|Lardos Square, Sunday morning May 8th. The fella on the right, talking with the bloke on the moped, he's our car insurance agent|
It's a fairly typical Sunday morning in Lardos village square. The old Greeks are putting the world to rights over an Elliniko, kids are flying through the place on small bikes like they have a death wish, ex-pats sit and talk about the trivia of life on a Greek island and the proprietors of the restaurant on the far corner are busy painting tables in readiness to get the place open for the season.
As is also usual at this time of the year, the few first tourists stick out like sore thumbs as they wander through hardly wearing anything displaying acres of pink flesh, while by far the majority of locals still sport jackets, sweaters, or at the very least long trousers. No locals (apart from the odd daring workman) will be seen in shorts for probably another month yet.
On the fountain across from the bar where my dearly beloved and I sit with our iced coffees, the youth of the area sit and try to look cool, the odd moped parked rakishly nearby so the boys can impress the girls with the noisy and ill-named bespoke "silencer" shining in the morning sun while it's parked, but ready to deafen anyone within a half-mile radius when the owner shoots off to eat his mum's cooking.
To be honest, it's rare for me and the better half to sit in Lardos square nowadays. Not that it isn't a nice place to sit of course, it's just that in our normal weekly schedule we don't have occasion to pass through here at the right hour for a frappé. One Sunday each year though, we'll be here, regular as clockwork. We have a reason and it relates to our annual cashflow.
It's taken the Greeks a long time, and there are still many who haven't adapted the modern way of paying their bills like people do in the rest of Europe, but they're getting there. At least the younger ones are. Before we left the UK my eyes used to water every time I looked at my bank statement, seeing the amount of cash that would exit the account by Direct Debit every month before we could even begin to see just how much disposable we had remaining to live on, or, let's be rash here - to spend on a coffee out or some other luxury, like a new CD. All our bills were paid automatically from the bank and we never had to worry, except about having enough in the account to cover them.
Here, it's still quite normal to see folk (ex-pats included) queueing in banks, post offices, supermarkets and some mobile phone stores to pay even the basic bills like electricity (yup, I still say electricity, whereas most Brits these days seems to think it's simply "the electric". Standards these days. I dunno), telephone, Nova (Satellite TV) and water bills. I actually think that some ex-pats like it this way because it gives them something to do to relieve the boredom. Helps 'em remember what day it is, or perhaps what month. We, on the other hand, do have a busy life and I'm glad about that to be truthful. So the idea of regularly losing half a day to pay a simple bill seems to me to be a huge waste of time and so when, a couple of years ago, both DEH (the electricity company) and OTE (the telephone company and ISP) offered consumers the opportunity to pay their bills on-line I jumped at the chance.
Not that we use a Direct Debit yet of course, no. But the next best thing works pretty well. Every two months (none of your monthly or quarterly bills here) I get an email from both DEH and OTE containing a link to the website where I can log in and download the bill as a PDF file. I can also pay it directly from that web page, although I prefer to log in to my Greek bank account and pay the bills from there. It only took a couple of visits to the bank where I signed about three thousand A4 pieces of paper and watched as they photocopied my passport for the umpteenth time, then waited at home for a confirmation letter to arrive three weeks later to begin using on-line banking, but I stuck with it and after ageing a few years in the process cracked it. Still not sure why they needed my inside leg measurement though.
The way the banks carry on here it does make you very aware of just how many resources and how much money is wasted unnecessarily. I mean, in the UK I used my debit card anywhere and everywhere. Hardly ever used cash for anything. Here, use your debit card and the bank will send you a letter a couple of weeks later, confirming the transaction, you know, in case you forgot about it perhaps. I only buy over the counter with my debit card here very rarely, but when I imagine how much paperwork comes through the mail for anyone who uses their cards daily or weekly in Greece, well I have nightmares about how many trees are being cut down just to manufacture the envelopes and the paper for the letters. Then there's the money the banks are spending on postage which is all completely unnecessary.
Ah, but, why were we sitting in Lardos last Sunday morning, eh? Well, a lot of Brits I know seem to pay their car insurance six-monthly. Can't see the sense in that myself at all. There are, of course those who are only here for the season, or the other way around, plus hire companies who park their vehicles up for the winter months, but for your average car owner using his or her car all year round, what's the point of having to worry about your premium twice a year? I'll tell you, I guess it's for similar reasons that many still go and pay utility bills over the counter - maybe it gives them something to do.
Almost four years ago, when we changed our car, the seller was returning to the UK and the vehicle still had six months insurance left on it when she flew off for Blighty in the plane. So she graciously offered to let us use up the remainder of her insured time by simply changing the name on the policy. Nice lady she is. Here in Greece, of course, it's the car that's insured, not the driver. Don't even ask me to try and explain the difference because I'm not too sure I understand it myself, but there it is. The upshot of this was that we ended up using her insurance agent from then on. Another reason was that he was cheaper than our previous one too. Double whammy.
Looking back I'm now dead glad that it turned out this way because in Rhodes town you get a lot more choice of insurance companies and agents to compare, but it's a bit of a trek from here, so many folk end up going to someone in, say, Arhangelos, and paying more for their premium. The fella that does our car insurance hails originally from Lardos but now lives and works in Rhodes town, where he has a posh office with a coffee machine, potted plants and everything. I went there once, but just the once. What's really great is that, since he's a local born and bred, he still 'does' the vehicle insurance for a huge percentage of the residents of Lardos and surrounding area.
Hence the reason why we sit in Lardos square once a year. On a Sunday he makes the village square his office. Down from town he'll tootle on his 500cc scooter, park it up in the square then make the rounds as his clients either sit at a bar and await their turn, or whizz through, pull up and jump out, shake his hand, shove their cash into it while he hands them their freshly-prepared renewal papers with the other, then they're off before you can say Natasha Theodoridou.
It's a sight to behold. We sit there at the pre-arranged time and enjoy a frappé while we await his arrival. Quite often we'll see him sitting at someone else's table already and he'll spot us, offer a wave of greeting and mouth "be over in a jif" and indeed that's what happens. While he's sitting with us an old codger will turn up on a moped, shout a greeting, clamber off and approach our table. Our chap will introduce us, ask if we mind while he sorts his other client out, which of course we don't at all, and they'll do the business and our new acquaintance will zip off happy.
All the while he spends with us there is a perpetual chain of folk passing, every single one of which knows our insurance man and he's forever waving a hello hither and thither. He'll ask how we're doing, gladly accept our premium (less this year than last, a result!) and pass us a properly prepared receipt for payment together with our renewal papers. I have to say, it's brill.
Sitting there with him last Sunday I asked him if anyone at all ever passes that doesn't know him. I then went on to tell him that old joke about the bloke who knew the Pope. Remember that one? Message me if you want a reminder.
To sum up. Our car insurance agent is a real find. He's "straight up" as we Brits would call someone who's dependable and above board. Everything's on paper. In fact we even receive our renewal notice through the mail, with the option of paying it in a bank or post office. But why would we do that when the man will meet us at a café while we enjoy a coffee and do a spot of people-watching into the bargain?
Yup, cash-flow Rhodes-style has its drawbacks, but it has one or two advantages over our previous life too.