Monday, 5 March 2018

Not so Taxing After All

It's amazing how this country can still surprise one, even after more than 12 years of living here. The bureaucracy is, of course, legendary, and no one who reads stuff like this will be ignorant of the fact that a visit to a government office, or indeed one of the utility companies or perhaps a bank, always requires that one take along a dossier containing one's tax number, one's AMKA number, one's residency/work permit, one's passport, one's previous 5 tax returns, maybe half a dozen passport-sized mugshots, one's driving license, one's inside leg measurement etc.

So, when I received these two flimsy NCR-type letters recently (you know the types, they have that perforated strip of holed-paper all along both side edges) from the government, I was filled with foreboding. Ripping the first one open, all I could see at first was a sum of money printed in the right-hand column in that slightly fuzzy computer-printout sort of grey type. It was something in excess of €400 and I immediately thought, "How the hell can I be owing them this? I haven't ever earned enough from working even to reach the tax threshold!"

However, when I took the time to read the whole thing, it only turns out that the Government was rather happy to repay to me this money, plus a further €60+ in the second and similar letter, for the tax years 2014-2015, when the company I'd been doing excursions for had rather irritatingly taken emergency tax from my pay. Sure enough, there it was in grey (slightly fuzzy grey) and white. The message was that if I were able to pass by the Tax Office with the two letters in hand, then I'd be privileged to receive back from the Greek government a rather handy sum of money that they never should have been given from my pay-packet in the first place.

You'll already know, if you've read the previous post "The Good, the Bad and the Broccoli", that I went to the tax office on the first occasion and came away disappointed. The computer system was down. Well, whaddyaknow! Why was I not too surprised, eh?

Thus, with some degree of skepticism, we set out again last Thursday morning for another attempt at getting my rebates sorted. After almost an hour on the road we went into the building with me armed to the teeth with my plastic box file of 'passport, papers, permits and cards' and were at first amazed by the fact that the front doors had evidently been cleaned. In the other post I mentioned that the glass doors of the building's main entrance had been "so dirty that you could be forgiven for thinking that the building had been abandoned". This time it was a complete transformation as the glass of the doors was clean and shiny and they tended to infuse in one a sense of hope that things might just go OK. The foyer area is still rank though.

We ascended to the second floor and soon found ourselves among a small gaggle of people who were evidently all after the same thing, some money back from the tax man. There were signs that clearly told us we were at the right desk, "Επιστροφή Φόρου" they announced, "Tax refund" desk. Contrary to expectations there were three people actually serving the public, plus, of course, one or two others who were seated in front of screens behind the glass partition and seemingly staring into them as though hypnotised. The fact that there were people standing, well, leaning actually, on the desk and apparently being served, was also a positive. It looked like the computers had been wound up and were really ticking away this time. Yeay!

The were about seven people there when we arrived. Seated on those dull-looking metal chairs along the back wall were one or two, one of which was a bloke who looked like he'd just stepped off a pirate ship. He was dressed in denim, top and bottom, and had that much wiry grey hair on his head, including his face, that he put me in mind of the Muppet Show's manic drummer, Animal. He must have been seventy, if he was a day, and he sported a tatty baseball cap and was fiddling with his mobile phone á là contemporary teenager. He didn't appear to have a shred of paperwork with him and yet soon gave us a smile and, along with the other few customers, took part in our little 'pecking order' chat about who was going to be next, after the current desk-leaners had been served and gone away. 

There was a tall chap at one end who would have had trouble getting on a plane, he looked that much like a member of Islamic State, then there was a couple of scrawny looking people, evidently man and wife, who looked very much like the Americans might call 'trailer trash'. Now, I'm not being judgmental, I'm just trying to paint the mental picture here. But the woman (who was 'no youngster' to put it kindly) was in a mini-skirt over dark tights and knee-length black boots and with a shoulder-length bob of hair that was dyed totally black. Her face was a road map of many decades of tobacco, alcohol and sunshine, but her husband was looking almost normal, except for his dress sense. They were having a heated argument through the glass with the woman who was serving them and pieces of paper were being passed back and forth through the thee-inch gap below the glass and above the desk with furious regularity.

The only other person being served was a smart 30-something young chap who sounded like he had a business and had all his paper neatly organised beside his elbows as he talked in hushed tones with the only male employee on the other side of the glass. Half an hour went by like this.

During that half an hour we'd had our confidence securely shaken about whether this visit was going to bear any fruit. The fella that was evidently going to be served before us was a fifty-something middle-class type, with a friendly smile and manner about him. We fell into a fitful conversation with him, during which we established that he believed that, in order to get your money back you'd have to have brought along your bank passbook. My wife Yvonne-Maria (Yvonne to her British friends and family, Maria to her Greek and Rhodean friends, but then you'll probably already know that) was getting into a lather over the fact that we'd brought just about every official piece of paper and document that we'd ever received since moving here in 2005, but the one thing we'd both forgotten to bring along was the bank passbook. Could it be that we'd come this far, only to fall at the last hurdle. It wouldn't be the first time.

