Could it be that Diaspora Greeks come to Ellas wearing blue-tinted glasses? What I mean is we view the country and its workings from a different lens. Because we drop on its azure shores, its spectacular coastlines, like some sex-starved sailor longing for satisfaction every summer without fail, because we live an entire year of bone-chilling snow, the rat race, and the routine of work and home, when we disembark we breathe in the clean air, feel the brightness of the Greek sun and exhale a sigh of relief. Ah Ellada! We don’t or won’t see ta chalia tis. We forgive everything for the most part and even if there are serious systemic issues and flaws in character, we brush it off or laugh it off. We see things, even the worst of things, through our blue-tinted glasses and chuckle bringing home more lively stories about ta chalia tis.
Take for example customer service. Right. Greeks have none. In your daily interactions you will come across public employees, so-called customer service personnel, salespeople who are there in theory to help you. In my first week I had many interactions to prove my point. One– the salesrep I put the order for a new sofa calls me up five days later, after it went in, to tell me she had misquoted me the final cost because she had not put in the charge for the pillows. This oversight on her part translates to one hundred euro extra in mine. The server lady at Ikea restaurant kept talking to her friend the other lunch lady with the shower cap while a line of hungry lunch goers waited for her to wheel the cart with freshly made salads and refresh the steel display shelves. When I asked what kinds of salads were on the tray, she answered back rudely, “The salads are on the second shelf. It’s full.” There was only one dish with salmon slices and green salad on the shelf.
At the Public computer retailer, its flagship store in Syndagma, when I was getting theater tickets, it was obvious to the sweet skinny littlte thing behind the counter that I was having difficulty making up my mind. She told me, “Signomi there are others behind you. Move to the side.” What she could have told me if she had been coached in customer service skills, is that there were nifty little pamphlets describing the performances including dates and times for the Epidauros Festival and the Athenian Outdoor Festival just under the counter. In Greece if you don’t know how things are done or have I dependent know how. You’re screwed. No one will help you, either because they don’t want to or in the next category they don’t want to.
A crowning instance of I don’t know how to help or don’t want to I approached a certain platinum blonde official of the National Tourism Organization. Now this is THE central tourism office in Athens right across the way from the New Acropolis Museum at the foot of the Acropolis. When I asked the best way to get to the KTEL bus station for a trip to Thessaloniki, she circles the least accessible station the one I later found out from my uncle is by the river or potami on Kifisou 100. “How are you going to get there?” he asks me. “It’s so inconvenient you have to take two buses to get there with your luggage.” All the tourist lady had to do is mention that there were more than one pick up stop for the bus. The one near my house is just five stops away on the green Metroline. You would think, she, with the centrally important post of tourist information officer in the most touristy part of town would know better. Ta chalia tis. I’m sure many a poor cluless tourist is cursing under his breath, luggage in tow, sweat on brow somewhere near the potami looking for the Ktel bus stop.
The worst experience yet had to do with my father’s exhumation because the public servant lady who normally does business with me four years in a row now since my father’s death was on vacation, I had the luck of dealing with the lady next to her. This woman, who apparently does not handle the procedure for exhumation, told me that in order to complete the job I had to get a signed and notarized affidavit from the spouse of the deceased, my mother. Innocent me, follows the directions: I have my poor mother an ailing aging close to 80 woman who walks with a cane, request the paper from the local go-to man, take it to the Greek consulate for notarization to the tune of $80.
We were rushing to get the paper done in time for the exhumation. When I followed up the following weekend to let her know I needed more time to have the paperwork sent over, she wasn’t there. The original lady I had had contact with had come back from her vacation and the other official had gone on hers. “You didn’t need an affidavit,” she tells me. “I am the one who know you and your case. We can perform the ektafi today without it.” Apparently in Greece it’s more important who you know than what they know. “What the hell did you make me pay 80 dollars for and waste my time,” my mother screams through the phone.
Ta chalia tis is when you go to the local ELTA post office to deliver a package to your daughter because she wants that carotene tanning oil you only get in Ellas so badly she can’t wait till you come back home and being told, “We don’t send bottles with liquid through the post office. It’s forbidden. The contents spill and destroy everyone else’s correspondence. But when you visit another post office in Neo Psychiko the attendant says, “Of course we send packages as long as they are packed appropriately to prevent spills.” Ta chalia tis.
So you walk out pissed out of the post office and the municipal cemetery and the tourist information office and the Ikea, you wish you could curse that dumb-ass clerk and that stupid, good-for-nothing agent to Hades’ dark corner, but you feel the sun and that bright light that bathes you t as if you were in paradise and forgive everything. You are in your beloved Ellas and you quarrel with her like a lover, but you let everything slide. The incompetence, the wrecklessness, the erraticness, the utter stupidity, the arrogance.
You see everything through blue-tinted glasses and are charmed.
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