Thursday, January 27, 2005 

How to Rent Movies and Influence Store Clerks

This blog is dedicated to all those fine people who rent movies from their local movie rental stores. If you want the inside track on how to endear yourselves to the management and owners and get that coveted first day release of a new movie, read my Top 10 list of things NOT to say to the rental clerks.

  1. Do you know what time the customer will return the movie I have on hold?
    Unless the person behind the counter is the Amazing Kreskin or a member of the Psychic Friends Network, there is no way for us to know at precisely what time a movie will be returned. If I had a crystal ball, I'd pull it out, gaze into it and tell the customer what he/she wants to hear and then ask him if he also wants to know what time the world will end and then that his dearly departed great-great grandfather wants to tell him that he's disowning him for asking such a stupid question.
  2. I'm not paying overdue charges for this movie because you should have phoned me the day it was overdue. You wanted it to be overdue so you could rip me off for more money.
    This person is absolutely right. We managed to stay in business for so long because we love to rip people off and spend copious amounts of money on Haitian witch doctors to cast spells which render our clients incapable of returning movies on time. It's much more logical to assume that then to believe that we'd like our movies back on time so we can rent them again to other PAYING customers who want to see them and that we don't have to spend money and time phoning them after they're a week overdue to make sure they haven't stolen them.
  3. I'm your best customer so you should give me a discount.
  4. I'm sorry but our 'best' customers rent more than two movies per year and don't ask for a 50% discount on a 1.50 euro rental fee. If you want to bargain prices, a ferry leaves for Istanbul every day of the week. I suggest you go there and haggle prices.
  5. Here's your movie back. Just put the cost on my tab and I'll pay later.
    Excuse me? You're not Frasier. This isn't Cheers. Pay up.
  6. This DVD was broken when you rented it to me yesterday.
    And I must be Helen Keller when I rented it to you. What other explanation is there other than I was blind when I checked the DVD for damages before renting it and deaf because I didn't hear the 34 pieces rattling around inside the box like a spanish maraca.
  7. Can you phone me when my movie that I put on hold gets returned?
    I'm sorry...does the sign out front say Telemarketing Movie Rentals? Out of the hundreds of people who walk in my stores each day, I would just love to spend 12 hours a day calling them all to remind them that we have movies for rent.
  8. All the other stores never ask me for my address and ID card when I become a member so I don't see why I have to do it for you.
    Well, the thing is, you DON'T have to do it for me and I am not legally required to rent you anything. I suggest you keep renting from those other stores...if they're still in business and have any movies that weren't stolen left to rent. Another version of this complaint is "I only live a block away so I don't have to prove where I live." That's nice that you know where you live. We don't. My accent proves I'm Canadian, not stupid. Why on earth would I let someone walk out with 200 euros worth of DVDs and PlayStation games and not know where I can find them if they don't get returned?
  9. I'm a good friend of your boss so I don't pay the 60 euro overdue charges.
    If you were a good friend of my husband's, then you'd know that he doesn't give special treatment to his friends. We're a business, not a charity.
  10. I couldn't return this movie on time because my:
    grandmother/cat/girlfriend's best friend's mother's neighbour
    died/is in the hospital/was in a car accident.
    Either you're lying or you've got multiple personality disorder. If it's the former, pay up and get out of my store. If it's the latter, let me talk to the personality in charge of concocting these new tragedies every time you have an overdue charge and he'll get you to pay up.

Sunday, January 23, 2005 

Pensioners and Babies

Adrian Iliescu, Rosanna Della Corte and Arceli Keh all have one thing in common: they all gave birth to their children after the age of 60. Iliescu, at the age of 66, became the world's oldest recorded to woman to have given birth.

With advances in technology and healthcare, coupled with women waiting longer to give birth, we can expect to see more women of advanced ages giving birth. Just because it's possible does that make it ok? I definitely don't think so. Just as there are risks to both mother and child if the mother is too young, the risks for both the older mother and the child increase dramatically as well. Regardless of how 'young' a woman feels and for whatever reason she wishes to have a child at such an advanced age, both the prospective mother and her doctor have a moral responsibility to the welfare of the child.