When it came time for 'Animal' to be served he had to ask the counter-clerk to hold on while he finished whatever it was he was doing with his mobile phone. I was momentarily distracted by something out the window and, when I looked back he'd sprung up and approached the desk and begun his 'negotiations' with the clerk. All the while that he'd been slouched on one of those chairs (they're just like the ones you see at airport departure gates. You know, three or four grey metal curved affairs with a Formica table built into the who arrangement), all the while he'd been sat there he didn't appear to have a shred of paperwork with him. Now, standing at the desk he had a pile of the stuff, including a file the size of a foot-thick Filofax, which he'd produced from goodness only knows where. I was fascinated at where it had all come from.

After about an hour it was finally our turn, and by now there were a further half a dozen depressed folk queueing up behind us. Fortunately for us we got the chirpiest clerk, a blond woman of probably around 40 who seemed to be nice natured and smily. I passed my two letters through to her and she set about enthusiastically tapping on her keyboard. I had at the ready my official tax number certificate, my AMKA number, my passport and my residency/work permit. I was sure that at some point she would be asking me fore these. After a goods five minutes without any exchange of words, she asked, still staring at the monitor...

"Would you like it paid into the same bank account that we have on record?"

Almost too happy to keep both feet on the ground and not float off into some fluffy clouds somewhere, I replied, whilst casting a sideways glance at my wife with the look of "Oh ye of little faith" about it, "Yes, fine, that would be great."

It still didn't make her indoors too ecstatic though. She'd had visions of us walking out counting a wad of notes and hightailing it into town to visit the last dregs of the winter sales. Nevertheless, it gave us the indication that we would indeed be able to conclude the whole business on this visit, and for that I was exceedingly grateful and not a little amazed.

After a further five minutes of our helper continuing to bang away at the keys while watching her monitor, I ventured to ask her:

"Will you be wanting to see my passport?"

To which her reply was a 'tch' and a slight nod of the head backwards, which is, of course, the Greek for 'no'.

"Residency Permit?"


To cut this part of the story short, all she required of me was the two NCR letters that I'd received through the post. Nothing more. This almost didn't compute. When, in the history of the modern Greek bureaucratic jungle, did we ever visit a government office without having to carry a dossier of papers? Never, that's when. Of course, the fact that our bank details were on the system meant that no one else could receive the rebate apart from me, so I suppose it made no sense for some shyster to turn up with my letters and fiendishly save me a lot of bother.

After probably fifteen minutes of keyboard bashing, she got up and walked a metre to her left where a large printer began whirring and clanking before spewing out a bunch of new papers. Grabbing these, she stapled a few sheet together, gathered them all up with still others (in an assortment of fetching colours) that were laying on the desk in front of her and passed me that much paperwork I could have wallpapered a respectably-sized wall with it.

"Take this to the man behind that counter along the corridor." She said with a warm smile as she pointed toward the man in question. Seeing that I was just a little incredulous, she added: "That's it. All done."

So, collecting this formidable pile of papers from the desk, and having visions of wallpaper tables and paste brushes, I thanked her and the two of us walked along the corridor, through a side door that took us into an area behind yet another counter where there were two desks, one 'manned' by a woman and the other by this chap to whom I had to give my papers. He accepted them from me and said, "Thank you. I'll be keeping these." Then he added, with a helpful smile (could this really be a Greek government office?) "The money will be in your bank within two days."

"Umm, don't I have to take anything away with me? You know, a receipt or something?" I asked. Dolt.

"Nope. I keep all of these, thank you. Kalispera!"

And, would you believe it, out we went.

Now, that was lunchtime on Thursday. Bearing in mind that there would be only one working day before the weekend, I fully expected not to see the cash in the account when I checked in via on-line banking until at the very least the following Monday. As it happened, I had to get up at 4.00am on the Saturday to take our neighbours to the airport, so I decided, since I was well ahead time-wise, to have a quick glance at our account balance on-line.

The cash was in! The refund had been made.

Now, tell me that nothing ever goes right in Greece!

On that very evening, Saturday March 3rd, our water supply dried up just as it was getting dark. There was nothing coming out of our taps. Nothing going into the toilet cistern when we flushed it. Oops.

You might just have an inkling about what the next post will be, eh?

1 comment:

  1. that was so funny, had me smiling broadly on a snowy Thursday morning in West Yorkshire. Keep on posting, you have a way of making me feel as though I am in Greece when I read your escapades. Thanks