Ask any man or woman on the street what associations she/he has with the word “dimosio” and you get some of these examples:
- Eleos (For God’s sake)
- Red tape
- Sketi malakia
- Or just a gesture of hands going around in circles
- Na min blexis-better never to get involved
Even natives who are used to the ‘bachelo’ the Greek state runs, hold up their hands in exasperation. As an American, it is excruciating. Since moving to Ellas, I have had to deal with not one but the entire juggernaut of red tape you get wrapped up in when dealing with the dimosio.
- Filing for a social security number or AMKA
- Getting registered for IKA, the public health insurance currently operating in the red under loans by the EC
- Filing for taxes and paying the ENFIA the dreaded property tax
- Getting the electricity and water bill in my name
- Registering my foreign marriage certificate in the special section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Getting my degrees recognized by the Ministry of Justice
- Getting penal code clearance (piniko metro)
Each one of these steps become Herculean labors of mind and body. This is how a typical encounter with the Dimosio goes:
You have to find the proper ministry/agency or office. It has to be open. Most close before 2 pm on most workdays so good luck. You have to miss a day of work to run your business. When I visited the Ministry of Education at 10 am, the guard told me to take a “volta” around The Mall as it does not open for visitors until 12 to 2 pm.
Oh well! Come back the second day. That day there was a massive conference for the English teachers and the line just to get into the revolving doors and get body searched through the scanners wrapped to the parking lot. All I needed was a simple question answered. When I squeezed to the front of the glass windows to have a word with the security who was chatting with another receptionist in the back, “Hey, hey, Kiria,” I was jostled, “do you not have any idea of the concept of making a line” by the other frazzled teachers who no doubt were annoyed at having to wait 20 minutes just to get through the doors of the building.
Oh well. I will try the next day. When I went, I was surprised to find police vans and a handful of officers at the gates. “Where are you going?” they asked me. “I have to see about getting my degrees translated for a license to teach in Greece.” Why so many? Apparently that was the day that several intruders entered without any checks at another ministry headquarters. All the while the security cameras and the alarms had gone off but no security was there to confront them. So much for security. A red alert went out across all ministries for possible terrorist activity so extra police presence was ordered across all dimosio offices.
I searched the building asking for the proper person to address my concern to. Without a name or at least a number of a person that is responsible, you are at a loss in the public sector or dimosio. When I did manage to get to the proper office on the second floor at the way in the back of the building, a young lady was searching for a certificate of Greek language proficiency for a Pakistani man. She couldn’t find it. Apparently they had misspelled his name or switched his first name with his last name, Mohammed Khan. There were millions of Mohammed Khans so she had to search for the right father’s name. She found another individual with that name. But with a different father’s name. The Pakistani man exasperated for coming from so far away Pallini to pick up a certificate they said was waiting for him.
“It’s OK,” I told him to make light of the situation, “You are a Muslim; you can always change your father. It’s your mother you can’t change.”
After she took 20 minutes to serve him, without finding the certificate, she turns to me. After explaining what I needed, she said, “Sorry, Ms. So and So is responsible for those types of certificates. She is off this week. Come back on Monday or else call her.” She wrote down her name and phone number on a sticky note and sent me on my way.
It takes on average three visits to any public sector agency to get something accomplished. That’s if you have the same person. If they change personnel, you will have to keep explaining the details of your situation over and over and get fed up.
If you do find the same attendant, the office is probably filthy—inches of dirt cover the marble floors. Don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper and soap because those niceties are missing from the WC.
The cushions in the IKA office look like they came out of Sanford and Sons salvage yard. The dust in the place aggravates my asthma so I get into fits of hacking cough. “Skase epitelous! Shut up already” the other inmates yell.
You have to take a number from a red plastic machine with a big red button in the middle near the door and take a seat on the ripped upholstered cushions spotted with stains.
When you do finally make it to the window of the two maybe three public servants attending an avalanche of people, a ratio of approximately 1 to 25,000, most likely you will be asked to fill out a form and pay for a tax stamp, an “ensimo.” If the public servant knows anything, they will tell you that you are missing another document or that the document you filled out is wrong, not valid, or out of date because it needs to be stamped/translated/photocopied/refilled.
If they don’t, they will tell you all this and more unnecessary paperwork. Or worse, they will tell you the wrong information. You will most probably have to get more paperwork to verify the paperwork you gave them in triplicate or go to the bank to pay the back taxes you owe so they can give you the stamp. So you go back to the public servant you did business with the last time. But she is not there. The bushy eyebrowed relic from the archeological museum is there and he tells you, “Oxi, oxi, kiria mou, you have to submit this paper with your form.” Totally different instructions from when you went there last. When you try to argue with the relic, it only makes the situation worse. “Sas parakalo, kiria mou,” the relic says, move along I have many more members of the public to attend to this morning.”
Most of the time I give up before even taking a number. I went to the DEH, the national electric company, to change the account to my name. The hordes of people smoking, talking, looking glum spilled out onto the sidewalk of the only DEH office for the northern suburbs. (All smaller satellite offices have closed in an effort to consolidate and economize.) Greeks don’t wait on line one after another; they jam themselves in heaving crowds that squeeze to the front. It is quite possible that many a female has gotten impregnated waiting on these clouds of bodies I am sure. I pushed my way through the crowds to get at least to the info desk.
“Is it always like this?” I asked a calm lady in front of me.
“No,” she replied. “It’s just the end of the month and the company is giving customers the last chance to set up payment arrangements if they can’t pay their bills. In a week if you haven’t paid, they will cut off your electricity for good.”
“How long have you been waiting?” I asked out of curiosity.
“Since 6 o’clock in the morning,” she answered.
My eyes popped out of my head.
“Can you imagine,” she said showing me the white ticket paper every customer is supposed to get to signal their turn, “I’m number 60. There was a man waiting in front of the building from 4:30 in the morning to be the first one.”
“Where do I get a number?” I continued.
“Don’t bother,” she said. “There are no more. The machine ran out at 9 am in the morning. You are too late even for a number.”
Oh well! I’ll come back tomorrow, I thought.
Trying to make good of the situation, I ran across the street to the EYDAP, the water company. Less lines, but same frustration.
“I can’t close your account,” the clerk told me after I waited 20 minutes with the white ticket number in my hand. “You need to get a signed affidavit from the owner of the apartment that this is what they want.”
Oh well! I turned to leave and there in the middle of the floor lying unclaimed was the answer to the dimosio—
A prayer rope. You use this to say the same prayer over and over. It teaches you patience. It teaches you grace. It reminds you that you need God to help you in every day things. It also keeps you from killing those around you.
Eleos, the dimosio.