Friday, 28 May 2010

Receipts (Αποδείξεις)

Just before my book draw - click here; winner announced on Tuesday.

Dear Mr P ,

Things seem to be getting from bad to worse in Greece, don't they? How long will it be before Greece is told to take a hike out of the EU? I'm not too worried at this stage about that happening, but if it does, it will throw a spanner in the works concerning the Greek psyche, don't you think? My European identity was beginning to grow on me, but if we leave the EU, not only will we find ourselves in the throes of an economic crisis, but an identity crisis as well. Way down here where I live, it feels out of place to rename myself a Balkan. Either that, or give myself the now defunct Ottoman label, which would probably not go down too well on the general populace, so let's brush that aside for now, and deal with it when the time comes, shall we? Just as long as we don't forget that the issue may well come up in the near future, because some people no doubt are already thinking about it, aren't they? We don't want to look as though were caught 'στα πράσα' now, do we?!

How many receipts have you gathered so far in the place where you keep your stash? Maybe you are in the special category of people that don't have to collect them. No such thing, you say? Well, judging by the number of receipts people are leaving behind in the supermarket, the mini-market, the fast-food outlets, the canteens, the tavernas and all sorts of other places where I've been keeping my beady eyes open for more evidence of this happening, there seem to be quite a few people who appear not to need them. One customer even told the Chinese owner of a clothes shop that she was quite happy not to accept a receipt (if she got the obvious - there is no need for me to explain what that is because everyone in Greece knows what is meant by that).

Are you wondering whether I'm picking up those miscellaneous receipts and adding them to my own expenses? Yep, sure am, even though they often list things I never buy (namely cigarettes). In fact, since I'm one of the few people who seem to be taking this receipt business seriously (judging by some peop;e's behavior - see previous paragraph), the owner of the mini-market where I buy my weekly newspaper always asks me if I would like some of those uncollected receipts (for free, of course). If no one wants them, I may as well take them, right? More to the point, am I missing something for actually collecting receipts? Or do I live mainly among people who are above the law?

How are you going to check what I've claimed as having spent? I've already collected about 300 receipts* so far, and it's not even the middle of the year. Sounds like you're going to have to employ (and pay with money we haven't got) extra staff to help you cope with the new workload. Will you be inputting all this data onto EXCEL files" You do know what these are, dont' you? Are you seriously going to trace all the transactions via a firm's VAT registration number? For every single tax-filing citizen of Greece?** Boy, you've got yourself a handful!

What will you do when you discover that, as in my case, I have been to the supermarket three or four times in one day? Will you say, 'don't believe you?' You have only asked us to take note of the DATE, VAT number of the business and the TOTAL AMOUNT of each transaction we (say we) made. Do you really care about what we bought? Or how much it cost us (which is usually more than what other Europeans pay for the same product in their own countries)? Or whether I had to go to different branches of the same business (the same VAT number appears on the receipt regardless of the branch)? Well, I guess that's just throwing a few spanners in the works, isn't it?

Thank goodness the car is breaking down more often, thank goodness I needed to change my computer this year, thank goodness we decided to buy the new outdoor furniture this year instead of the last - I'm clocking up the expenses to no end. But are they permissible? You've still got a good few months to play around with me on that one before we file our tax returns again. I suppose you're not interested in the reciepts I obtained for services rendered on my recent family budget holiday (Paris and London); you're only interested in whether Greek businesses pay their taxes, not French or British businesses (and apparently they do pay their taxes there, but they have still managed to run up debts there too).

