Sunday, 1 April 2012


I don't like helping my children with their homework because I don't find anything challenging about it. Perhaps that's why they sometimes ask for help: so that they can get a very mundane rote-learning task done more quickly. Besides, I think many of the exercises that they are asked to do as homework are not worth the paper they have been photocopied on. But I've discussed this before already, and I know that creativity is lacking in the classroom, but it's not me that's going to change the education system - as we say in Greek: "ένας κούκος δεν φέρνει την άνοιξη".

My main reason for not helping them with their homework is because I am often shocked to see the shallow mentality exhibited in the level of the exercises. Only a Greek could have written them.

The following exercise from my 10-year-old daughter's recent homework worksheet took up a quarter of an A4 page:
"Mr Nikos wants to divide his property equally among his three daughters. Ioanna got an apartment worth €170,000, Katerina got a bedsit (γκαρσονιέρα) and €40,000 while Zoe got a shop and €35,000. What is the value of the bedsit and the shop?"
We understand that Ioanna is probably the oldest daughter, so she gets the best house - once she gets married, of course. Until then, Mr Nikos will continue to rent it out, probably without declaring the extra income to the state. As each successive daughter came along, she got the next best cut (another house, but not quite as big as her older sister's). But when the houses ran out, the youngest daughter had to be happy with a shop, which isn't a residential property, but she can rent it out (again, once she marries, because she won't need it before then) and use the money to pay her own rent (nothing needs to be declared - one rent cancels out the other one).

Actually, there's no reason why she can't live in the shop: if she rents it out to gypsies, they will do just that. During the day, they will use it to sell rugs, deck furniture, and pots for plants, most of which will be laid out on the road, cluttering the footpath, while in the evening, they will sleep in it (presumably on one of the rugs they were selling, using the furniture to store their belongings, and the upturned pots to set a gas element on for cooking).

olive groveIt's not actually stated whether Mr Nikos has any sons. Maybe he does, but he isn't leaving property to them. Girls get their προίκα meted out before boys. It's highly unlikely that they would be left out of the division of family's assets. Mr Nikos may not give them buildings, but he has probably written land in their name, maybe an olive grove. Traditionally, they get the πατρικό, but only with γονική παροχή, so that Mr Nikos doesn't have to contemplate homelessness and the kids can't throw their old man out of the house before he dies. Of course, if he hasn't any sons but he does have olive groves, then he'll be thinking about how to divide those between the daughters too, but he probably can't value them monetarily because they're as old as the hills they occupy, and they've never been valued. Most likely they have been registered, because Mr Nikos wouldn't want to have missed out on the former CAP subsidies, but they have never been considered as being for sale, since ancestral land is often treated like a family heirloom among Greeks.

Location is also an important consideration: this plays a significant role in how much property tax each house will be charged with annually. This has probably not been considered in the equation, because, so far, no one who has not paid their property tax has had their electricity cut off from the building, nor have they had their assets confiscated or frozen.

Property tax - half the country has paid it, the other refuse to pay it.

Mr Nikos is probably a sly Greek, like the majority of his compatriots. He knows that his children will be just as sly. This is why Mr Nikos won't immediately pass over the apartment to Ioanna, even when she gets married. If Ioanna's husband already owns a property where the couple can continue to multiply and prosper, or the happy couple decides that they don;t want to have children (seeing what their parents had to put up with), then Nr Nikos might just hang on to the property, just in case Ioanna (or her husband) decides to sell the apartment that he had worked so hard to earn. The sale of one house doesn't usually bring on the purchase of another house: it is usually used to fund expensive cars, exotic holidays and designer accessories (Greek women tend to overdo the Burberry label).

This would not necessarily be a problem if Mr Nikos had only one daughter, but how do you think Katerina, who inherits the bedsit, might feel if she was pregnant with twins when she got married, and her future husband was an απένταρο? Wouldn't it have been better if the apartment had been written in Katerina's name instead? Don't think Katerina is a do-gooder and would show willingness to swap the deal with her sister. She would probably remind her younger sibling: "Αυτό σου έγραψε η μοίρα σου."
Even if Mr Nikos kept a hold over the property until he was damn sure that his good intentions would not be abused by his privileged daughters, it is difficult to predict what the property values of each building would be in the future. The extra money that he had given to Katerina and Zoe may not have been necessary. For example: if Ioanna's apartment was somewhere close to Plateia Koumoundourou, not only will she not be able to sell it easily, or for a large price, but it is most likely that she won't even want to live in it. She will be enviably eyeing Katerina's desirable γκαρσονιέρα in mid-town Hania.

Whether Mr Nikos has paid the due taxes on the properties is completely unknown. Presumably, the extra cash can help out his daughters in the case where the taxman comes knocking at their door after they bury their dad. But

A non-financial issue that might cause a bit of a stir is if Mr Nikos finds out that one of his daughters is a lesbian. That's not really part of the maths problem, I guess, unless he was dishing out his property and money according to what he expected each daughter to provide for each grandchild that it was hoped by Mr Nikos that he would accrue. In this case, if Ioanna is the lesbian, Mr Nikos has a problem on his hands. On the other hand, adoption is always available these days. The child most likely won't be Greek-born, but if his other daughters are barren, uninterested in begetting children or lesbians like their older daughter, no doubt that adopted child will be a cherished one.

No doubt, the mathematics exercise was written (in drachmas) sometime in the 1970s, when there were more jobs available, and Greeks were saving very hard to ensure that their children did not have the same fate as them. When the euro came along, the appropriate currency conversion was made, but not the mental conversion: the issue of what Greeks have and how they divide it among their children (and never with the state) is still of paramount importance to them.

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