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Friday, 20 December 2013

Dirty habits (Βρωμερές συνήθειες)

The smoking laws in Greece are often deliberately flouted in cafes and other public places. It's one of those vices that Greeks seem unable to control. They can control it if they want, but they simply don't want to. They are, to state it in a nutshell, disobedient and arrogant with their smoking habit. If you go to a cafe in Greece, you risk coming out smelling like smoked salmon. The laws against smoking indoors in public spaces cannot be monitored adequately due to lack of agents to do this (eg the municipal wardens that used to do thsi were recently sacked due to the public sector cuts). As for the cafe owners, allowing smoking in their cafe is an overt sign of how powerful the customer-client relationship is: if a cafe owner asks a patron to refrain from smoking in his/her cafe, the customer is highly likely to search for another place where they can practice their habit unhindered. I think that they see their right to smoke as more important than the place they choose to frequent.

I remember the early days of the law when it was first brought in: people were, to some degree, more courteous and mindful of the new law, and it was not unusual in Hania to see these laws being respected. Now I see more and more people smoking indoors in cafes, using a 'trick': the cafe-owner provides both indoor and outdoor seating space, but the two spaces can barely be separated because there is no door. Instead, there is a carefully planned indoor-outdoor flow with the doors having been opened and pulled right back to the wall, so it looks as though the whole cafe is an outdoor-based one, when in fact one part of the seating area is clearly under a roof.

Smokers who flout the rules really don't have any consideration for the law or other people's health. I have little sympathy for them, especially after an incident I experienced about a year ago. I was working in a room with a smoker who was using an e-cigarette. Because I had never worked with this person before, I let her choose where she would like to sit while she was assessing English students' spoken language when I interviewed them. I let her choose because I know that many of my colleagues lack my confidence in being able to work anywhere, anytime and anyhow. She wanted me to sit with my back to her (never done that before...) while the student sat in front of me, because, as she claimed, she could see the student's face, and understand them better. Despite my belief that she was citing a load of quaff, I abided by her wishes. Some people are too attached to the neo-liberal world we used to live in, and it is not my business to knock them off their pedestal. They need to see that for themselves.

Having never worked before with this woman, despite the fact that I had seen her around in the examiners' circles for a long time, I was surprised that she had not become more casual and accepting of other people's habits. For example, I did tell her that I believed my head would be in the way of her direct line of communication with the test-taker, and therefore her understanding of the discussion might be impeded; what's more, I would also be unable to communicate with her at all if I needed to for whatever reason. But she insisted that she had always worked like this throughout her examiner's career, and it never caused anyone else a problem. Not wanting to be her problem, I simply conformed.

I wondered how her rigid habits had been tolerated by other long-time examiners like myself. In fact, I knew who her previous partners were, because, for a long time, examiners had been able to pair up with whoever they preferred, rather than working with the people they were assigned to work with. This is how I managed to work with a range of different people:  I never asked to work with only whom I wanted to work with - I only worked with whomever I was assigned to work with, and I never asked to change my assigned partner. For a long time, she was only working with her buddies, after arranging this in advance. Since the crisis set in, and fewer and fewer examiners are now being hired (because of the diminishing numbers of test-takers), her buddies were not always chosen for this work. So it was inevitable that one day, she would be working with someone she did not know.

The smoke emitted from an e-cigarette does not smell, so you would not really be able to detect it unless you can see the person smoking. Over the course of the day, as my colleague felt more relaxed (probably because she was drugging herself with the e-cig), she did not bother to hide her dirty habit in the room where we were assessing young students' (ie children's) level of spoken English. At any rate, I would have found out about it, because she regularly needed to recharge the battery of the e-cigarette while we were working. She smoked right throughout the two days I worked with her. I did ask her not to smoke, but she claimed that she was not subjecting anyone to her passive smoke, something I could only expect to hear from an arrogant smoker who cannot and does not wish to exercise any form of restraint, refusing to discipline themselves to working in a different way. Maybe it's because you can't teach an old dog new tricks? That's why laws are created - not because people are generally not aware of their dirty habits, but because they generally don't bother showing common courtesy. They need someone else to point that out to them.

I know I should have reported her to the authorities, but Greeks aren't tattle-talers, and I found it very hard to convince myself that I should become one. Besides, all those other teachers she had worked with probably never 'told on' her, so what I was intending to do by reporting her? I might even turn out to be the reason why she might end up at the brink of bankruptcy if I got her removed from her privileged position (believe me, it is a privilege to be working as an examiner). My sympathetic conscience got the better of me on that day, which is really quite stupid, because her e-cigarette was not the worst thing that she could be accused of. While I was interviewing test-takers and she was supposedly assessing them, she was actually fiddling with her mobile phone, and when she heard the cue that the interview was over, she would then scribble down some marks on the assessment cards. She had not bothered to listen to a word those children had said, after all those costly lessons, despite the fact that their parents had paid between 150-180 euro for their child to be professionally assessed. To be fair on myself, I did tell her that I found it annoying that she was playing with her cellphone while she was supposed to be listening, and she did stop doing this. But she did not stop puffing away on her e-ciggie.

This year, I was called up again to work in the examinations. When I went to pick up my contract, I saw my colleague's name in the list, and I secretly hoped that I would not be paired with her (you learn this on the day - and thankfully, I did not have to work with her). The woman in the office checked my name off the list. She wasn't sure where the contracts had been placed, so I tried to recall the procedure usually followed, and we eventually found them in the office.

"You must be an old-timer," the woman said. I told her I'd been working for over a decade in this job, and I also told her how much I appreciated being selected to work, because I know times are hard now and not everyone is being selected, even though they'd appreciate the work too.

"Yes, that's true," she said. "Some people don't realise what a privilege it is to be asked to do this job. They just come for the money, the food and the hotel [sometimes, an overnight stay is needed, when there are many students taking the exams]." I was a little shocked to hear this coming from a person in her position.

"I've noticed that too," I said. "Some don't even seem to be qualified to do the job." The grand majority of English teachers in Greece are employed as native speakers rater than qualified professionals. "The last time I worker here, my partner was smoking an e-cigarette throughout the examinations, and playing with her cell phone while I was interviewing." I added this as an aside, thinking that it was plainly obvious to the woman, as she had seen all sorts pass before her eyes over the many years she had been in the job.

"Who was that?" the woman asked me, just like that, without any warning. I asked her if it was necessary to tell her, and she told me that she had black-listed other teachers (no wonder I don't see some old colleagues any longer) for similarly unprofessional reasons, and there was no reason for an unprofessional colleague to be working when someone else could do the job more professionally. Guilt overcame me at that moment, but not because I was about to tell her the name of the eejit I worked with last year. I felt guilty because, thanks to the none-of-my-business stance that I had taken, I had denied another colleague of work this year - I noticed that the name of a woman I had worked with on a regular basis in the same job in the past was not included in the list.

I knew it had been wrong of me not to report my colleague's behaviour in the first place, but I was worried that if she were not given any more work, she would suspect why this might have happened. Given that she was asked to work again, I suppose I can rest assured that the leak will not be discovered by the time the following examination period comes round. Conscientious Greeks feel guilty these days when they know they can do their job better and they don't act complacently. They also know that having work these days is a privilege. By not reporting the bad colleague, I was indirectly responsible for a good colleague being passed over; I am now guilty twice over.

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