I find it is very selfish on the part of the mother to want to have a child at such an advanced age. With the average lifespan of women in the western world hovering around 80 years old, a child born to a 66 year old mother has, at best, 14 years to spend with the mother. And that is only if the mother is in excellent health. There is no way that a woman of that age can realistically believe that she can cater to all the needs of a small toddler. I was 27 when I had my son and when he reached the age of 2, I found it was a full time job just to make sure he wasn't discovering new ways to put himself in direct danger. How many times I literally had to race to the top of the stairs to prevent him from climbing over the stair-gate or to keep him from trying to cook food for himself. Twice, I didn't succeed. He tumbled down the steps once and let himself out the back door of the house early in the morning while everyone else was sleeping. Luckily, nothing serious came of it. Children need a lot of patience, attention and help in order to raise them to adulthood. Your chances of succeeding at this are difficult enough when you're under 30, at the age of 66, it's near impossible and I don't care if the mother is a former Olympian Decathalon medallist.

All of these scenarios presume that a mother that age can actually carry the child to term. Many of these women will be having premature babies if they have them at all. This means that their children are already at a disadvantage in their development and health.

Older women are only lying to themselves and disregarding all the risks in order to fulfill their own selfish desires to have a child. If they're lonely, get a dog. If they say it's because they love children so much, then that love will prevent them from ever considering having a child at such an advanced age.

Sunday, January 16, 2005 

Mythbusting the Albanian Stereotype

In my last blog about racism in Greece, I spoke about encountering people here who seem to have idea that they're not racist when they openly tell me how much they hate a certain group of people. Usually, the group which receives the most of their racist venom, is Albanians and with this blog I intend to dispel this as nothing more than a baseless rumours bordering on lies created by both the media and government and disseminated by misinformed people.

If you mention to any Greek that you met an Albanian you will be subjected to a litany of complaints about them ranging from how they 'invaded' Greece to live a life of crime and how the crime rate in Greece skyrocketed because of them. They'll often try to justify these comments with statistics and personal experiences which sound official and when spoken with such conviction, you almost end up believing them.

I decided to a little research of my own on the subject. What I found was in direct contrast to what I was being told.

The number of Albanians in Greece varies depending on who you talk to. Your next door neighbour will tell you there are a million of them but most media outlets and census reports put the figure at 500,000. Most Greeks will tell you that crime skyrocketed in Greece in 1994 when all the criminals were freed from Albanian prisons and they all came to Greece to practice their life of crime. But after reading a report by Prof. Dr. C.D. Spinellis, this so-called fact appears to be groundless. Crime has always been on the rise in Greece and as the statistics show, the biggest surge in crime happened long before the Albanians arrived on the scene. In 1970, there were 179,331 reported crimes. In 1980, 295,353. Since 1998, there has been a decrease in crime, not an increase. Between 1970 and 1999, there has been 111% increase. Between 1990 and 1999 ( the years when Albanians were supposed to have pushed the crime statistics through the roof) only a 12.7% increase. Greece is still one of the safest countries to live in within the EU.

Another report by Vassilis Karyidis, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the Democritus University in Thrace states that although foreigners comprise 5% of the population, they committed only 1% of the total crime.

Why is there such a discrepancy between reality and public opinion?
One of the biggest factors in deciding public opinion about immigrants is the involvement of the media in propagating the stereotype. With so many tv channels battling for ratings points, sensationalism is a surefire way to keep people bolted to their sofas and tuned in. As Dimitri Mitropoulos (journalist for To Vima newspaper) writes in his article "Immigrants Ignite a Media Maelstrom in Greece", "almost every violent crime commmitted by foreigners was granted prime-time coverage, complete with ominous music, reenactments and special effects imported from American television." He further states, "...Albanians had an increasing share in crimes committed by foreigners (in part because they outnumbered all other nationalities), but often statistics were about arrests and charges, not convictions."

Criminology experts and numerous studies rejecting the claims that Albanians are to blame are largely ignored in the race to bring in high ratings and advertising revenue. Style over substance. The media's sensationalism and lack of journalistic responsibility coupled with people's preference to watching TV over reading, means that what they show is what people will believe. And people who watch TV "tend to be more negative towards immigration". A recipe for xenophobia.

