Monday, 9 December 2013

After hours (Εκτός ωραρίου)

I had a slightly surreal experience late on Saturday afternoon in Hania. I had taken my daughter into the town centre to see the Christmas decorations that have been placed on the main squares, and with this opportunity, we also did some window shopping.

Most of the town's decorations have been put up, but the lighting will be launched next weekend. The street lamps are generally well lit with decorations too, so the atmosphere is not so bleak.
We didn't intend to go into any store to buy anything, and it was rather late in the afternoon for the stores to be open, but there were a number of Christmas baubles shops still open. Apart from Christmas decorations, they also usually sell some eye-catching bric-a-brac: bracelets, beads, make-up, souvenirs, inter alia. Most other businesses were either closed or in the process of closing up for the weekend (as you know, it's still never never on a Sunday for most regional stores around Greece).
There were many pretty store windows capturing the commercialised aspect of Christmas, but I chose this one out of the many photos we took on that day, because it characterised Christmas as we are living it today in Hania - most people are these days using wood-fired heaters instead of liquid fuel. Four years ago, the wood-fired heater was a rare sight in the town - now there are a number of stores in the town selling all sorts of models, and plenty of places where you can buy wood. How quickly we learn to adapt.
My daughter wanted to enter it, and I felt like a little shopping therapy myself. It was one of the €1-2 shops that entice people in with their very low prices. My daughter found a set of plastic coloured strings that can be used to make bracelets (€1), and I found a made-in-China souvenir of Crete that I thought looked quite stylish (€1.50): a tea-light candle holder with a raised image of the lighthouse and Firkas castle, with the snow-capped Lefka Ori in the background.

Last week, I complained about the lack of souvenirs on sale honouring the 100-year celebrations of the Union of Crete with Greece. Imagine if the Municipality of Chania had bothered to plan for this in advance, selling souvenirs like this during the summer to our zillions of tourists with a simple addition of the phrase '100 years' tacked onto the 'Chania' part. Planning ahead is a skill that needs to be developed in teh Greek state.
I let the child browse a little longer, then we went to pay at the cashier. 'That's €2.50', said the lady at the till. I took out my purse and found some change. She placed the items in a bag, and then whispered to me, as she lowered her head towards my face: "I have just closed the till, and I'm supposed to be closing the store now, which is why I closed the door. I can't issue you with a receipt, so as you go out, I'd appreciate it if you put your shpping in your handbag, and if someone asks you if you bought anything, just say you didn't."

She was worried about the random checks made by tax officers - you don't always know when/where they will strike, and if you are a woman working alone in a shop, you will probably just admit that you were a tax evader. How quickly we learn, when both our feet are placed in the one shoe. And how dangerous our once-easy jobs have become.

The tax that she evaded paying in my case was minimal, and of course, there was always the option of denying a sale to a customer, although it isn't a particularly Greek way of conducting business. It is difficult to envisage a time when we may in fact do this, without finding an alternative method to achieve our goals. It goes against our creative spirit.

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