At the end of the day, what will this receipt-collecting business have proved? Where would you like to see me spending my money? Are you going to judge me by them? How do you feel about people learning to save their money instead of spending it? Can't I choose what I do with my money? What will all this evidence prove? When you rifle through my jumbo-size receipt folder, here's what I think you'll discover:
  1. that a large proportion of my income is spent on food (164 of my - to date - 283 permissible tax-rebate receipts are for food purchases: most people will tell you anyway that the supermarket, and food, in general terms, is where the largest share of their spending goes)
  2. that we don't go out for a meal much (only 3 receipts came from tavernas, and half a dozen were for snack food: the cost of living has escalated all of a sudden, and when this happens, dining out is one of the first things that is put aside for more prosperous times
  3. that my clothing purchases are on the cheap side (I have only 10 clothing receipts, totalling 330 euro, and I call that expensive even for cheapskates like myself: during our recent trip to London, we spent 114 pounds on clothing from PRIMARK, buying 25 items in total for all members of the family, which included 6 men's business shirts, all of which were much better quality than the stuff we buy in cheap Chinese clothing shops in Hania
  4. that I don't eat fish often enough (only 5 receipts concern fish suppliers: I was surprised to discover that I was cooking it for the family only once a month, but it shouldn't be such a big surprise when you discover how much it can cost - which is something up for discussion in a future post)
  5. that I started smoking recently (collecting other people's receipts if they have been discarded has become a way of life for many people: I am willing to place a bet that next year, come tax-return-filing time, accountants will be fiddling figures for their 'special' clients by removing receipts from some people's tax returns and distributing them in a way that suits others - I could even cook the books myself, by adding a few dates here and there for supermarket purchases in an EXCEL file - you don't seriously think Mr P and his gang are going to look at every single receipt sent in by every single Greek tax payer, do you???)
You haven't learnt much more about me than you already know, Mr P. But what I want to know is why should I be telling you this anyway. Why should you expect to have the right to find out what I do with my money, when we don't have the right (as yet) to know where you got yours from? Is this going to be a way of life now for the lower rungs of Greek society? Did you expect to find out anything different about the average low-income earner? I think you're barking up the wrong tree, George. You're chasing the wrong people, and by doing this, you're helping to destroy the few threads that remain in the basic structure of Greek society:
  1. People have minimised their use of their local kiosk because it didn't issue receipts, because you, George, hadn't planned efficiently before introducing the new measures: how could you expect kiosk owners to issue receipts when they were never required by law to have a machine to do this?
  2. People are preferring to do their shopping at the supermarket instead of going to the open-air street markets (the laiki) for their fresh supplies for the same reason as above - this also implies that they may be buying reduced quality or one that is generally not preferred by them, and it also implies that multinational companies will be gaining their ever-increasing share in the food business with their gloablised products, since most people will go to a supermarket to ensure they can pick up a receipt for their transactions.
  3. People are being forced to cheat the system in order for the system not to cheat them, a basic example being the collection of other people's receipts - a more extreme example is to show loyalty to regular customers, as in the case of an accountant helping a rich client.
  4. In the extreme case, we may be seeing a brother-against-brother state, where there is a lack of trust among people, since it is obvious that deception, corruption and tax evasion is still continuing despite the austerity measures.Greek society can be so predictable at times.
We lost our reputation in the world, we lost our economic power, now we are looking at losing the basic structure that our society was built on - the end of the geitonia as we knew it. It's a heavy cloud that hangs over Greece today, and it's not just the Icelandic ash and desert dust that's causing it.

*** *** ***
It's not far from the truth to say that Greece is a poor country with rich people. We've become a laughing stock around the world for knowing who owes money to the state, but not doing anything about collecting that money. These debts have been largely ignored because of the influence those owing money exert, and the fact that they have their own people in powerful positions, who can cover up their misdemeanors, by cooking their books accordingly. If Greece could just get her VIP citizens (doctors, entertainers and bar/nightclub owners are the main culprits) to pay their taxes just like the unimportant Greeks like myself, the IMF wouldn't have picked up another customer so quickly. The Greek government knows full well who owes taxes to the state, and has also publicly released the names of those φοροδιαφυγάδες. It doesn't take a great brain to realise that just a handful of Voskopoulos-type tax-evaders owe enough to get us out of the can forever.

Let's not put all the blame on the 'aeritzides' of Greek society. It's not just the tax-evaders that have damaged the economy: it is also those that are in positions of power, turning a blind eye to the tax debts of the evaders, while they themselves profit from such activities. Ever heard of a state-employed tax inspector with 3 million euro in their bank account? They're living the high life here in Greece, and all at the ordinary citizens' expense. It will be very difficult to learn to live an OPA!-less lifestyle from now on. Even more importantl;y, it's going to take a whole generation to teach people that they can't live on 'fakelakia' and 'rousfetia', and another generation to get used to the idea, so that they have no role model to look up to, their ancestors, the people who used to do this for a living. Opa.

If you want to enter my book draw - click here; winner announced on Tuesday.

*as at 28 May, 2010
**at this rate, I will probably collect approximately 800 receipts for my family, excluding my husband's taxi-related ones, which comes to 400 receipts per person; times that by the number of Greek tax-payers (the population of Greece is about 12 million)

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