Role of the Government
I personally believe that a government which is slow to make a concerted effort to repudiate such hyperbolic claims do so because of self-serving convenience. If the general population blames foreigners for the national woes, then citizens don't bother themselves with the ineptitude of their own government's misdeeds and those of their fellow citizens. As one Athens policeman stated in the Athens News, "it's very important to note that Albanians are usually hired by Greek crooks to do the dirty work." When Greek crimes are downplayed by both the media and the government, it only stands to reason that people are more susceptible to the myth that only foreigners commit crimes. With the latest scandals involving Greek police and the alleged torture of Afghan immigrants, the white slave trade, gambling and corruption, it is obvious that not only foreigners are capable of criminal's just that it's more profitable to perpetuate xenophobia than it is to practice responsible journalism and politically beneficial to be complacent.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 

I'm Not Racist But...

Last week, a report was issued by the US State Department concerning racism in Greece. Archbiship Christodoulou condemned the report and said that Greeks aren't racist. Greeks will be the first to tell you they are not racist. If you ask any Greek what they think of Albanians, they'll tell you they hate them and want them gone. Greece has the highest rate of xenophobia in the EU. The media is awash in headlines about foreigners being subject to widespread discrimination and racism by members of the community, government and the media itself.

What's truly interesting is that if you ask someone if they're racist they'll answer with a vehement "no". They know it's 'wrong' to be labelled racist so they'll find justifications for their 'dislike' of a certain people. Usually it's "you don't know what they've done to Greece."

On Sunday, my family was invited to visit an old friend of my husband's in the new home they had just built. Everything was going great for the first hour or so. We talked about all the events in our families that had happened over the seven years we had lost contact. Then, the inevitable happened. We started talking about current events here in Greece--a subject which I love. My husband's friend decided to tell me, the foreigner, about how he thinks the Jews control everything and that he's not racist BUT he can't stand blacks, asians or Americans. His wife then spent the next 20 minutes telling me about the fear she has of Albanians. Incredible. I fell into the trap of thinking that the equation: education + success = confidence and enlightenment. How wrong I was. Racism rears its ugly head the most educated of people and the most ignorant of people.

And it's not just Greeks, foreigners are racist as well. I've encountered victims of racism who are racist themselves.

The cleaning lady at our stores is Ukrainian. She's always complaining of being treated like a second class person because of her ethnicity and she hates it. Being a victim of racism herself on many occasions, she is always relating a new story of how she's treated by Greek racists. Well, wasn't I surprised when an Iraqi and a Turkish Kurd came into the store to rent some PS2 games and she couldn't keep her mouth shut became very angry with them for mixing up the titles on the shelves. After they left, I had a 'word' with her about her behaviour and she simply said "I just didn't like the look of them". The "look" of them? What she meant was that she didn't like muslims. Unbelievable. Incredible that a woman who is regularly a victim of racism, is a racist herself. It was everything I could do NOT to fire her on the spot. The silent treatment will have to be my message to her since I can't be assured of finding a non-racist to replace her.

I have met more people than I care to who share the same opinions as the ones I've just mentioned. It never ceases to shock me when people are so openly and unabashedly racist. I realize that just because you have a university degree, doesn't mean you're educated. And just because you've been a victim of racism, doesn't mean you'll be more intolerant of it. I believe most people fall into the trap of being racist from a combination of 3 things: fear, the inability to employ independent thinking and an idoctrinated superiority complex. They believe everything their neighbour tells them, their government tells them, the media tells them. They refuse to form their own opinions of someone and let common sense enter their opinions. They prefer to judge that one person in front of them based on nothing but their skin colour, accent or ethnicity. It's so much simpler and keeps their unused brain cells in mint condition.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005 

Drop Kick Me Through the Goalposts of Greece

Will someone PLEASE explain to me why Panathinaikos Soccer club is being allowed to build a new soccer venue in Goudi? And why does it have to be on a site that was supposed to have been the grounds for a new and badly needed park in one of the last patches of green space in Athens? Has the government taken full leave of their collective two brain cells in order to pacify a bunch of hooligan voters? (And YES I meant "hooligan"...don't MAKE me have to pull up all my bookmarks on hooligan activities by Greek soccer fans over the past 5 years!)

