Expat Essentials

Dear North Americans: Here’s what it’s really like to live in Greece, Pt. 3

(Editor’s note: This is the third and final part of Christine Hudson’s series for North Americans detailing what it’s really like to live in Greece.)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this post, I go over various things you might find surprising about life in the mysteriously magical land of myths and moussaka. Truth be told, as a bi-cultural individual (Greek mother, North-American father), I have spent way too much time comparing the countries. Those who have mixed backgrounds will understand….

So, most people know what there is to love about Greece. The list is long: sea, sun, history, islands, music, wine, mountains, the Mediterranean diet and more….

For some, it can never be more than a vacation destination because it is not an “easy” country by North
American or Western European standards. However, there are many who come here specifically to get away from what they see as the stifling orderliness of life in their own country.

Others don’t know just how different it can be and discover the reality upon arrival.

Some of these people run away, some thrive and others try to accept it without letting their feathers get too ruffled.

A labyrinth of bureaucracy (bureau-crazy?!)

Whether you want to start a business, buy a house, register a birth, file your taxes, purchase a car or do anything, really, be prepared for a staggering amount of red tape.

A recent example: it took my husband and me nearly two weeks, multiple phone calls and several emails to get the electricity switched off after we left the house we were renting at the end of our lease. The electric company website said it would be done in three days.

Greece has been working to digitize a lot of its public services but the going has been slow and problematic. While you can now complete a number of tasks online which you couldn’t before, the governmental websites themselves are often buggy and nonsensical.

Many times people end up having to pay an accountant or lawyer to complete online tasks for them because some of the processes seem almost purposely complicated and incomprehensible and a mistake can take ages to rectify. If you have read my posts on buying a home in Athens, you know that time-consuming paperwork is par for the course.

However, the Theater of the Absurd recently presented itself in the following two situations:

• I went the land registry to register my husband and myself as the new owners of our apartment. I had to take the contract of sale in person even though I had it in digital form. Funnily enough, they said I was lucky because they had just streamlined the process a couple months prior.

I guess that didn’t include being able to accept an email with the contract attached.

Anyhow, I handed in the contract and was given an invoice with bank account information on it and was told to pay it online or at a cooperating bank and then email them the receipt. (So they can cope with some emails!)

Next, we had to wait a month to return to the office to collect the proof of ownership registration.

Why couldn’t they email it to me? No one knows.

So, I return to the office a month later and wait while a grumpy guy in a stained sweatshirt flips through a box of papers to find mine. He hands it to me. “Thanks,” I say. “Could I also have a digital copy, please, for my files?” He looks at me, half confused and half annoyed. I wait. He says nothing. I ask again. He says in an exasperated tone, “Why would you want that?! I’ve just given you a hard copy!”

I explain.

He stares at me in disbelief due to my apparently bizarre request.

Finally, a woman who was sitting at a nearby desk says to me “You can apply for a digital copy via our website. It’ll cost you 6 euros.” (It cost approximately 1,500 euros to register our purchase, which is about 10 times what it costs in most places and now they wanted me to spend more time and money to get a copy of the digital file from which our costly document was created.)

I almost wondered aloud if I would have to visit the office for a third time to collect the digital copy on a flash drive. I took a deep breath to control my sarcasm as well as my rising blood pressure and said “No thanks, goodbye” instead.

• The government announced that a certain document used for tax purposes would automatically be created for us on the tax website once our contract of sale was uploaded.

We uploaded it four months ago ….

Just the other day, we received an email saying that this document could not be automatically created (no explanation why), so we would have to do so ourselves. What they didn’t mention is that the deadline for this document to be submitted was pushed up by two weeks.

My husband randomly saw that on the news. Had he not seen that, we would have had to pay a fine on top of creating the document ourselves or paying an accountant to do it for us because the process is not comprehensible to most mere mortals as it includes jargon and so on ….

I could write not just a book but a series of books about my experiences with Greek red tape.

The story of how I got my Greek citizenship back in the Early Aughts, for example, could become suspenseful trilogy. Suffice it to say that you need to muster all your patience and expect the worst when it comes to Greek bureaucracy. That way you will be pleasantly surprised if things so happen to go your way – and they will … once in a while, anyway.

On the road

Compared to the rest of the EU, Greece was the fourth worst in 2022 in terms of such fatalities per million inhabitants (71), with experts citing poor driving behavior. The EU average is 46 deaths per million inhabitants.’

I won’t sugar-coat it: Driving in Greece is dangerous.

The roads are not always in decent condition, especially outside the cities. Add to that the speeding and generally reckless drivers. Then there’s the fact that barriers, even on narrow mountain roads, are often non-existent.

It should be noted that traffic laws are almost never enforced, which of course is the root of the problem. Many of these traffic accident fatalities are pedestrian deaths that were caused by careless drivers who see speed limits and road safety rules as mere suggestions. The fact of the matter is that Greece is actually a very mountainous country and public transportation is limited so you really should be able to drive here if you want to fully explore the best of the country, such as one of my all-time favorites, Mount Pelion.

Driving details

The driving age for cars is 18 and it’s 16 for motorbikes. A North American driver’s license is technically all you need to drive if you are staying in Greece for less than six months. However, rather nonsensically, in order to rent or lease a car or in order to drive past the six-month mark, you will typically need an International Driver’s Permit or convert your license to a Greek one.

The rules around this are worded vaguely and often change, so it’s best to check with your local Greek embassy or consulate before you make the move.

Potty training … of sorts

It might seem trivial but this issue really bothers a lot of people so I need to mention it: Did you know that you can’t flush toilet paper in Greece? The sewage pipes are not wide enough to handle lots of toilet paper and unpleasant blockages and backups will occur if toilet paper is disposed of in the toilet.

This applies to both urban and rural areas.

In most homes and businesses, you will find a sometimes-smallish waste bin for this purpose only, lined with plastic and regularly emptied. It can be disconcerting at first but you will (probably) get used to it.

Nothing, if not intense

Now let’s sum it all up simply, shall we?

In ways both good and bad, Greece is truly unforgettable for those who spend time here. Will you
take your chances and come live in a place that is nothing if not intense?

Think about it!


Read more about Greece here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Christina here.

 | Website

A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece.

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