Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The salvation of Europe (Η διάσωση της Ευρώπης)

I wrote this post about a week ago, in anticipation of my first direct cheap flight experience (when RyanAir starts flying the first tourists in and out of its new base Hania) out of the country through my own local airport. For this reason., I wanted it to tie in with the first tourists to come to the island. I'm glad I waited to post it - even though it does not contain any hint of the Cyprus deposits story, it easily ties in well with the issue. 

And before I forget, happy koulouma and a good sarakosti.

Another satisfied customer, I thought, as I read my friend's email:
"What I liked about Crete was the people. I know it sounds like a cliche but compared to the poor service and high prices we paid in [another Greek island], it really made a difference. The tourist doesn't expect to make friends with the tourist business people but the way they treat him tells a lot about the people themselves. How genuine they are and how they appreciate the customer. I know you may not believe me but Crete is a tourist friendly place."
I like Crete too, and I like Crete enough to know that for Crete - and Greece - to remain a good place for tourists to come to and enjoy, everyone will have to play their part. Ignorance is no longer accepted as an excuse for not playing your part in maintaining stability. Nor can you afford to sweep things under the carpet, for someone else to deal with - you have to deal with it.

My plea is not to the locals - it's to the European tourists who come to Greece expecting Greeks to treat them in a friendly courteous fair manner. I'm sure you won't find anything amiss here these days - we can't afford to lose our precious customers. But are you playing your part too, in helping Greece maintain stability? Maybe you don't understand what I'm trying to say; maybe you think I'm telling you not to spread bad rumours about Greece (try googling "Greece tourism" and see what you get) that may make people re-think their plans to come here for a vacation. But that's not what I'm saying at all. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if it is misguided. What I'd like to remind you to do does not involve making an opinionated judgment of any sort. It's much simpler than that:

Please remember to pick up a receipt of payment every single time you make a monetary transaction. 

That's all. Every time you take out your wallet, or your purse, or your credit card, and you use it in Greece, please remember that YOU are obliged to pick up a receipt of the transaction, just as much as the shop owner is obliged to give you one. Picking up that useless-looking piece of paper may feel like a wasted effort for you, but it will help our country in many ways, more than you would believe. That damn receipt means that someone is running a reputable business, taxes will be collected, Greece will run more effectively, she will be able to continue to back her debts, she won't be burdening YOU with her debts as much as she did in the past, and her creditors will be able to give Greece the thumbs up for more investment opportunities.

By demanding that useless piece of paper, YOU will be showing Greek people that you expect them to be as fair and honest in paying taxes as YOU (believe that you) are in your own country, and we do often hear about how righteous those sun-starved Northern Europeans are in their obligations to the state. By demanding that Greeks do the same, YOU may even be helping them to learn and get into the habit of being more honest in their dealings with the state. If YOU don't bother to check that the Greek business you have just made a transaction with is providing YOU with a record of the transaction, then don't expect Greece to change - it will be your fault just as much as it is her own. And unfortunately for YOUYOU will be called upon to deal with that too some time in the future, with your own country's EU share of the responsibility.

Greeks are required by law to pick up this flimsy piece of paper in the same way as you are. Anyone making a monetary transaction in Greece is required to do this. While Greeks will be seen as saving their country when they do this, YOU will be seen by your country as a guardian of the expectations that your own country has of Greece to play her role in the continent that links us. Our survival spells your survival - we're in it together, whether we want to be or not.

O καταναλωτής δεν έχει υποχρέωση να πληρώσει αν δεν λάβει το νόμιμο παραστατικό στοιχείο.

The consumer is not obliged to pay if the notice of payment has not been received.

You may be surprised to read the above sign in Greek businesses, but it is now obligatorily being displayed. If you do not see it, you may wish to think about whether it's a good idea to do business with the company you have just chosen. It has not come without a level of controversy: some people leave without paying for their purchases on the pretext that they never received a receipt (see below for some variations on the theme). Maybe they didn't ask for the receipt in the first place; that's when the fault clearly lies with yourself. If you are not offered one, then ask for it.

Of course, it's not just the common people's fault that Greece is in a mess. It's the fault of the politicians, it's the fault of the dealings of the financial world, it's the fault of wrong moves and bad judgment, inaction and incompetence. But if we all just slumped into a deckchair and shrugged our shoulders with a nought-to-do-with-me complacency, maybe Greece won't be the cheap and cosy (not to mention relative safe) place it is now, and you'll have to look somewhere else to go for your annual one or two weeks in the summer sun, somewhere further away which costs more. I doubt most of you will want to do that, especially if you have already experienced the virtues of the Greek sun. If you've already tasted that sun, then you will know it's like an exquisite salty-sweet chocolate melting in your mouth. You can make it melt more slowly by ensuring that it will be there in just the same way for you to enjoy at a later time. Being under the Greek sun is quite a different experience to any another sun-drenched spot in the world; Greece may be in the midst of a serious economic crisis, but she still leads with a unique radiance of her own, which continues to remain unrivaled, unable to be copied anywhere else.

So if you want Greece to remain the little haven that she is in your very close quarters, and to keep things stable in your little part of Europe, please, please, please, PLEASE do not forget to pick up a receipt after each and every transaction. Every little bit helps. And don't forget, it will end up helping your country in the long run, as well as teaching good habits to your fellow continental compatriots. We're all European in some way or another, whether we are a part of the European continent or the European Union or the eurozone. It makes no difference if you use the euro or the pound or another currency in your country - you need to do your bit too. (Picture: Gerasimos G. Gerolimatou, oil on canvas, 80x60).

There are four kinds of people: those who see things happening, those who discuss things that are happening, those who make things happen - and those who wonder what the hell happened. 

So please, please, please, PLEASE, do not forget to ask for that bloody receipt whenever and wherever you spend your money in Greece.

Thank you.

On another note, I remember the sob stories that circulated among expats when the property tax was applied in Greece through our electric bills; these sob stories are now being repeated by expats living in Cyprus. Stop complaining folks, your lifestyle in Greece/Cyprus is of much higher quality here than where you once lived/came from: there is a price to pay for living in a world that is much older than yours.

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