Thursday, 14 July 2016

Smell the Roses,, Jasmine.

I probably speak for a great many people when I say that those who've chosen to settle here in Greece have done so out of a love for the country, pure and simple. Of course, any situation involving true love involves seeing the other person, animal, object or - in this case country - in a realistic light. True love is not blind, it is not infatuation or a silly whim that passes. True love is in it for the duration, warts and all.

Anyone who's ever been to Greece, perhaps especially the islands, will have observed that the country is abundantly blessed in the areas of archeaology, scenery, culture, cuisine, light, hospitality and no doubt a few more. What other country in the world has such a rich variety of islands, all with their own distinct characteristics, idiosyncrasies, architecture, flora and fauna, beaches even?

Then there's the people. Cynics who spout their opinions about a desire to get ahold of your cash being the primary motive behind the hospitality that's shown to visitors is wholly and entirely wrong. their opinion is possibly coloured by what they found in other parts of the planet. I have had so many experiences in the forty-plus years that I've been coming here, including the past almost eleven years of living here, that demonstrate that the common folk ooze kindness and generosity and often show this in situations where they already know that there will be no financial gain from their kindness. One rather lovely way that this was illustrated was in a TV commercial from some time last year. It showed a man, a tourist, walking in a rural area coming across some orange trees on which were hanging some ripe, juicy oranges. They were within easy reach of the road and so the man gave in to temptation and picked himself one.

As he held the newly 'stolen' fruit to his nose to smell it's divine aroma, he became aware of a burly-looking man gazing at him from deeper within the orange grove. The man emerged, a stern look on his face and held out his hand, as if to say, "That's mine. Give it back please." The tourist, feeling slightly embarrassed and also apprehensive, dropped the orange into the other man's palm, at which the man started off along the lane, beckoning the "felon" with a finger to follow him.

Of course, as they walked, one man slightly ahead of the other, the hapless 'thief" was evidently worrying about what was going to happen. Was this man leading him to the local Police to report him? Was there some other unpleasant outcome awaiting him when they reached their destination? We were soon to find out.

Turning off the road and along a path through an old iron gate the orange farmer looked back to be sure that the tourist was still following him. Within minutes the path opened out into a patio area in front of an old house. On the patio, beneath an ancient pergola bedecked in grapevines was a table and some chairs. Seated at the table were the members of the orange farmer's family, his aged parents, his wife and a couple of children. All arose as one to welcome the worried guest and soon the women were laying a feast before him. The family was about to eat and he was now to be their guest.

Some hours later, satisfied after a sumptuous meal and not a little home-made Retsina, the lone light-fingered tourist was ready to leave and make his way back to his accommodation. He wasn't allowed to leave, however, without first being handed a plastic shopping bag full of fresh oranges from the family's orange groves. Oh, and of course, he had to exchange kisses on both cheeks with each and every one of his hosts, all of which stood as one to wave him off as he left, thoroughly enriched by the whole experience.

OK, so that's to illustrate the pros. True love isn't blind, as I stated above. What about the cons?

Many ex-pats choose to remain here in the face of some really horrendous financial setbacks. These are due however, not to the common or garden Greek folk, but to the ridiculously complicated and cumbersome bureaucratic system that prevails in this country. I would say (and ex-pats who live here, or indeed have lived here in the past, will quickly identify with this) that the majority of folk I know who have bought property here have been shafted, as much by the system as by builders who weren't really builders. 

Here's an all-too-common scenario. You contact someone in Greece who you think is a builder and you discuss plans for your new dream home on a Greek island. You agree a price for the house, assuming that this price includes the property being ready to be lived in once completed. Only after you're in up to your neck do you discover that the tiles for the kitchen, bathroom, outside courtyard etc. are extra. You are told that doors and windows weren't included in the original price. Who do you complain to? Only someone who's going to tell you that you went into this with your eyes open. You only have yourselves to blame.

So, after you smart at having to fork out 5k more than you bargained for you tell yourselves that it was probably a misunderstanding and now you can commence living your dream. Why, though, is your electricity supply coming by a precariously hanging cable from a meter on a concrete post outside the house next-door? How come your property doesn't have its own meter? Two or three years and a lot more cash later, you gaze at your very own electricity meter on its very own concrete post at the end of your garden and once more resign yourself to the extra expense that's severely dented your retirement nest-egg and decide that things could have been worse and now you can get on with enjoying life in the sun.

Maybe a couple more years pass before there's a knock on the door. You open it to find a smartly dressed man standing there with some kind of electronic gadget in his hand, along with a clipboard under his arm and a camera around his neck. This man is a civil engineer working for the local authority and he's come to check if your property is legal. By this he means that its footprint is as the architect's original drawings showed, that your pool was shown in the original plans as a swimming pool and not simply as a water cistern. He's come to see if your house is a link-house or if it's detached, since the original planning permission was granted to the builder for a row of four linked properties. You very soon understand that there could be trouble brewing, since your house is one of three detached properties and not one of a row of four that are linked together. 

Your detached garage, according to this 'helpful' visitor, isn't on the plans at all. Where your kitchen is now, there should have been an integral 'built-under' garage. Your kitchen should have been where your entrance hall is. How amazing, your property is two metres longer in both directions than it ought to be. Your visitor adopts a grave face and informs you that you don't own the freehold to your property's boundary, you in fact are a joint owner of the three plots, that ought to have been four, with the other folk who bought the other two houses. If you ever decide to sell, you'll need the agreement (in writing of course) of the other two joint owners of the land.

