because you'd caught them unawares, they'll have told you that they "had to go to Rhodes town to the Tax office on that particular day, sorry. Never mind, come in tomorrow, I might or might not be there."

Now, I'd be remiss not to mention that some accountants are switching on to the internet. Ours in Kalathos, for example, now communicates with my wife's employer's accountant on-line and is able to fill in the relevant parts of our tax returns with minimum fuss before submitting them on-line too. Whoop dee doo. One more tree can heave a sigh of relief there then.

We'd been living out here for seven years before we even knew we needed an accountant. All right, someone reading this will say "Didn't you do the research?" But, in our defence, we didn't earn anything like enough money from our dabblings in part-time work out here to even see the tax threshold over the distant horizon. Yet, after those seven years we discovered that if you own either a house or a car in Greece, you must do an annual tax return and you must do it through an accountant. This is why in almost every village around here, however quaint or traditional it may look, there is at least one accountant, outside of whose office at certain times of the year are to be seen long queues.

A few years ago, there we were sitting at a taverna table in a narrow street in a nearby village, enjoying an al fresco meal, when we began to notice the house across the street. The street was barely wide enough for a car to drive along it without taking half the taverna's tables with it, but there across the street as we were busily stuffing our mouths we began to notice a rather heavy flow of human traffic going in and out for it to be a private house. Eventually, there was a bloke who we knew leaning over the wrought iron railing outside the house in question and he gave us a nod and greeted us with a "Kali orexi."

Now was our chance. I called over to him, "What's going on in there then? Some kind of village organisation, are they planning an event or something?"

"Nope." He replied, "It's the village accountant!" Tell you what, the owner of that office makes a lot more than your local dentist. And with the added bonus that they don't see anything like as meny epiglottises on a day-to-day basis.

I tell, you, it brings a tear to your eye to see the old traditions being maintained, eh?

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