Expat Essentials

Gripes about Greece, Pt. 3: ‘If there isn’t a support group for people plagued by Greek bureaucracy, there should be’


(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 3 of a four-part series, “Gripes about Greece,” looking at the reality behind the myth of Greece as the ideal expat destinationPt. 3 looks at Greek bureaucracy and other issues. These posts are curated from Christina’s conversations and personal experiences, research and from monitoring expat social media platforms. You can jump to Pt. 1 here or Pt. 2 here.)

So, you have been on vacation to Greece and fallen in love with the place, have you? Great! Ah, now you are thinking about moving there? Okay, then—why not? Just be aware that the honeymoon period will come to an end at some point, as all honeymoon periods must do. I just want you to know a bit about the bits we don’t normally talk about ….

Knowledge is power after all!

Bureaucracy

“If you know, you know,” as the saying goes. Solidarity to those who know.

If there isn’t a support group for people plagued by Greek bureaucracy, there should be.

Let’s just say that I once had to run away from a government office like Lola from the classic 1998 movie “Run Lola Run.” The side-eyeing employees there had given me enough red tape to circle the globe three times and, walking out into the fresh air after that particularly harrowing experience, I felt too frazzled to speak, to smoke (I was a young woman in Athens in the early ’00s, okay?) or even to just walk, and my body spontaneously started sprinting down the street.

It was definitely weird, but Greek bureaucracy can make one do some very weird things!

Even though some effective strides have been made to digitize things in recent years, we are a couple of light years behind most European countries and North America as regards bureaucracy. Whether you want to register a business, renew a work permit, file papers for your maternity leave or even just correct the address on your tax return, prepare yourself to be turned away about 12 times for reasons such as “It’s after 1:30pm!” or “You don’t have a copy of your great-grandmother’s birth certificate!” or “You didn’t bring us a bottle of whiskey or a fakelaki!: (See the Healthcare – Public section in “Gripes about Greece, Pt. 2” for a reminder of what a fakelaki is.)

Just kidding about the fakelaki – it probably will not be said aloud, though it might very well be implied. Nevertheless, in time, you will get whatever it is done. Eventually. Probably. Just stay strong and and in the wise words of Mary Kennedy, “Never let ‘em see you sweat!”

Civic issues

Animal cruelty

In November 2020, the Greek parliament finally passed a long-awaited law making it possible to impose hefty fines and even prison time on serious offenders. This has been a very long time coming. Those of us who live here hope the law will be properly enforced. Animal-loving locals as well as their expat counterparts often have trouble coping with the country’s track record regarding animal welfare.

Greece has had a serious problem with stray dogs and cats for ages and, more often than you can imagine, pets are not treated properly either. Many are not walked much or at all and others are starved of affection as they are viewed strictly as guard dogs that shouldn’t get too comfortable. Animal abuse and neglect are way too common among working animals, strays and pets.

A paradoxical view of strays is also not uncommon here … they are often considered to be nasty problems, but it is also believed that it is cruel to neuter animals, which of course results in even more strays. Sadly, stray kittens are often thrown in dumpsters and the poisoning of street cats is a regular occurrence around the country.

On a positive note, there are lots of volunteers (both local and expat) who raise funds to neuter and care for abused or abandoned animals, but the sheer numbers are overwhelming. Local councils and police are supposed to respond to reports of animal neglect and abuse but, more often than not, they turn a blind eye.

Every neighborhood has its shares of endlessly-barking dogs which are left on balconies day and night and a good number are sometimes chained and/or without shelter from the sun or rain. Things are improving and many in the younger generations hold more humane attitudes towards animals in general, so fingers crossed that a shift is happening.

On the road (and on the sidewalk)

Bad driving habits, a lack of respect for pedestrian rights, sidewalks which are in terrible condition making it impossible for wheelchairs or strollers to roll in many, many places; these are just some of the many complaints about driving/walking around in Greece. A general lack of courtesy as well as dangerous road behavior, such as illegal passing, speeding and tailgating are some of the most common complaints made by new drivers in Greece.

One piece of really good news is that the Hellenic Republic has been recognized as being among several countries which have made significant progress in reducing road deaths over the past decade. Sadly, there are still way too many preventable accidents and deaths so we have a way to go.

I often advise newcomers to go out for a few lessons with a local instructor in order to get a feel of the balance between being a careful driver and a sucker.

The good news is that if you get the hang of driving here, you are an official master of the road.

Smoking

Approximately 35 percent of Greeks are smokers today and this number is actually way down from where it was not too long ago, especially among young adults, thankfully.

The first significant Greek law banning smoking in many public and indoor places was passed more than a decade ago, but it was only enforced for the first couple of months. Then we went back to the usual “anything goes” smoking practice. In 2019, a much stricter anti-smoking bill was passed and now we finally have a good number of non- smoking spaces including many coffee shops, live music venues, taxis and more … though violations are still very common.

Non-smoking expats (and many locals) now feel so much better that there are numerous smoke-free places where they and/or their kids can enjoy themselves without the second-hand smoke. Unfortunately, many coffee shops and restaurants allow smoking in semi-enclosed outdoor seating areas, so you will still get a dose of the nasty stuff in numerous places.

Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of Gripes about Greece in which I will cover environmental issues and the clashing of worldviews!

dav

About the author:

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. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.

You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.

You can see more of her Dispatches posts here.

You can see our Greece archives here.

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