I realize that Panathinaikos needs a new stadium in order to host Champions League games as dictated by UEFA but couldn't they have hammered out a deal with the government over a long term lease of one of the sites built for the Olympic Games? Rival team, Olympiakos managed to do that with the Karaiskaki stadium in Faliron.

As far as I know, the OAKA stadium in Maroussi seats 55,000 and has already been used for the Olympic soccer finals. The only plan devised for it so far by Culture minister, Fani Palli-Petralia is to call it the "Olympic Walk" and let tourists walk around looking at the fancy steel roof on it. With grand ideas such as this, she'll be making pretty shapes out of balloons in Syntagma by the time she leaves office. Surely, leasing it to one of Greece's favourite soccer clubs would be a much better idea. If it was good enough for Olympians, it's good enough for Panathinaikos.

With almost 2.2 billion euros spent on just sports venues and equipment for the Olympics, do we really NEED yet another stadium?

Monday, January 03, 2005 

2004 in the Rearview Mirror

For all the news junkies around the world, the year 2004 didn't disappoint. It was a year of many global changes, surprises and upheavals but for many, most of these events weren't happy ones. I'd be interested to read some of my reader's views on their thoughts about the previous year's highlights. Here are just a few of the events that stand out in my memory of the year.

Greece's New Leadership
In March, the 20 year reign of Greece's socialist party, PASOK was over and Costas Karamanlis and his New Democratic Party took the helm. Almost 10 months later, they still have to prove themselves worthy of the job. They've had their grace period, 2005 will be a deciding year for their effectiveness as leaders.

EU Expansion
On May 1, Europe added 10 new members to its club and even gave Turkey a starting date for accession talks. On the surface, it would seem a noble cause to finally include some former communist countries within the EU fold. I welcome the new members and hope that Turkey will be able to meet the requirements of EU membership so they, too, can reap some benefits that the EU has to offer. But many of the new entrants' opinions were divided as to whether or not joining would bring them the prosperity and economic stability promised them. The EU-15 members were worried about the possibility of an influx of cheap labour coming to their doorsteps and the loss of their EU aid to the new members. And all EU members are worried about having 70 million muslims joining their club.

Euro 2004
Being the underdog and beating 100 to 1 odds, Greece won the Europe's coveted Euro 2004 trophy in July. The nation celebrated for days and it was wonderful to see the entire country have something to be truly happy about. Bravo Greece!

Athens 2004 Summer Olympics
What a relief that the preparations for the Games were finally completed and if it weren't for the National Disgraces known as Kenteris & Thanou (athletes charged with doping), the staging of the Games would have been virtually flawless. Unfortunately, the price tag is the jagged pill Greece will be trying to swallow and justify for years to come.

Beslan, Russia
In the beginning of September, Chechen terrorists took about 1,000 people hostage in a school in Beslan. Most of them children. By the time it was over, more than 300 had died. Absolutely NO cause in the world is worth the murder of innocent children. Any sympathy I ever had for the Chechens I lost it the second they took those children hostage. If there is a God, may He never absolve them of this atrocity.

Same government. Same Iraq. Same mess.

One of the world's worst humanitarian disasters with 1.2 million refugees and thousands of dead bodies thanks to the government sponsored Janjaweed reign of terror over these poor people. With Iraq dominating so much media attention, these people have been basically forgotten. It's high time the UN live up to its mission statement "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and intervene to end this sorry state of affairs in 2005. Enough talking, start acting. Give us all a reason to keep the UN around, Kofi.

Yassir Arafat
After all the assassination attempts during his lifetime, a bowl of soup seems to have done him in. Many questions surround his death and I, myself, am not fully convinced he died naturally. Sharon finally got his wish to be rid of him but will the Middle East be better off or worse without him? He was the symbol of Palestinian liberation and I hope that 2005 may bring the statehood he couldn't achieve within his lifetime.

What a way to end the year. Over 150,000 dead and missing and disease just starting to contribute to the death toll. To everyone who lost someone in this disaster, I offer my deepest condolences. To everone who contributed in the humanitarian effort, I extend my gratitude. To those who survived, I wish that this new year will find their suffering eased and that they find the courage and strength to surmount these overwhelming difficulties.

Just click the "Post Comment" button on the bottom of this blog to let me know which events from 2004 caught your attention.