Now the visitor wants to measure upstairs. You gingerly follow him up there and watch as he goes out on to the balcony of the master bedroom, measures and starts "tch-ing". Apparently the balcony is too small. Should be a metre larger and the bedroom a metre smaller inside.

Eventually he's done with his demolition of your confidence and sits down at your kitchen (that should have been garage) table and scribbles figures while inviting you to make him a drink. 

"Right," he begins, trying to sound conciliatory, but not trying very hard, "There will be fines to pay for the illegalities". The footprint of the house is several square metres too large, there is no licence for that swimming pool and the garage oughtn't to be there at all. The balconies aren't the right size and adding it all up he cheerfully informs you that (you really ought to be sitting down for this) you'll be needing to find €9500 in total, in order to have all the discrepancies legalised. There is no recourse. The house is in your name and you are the ones responsible.

Can you imagine that happening in the UK (or any number of other countries for that matter)? That's why we have ombudsmen and there are regulations in place to protect the innocent consumer. The fault lay with the builders, the original civil engineer who signed off all the stages the of build, the bankers, the architect, but not you, the innocent purchaser. 

You want to go after them? Get a lawyer and be prepared to fork out a few more thousand for a case that's liable to drag on for years.

Tell you something else that's crazy. In Greece the government tells you how much money you earn and taxes you accordingly. It makes no difference how much you actually earn or receive through, for example, investments or pensions. No, it doesn't work that way. If you live out here and have bought a car, not even perhaps a house, then you are compelled by law to have an accountant. He or she will tell you that, once you've outlined the value of the property in which you live and declared how much you paid for the car, the government in its infinite wisdom then calculates that you must need X amount annually in order to survive. Forget how much you actually earn, they tell YOU that you must be netting X amount. 

So, for example, if you are receiving €4000 a year for summer season work, but the government says that in your case with your home, car, shopping bill (oh yes, they tell you how much your shopping bill must add up to for a 12 month period) you must need 10,000 to live on, then they'll tax you on the missing €6,000, making the assumption that you must of course be earning it on the black labour market, thus dodging tax.

Forget the fact that you're simply living frugally and managing on a shoestring. Nope, be prepared to be told that you must pay 25% (or whatever the current rate is, it escapes me at the moment) of €6k that you never even saw. Good, eh?

As you can see, the cons can be formidable.

Time to redress the balance again, agreed? I do believe that the majority of house buyers who experienced the nightmare described above were those who bought at the tail end of the "boom" that "busted" in 2008 with the world economic down-turn. Many people out here, who I know personally, bought from locals who weren't actually builders, they were opportunists. There are, I feel it has to be said, many genuine hardworking building companies who do a good job and build according to the architect's drawings and whose customers end up with what they ordered, their perfect retirement home, along with all the correct paperwork. The trouble was, from around 2000 to 2008 a lot of buyers didn't have a clue who belonged that this category and who to the former. Why indeed should they have? No one from for example, the UK, would have dreamed that such sharp practice could be allowed to go on. 

And the bureaucracy? As I've often said in my ramblings on this blog, it goes with the territory. The Greek system has evolved the way it has over decades and lumbers on under its own momentum. Those of us who see the positives, many of which I talked about at the top of this post, just grin and bear it, as indeed do the Greeks themselves. We British think we are the world's greatest "queuers", but those of us who think that way have never had to queue up at the IKA office during November, or the Tax office in late December when it's "car tax time". Maybe too at the DEH [electricity company] office when they need to pay their electricity bill. I pay ours on-line but the very idea of doing this is still to many Greeks like the video player used to be to us adults in the 1980's when a four-year old could operate this totally newfangled invention that it didn't do one any good to trust. 

You wake up in the morning on July days when you don't have so much to do and you walk outside at 6.30am, where there's a breeze blowing through the oleander or the palms at a very acceptable 28ºC and you wander the garden studying the impossibly wonderful hibiscus flowers, the slowly swelling green jewels that are developing on the olive trees carrying the promise of freshly milled extra virgin oil come November, the figs that are now fast beginning to turn that gorgeous aubergine purple and then you gaze down the valley at the immense, turquoise ocean, where there are a few sailing craft already out there catching the breeze as they set off early for their next island adventure and you say to yourself, "This is what it's really all about. Nothing else matters when you stop and smell the jasmine."


  1. This is painfully honest but refreshing to finally see reality written down instead of the unicorns-and-butterfly type posts that have me sometimes feeling like I'm the only frustrated Non-Greek in all of Greece. . . Yeah okay . . . I love Greece too.

  2. How true John,many "ex-pats" (hate that word) come to this Island and think that ,this house is wonderful,and the view!its just a pile of rubble,but it can be done up,not realizing it's up a hundred steps only access is a wheelbarrow,the owner say's "no problem " will be cheap.....They end up paying three/four times the purchase price and only visit for two/three weeks a year......Ex-pats eh...

  3. Think that totally sums up the love-hate relationship I have with Greece. Love it to bits but can be so frustrating when you live there then as you say, stop and smell the coffee, ( or the hibiscus) and you remember why you love it.

  4. Loving the blogs John,I'm Wendy met you last week on the Rhodes town trip. Picked me and my friend up in Pefkos. Looking forward to reading many more.