Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Packages

“Only a masochist with deep pockets would want to pursue [it].” That phrase is from author, Marjory McGinn, describing her registering of her car legally in Greece, the operative word being legally. That was after the villagers tried to persuade her to do it . . . let's just say, a more successful way. I’ve been thinking of that lately as I await a package that I regret ordering online and having sent to me here, in Margariti.

I love Greece, Epirus in particular. And I accept the fact that “business” is run a bit differently than in other parts of the world but I’m not here on business, so that's fine with me. That being said, when I ordered something from and had it delivered to the Margariti address, I did it, more or less as an experiment – sort of like tying a message to a balloon and seeing if anyone ever gets it.

I expected nothing but hoped for the best. And I was pleasantly surprised when, two weeks later, I got a text from Amazon saying the package had been delivered. So Nick went to get it from the post office but the postmaster said he hadn’t gotten anything for us even though the tracking number showed that it had been delivered—but it had not.

Okay,” I thought. “I tried.” And with all the optimism of a person on vacation, far from the stress of work or bill-paying, I cheerfully continued to hope for its arrival. At some point, I called a representative at which resulted in a full refund and the representative saying that if the package did eventually show up, it was still no charge.

A few weeks later, we learned that it was waiting at a delivery service in Igoumenitsa. They’d been trying to contact me but did not have a working telephone number. The bottom line: It actually had arrived on time! Very good news. So, I surmised that when ordering something online, (as opposed to sending it from post office to post office) it was that particular delivery service in Igoumenitsa that would have the product when it arrived. Excellent . . . I now knew the process for receiving packages that have been ordered online.

Package number 2:
It’s a box of books. It arrived in Greece, as expected on the date expected but this time it’s sitting in customs in the port near Sparta, an eight hour car ride from Margariti. The email I received told me that although the “import fees” were already paid for, I needed to pay “clearance charges.”

Okay—I can accept that. How much and how do I do it? I was told that the fee was eighty-nine euros and I could pay it by logging on to the given website. I wasn't very happy about the fee but, again, I accept the business-ways of Greece. And euros look like Monopoly-game money anyway, so it wasn't that painful.

I logged onto the computer and the website asked for a username and password. Huh?

I called the customs’ phone number and waited my allotted time for a representative. She told me that “my accountant” would know what to do. My accountant? We need an accountant for a package? Luckily we actually have one for some other issues that have arisen with the new "tax laws."

Oh, and by the way—each day that the customs office has the package, we are being charged an additional 1.5€ for storage. Currently, we are on day 7. I asked the customs representative if they could just ship the books back to the sender. They said that the sender has to request that. The U.S. sender has not yet answered my emails. (A bit Kafkaesque, no?)

So we visited the accountant. He did not know what we were talking about. I gave him all the emails pertaining to the situation and he said he’d call, but that was on a Friday and we'd have to wait until after the weekend. So when we saw him the following Monday, he explained that the username for the website was my "tax number," which I do not have so we walked to the government office to get that, then returned to the accountant's office. After some time  there, we went to a bank where the money was wired to the customs office. I'm hoping that is the end of it.

I completely understand why the ordinary citizens of Greece have a tendency to discuss rather than act.  The roller coaster ride for such a simple task as receiving a package can really wear you down. I can’t even imagine something bigger.

In the past 30 years, I've watched Epirus (Margariti in particular) grow.  It was a place without indoor plumbing, a place where all cooking happened outdoors over an open fire pit or in a domed oven. It was a place where trips to the natural spring were necessary to collect drinking water or to do laundry. It was a place where communication between people was done face to face, with only a handful of home telephones in the village and with two or three fuzzy television stations. It was a place where travel within the village was done on narrow dirt paths by foot because very few people had cars. Buses were not air-conditioned and they were crowded, the aisles filled with people not lucky enough to get a seat, and they traveled on well-worn narrow roads snaking over and around mountains.  

As Greece hurried to catch up with the modern world, she actually skipped over about 100 years and that has had consequences. She’s catapulted from the 19th century  to the 21st and such rapid growth—though lovely for us all—is hard to deal with. It’s like an infant suddenly becoming an adult. Those childhood and adolescent years are for testing, learning, adjusting, figuring out life.

At first, the growth was painfully slow, one tiny change at a time, and then suddenly without warning it accelerated to warp speed, basically in the last fifteen years. Now indoor plumbing includes washing machines and full service kitchens. Cell service and the Internet connect Margariti instantly to the rest of the world. Satellite television offers a myriad of information.The highways built by the EU make every direction easily accessible without duress. But these modern conveniences come with the expectation of consistent services and a population—citizens as well as government officials—with experience to deal with them. 

Greece belongs to the younger generation now. It’s their world, even though they've inherited the mistakes of the past generation—a generation who spent years starving to death and then had a feast laid at their feet.

We can hardly blame them.

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