« Home | Sun, Sand and....SeaWitch! » | The National Obsession With Change » | The Mad Hatter and His Rabbit Hole of Debt » | 3 Things For a Better Athens » | In the Beginning...I Had My Doubts » | Road Trips » | The Omni100 HTPC » | The War on Idealogy » | Hindsight is Always 20/20 Vision » | It's All Earthlan To Me » 

Monday, August 22, 2005 

Apateones and Kleftes

A tourist and his money are soon parted.

I have returned from the land of sun and sea to the land of concrete and smog just to update my blog for my readers. How I wish that were actually true...but the fact remains that I have returned because real life (work, bills, house repairs) has a filthy habit of infiltrating my utopian fantasies all the time. I hate it when that happens.

At least I have returned with a blog topic already prepared...exposing the rip-off artists in Greece. I've been meaning to write this blog for awhile now and I should have written it before the tourist season started but as usual, I'm a day late and a dollar short. So let's just say I'm 11 months early for the next tourist season.

I consider myself to be an authority on the subject for the simple fact that each and every scam I'm about to relate now has been attempted on me. Many of my Greek and non-Greek friends including my husband never believed that these things could happen just to me and refused to believe that they happened at all...until they started watching these people the way I do. Now, they're believers. Granted, the scams don't happen as often to them as they do to me for the simple reason that they don't speak Greek with a heavy accent. It's common knowledge to any second language speaker that an accent is unjustly equated with stupidity all over the world.

Even if the scammers say they don't understand English, just repeat the words "apateona!" (cheater!) or "kleftis!" (thief!) and they'll get the message fast enough.

The Bill
If you haven't asked for a menu then be prepared for portions that you never ordered or which cost more than the listed price included in your bill. I always do a mental tally in my head before the bill comes so I know that a salad, plate of fries, coke and pastitsio doesn't cost 85€. The most common place for overcharging on a bill will be in the beverages since people usually order a lot and can't remember if they ordered 6 sodas or 7 and a bottle of water. I think waiters purposely write worse than doctors to make the price check that much more difficult. A 2 or 3€ overcharge in this section doesn't sound like much to complain about but if the waiter does it 10 times a day, he'll be driving a Mercedes by the end of your vacation and you'll be waiting for the bus wondering how it all happened.

The Change
When you pay for a 26.65€ bill with a 50€ bank note, count your change immediately. The waiter will start counting the change aloud for you and the scam goes like this: as they start laying down the notes in front of you, they will skip a number. So they'll give you the 35 cents first and say "27" and then they'll lay down a 1€ coin and say "28" and then very quickly say "30" withOUT laying down the 2€ coin and continue with on with two 10€ notes. It's as easy with that, you see 4 or 5 coins on the table, hear him count and assume he's actually done what he said he did and promptly put all the change (minus the 2€ he neglected to give you) in your pocket. It's like the shell game...you know the one...with the bean under one shell and no matter how focused you think you are, the bean is never under the shell you were watching. I warned my own parents to do this when they were here and they were insulted that I thought they couldn't count change. But sure enough, right in front of my eyes, they were ripped off by 2€. Of course, when you tell the waiter that you're missing the 2 euros in change, he will immediately apologize and blame the heat, his long shift or the number of people he had to serve in the past 30 minutes and you will believe him. You stop believing him after you continually find yourself 2 euros short 5 times in a week by different waiters.

One time, in Plaka (a tourist trap underneath the Acropolis), I was shortchanged 5€. And when I told the waiter I was missing the 5€ he came up with a new excuse...he didn't have any 5€ notes to give me because he just didn't have any. Somehow, in his twisted reasoning, this was an acceptable excuse. I told him that he had better find my 5€ before I found the nearest police officer and le voila...he reached into his pocket and to his "disbelief", he "found" a 5€ note to give me.

Convenience Stores
The Receipt
Check it. Make sure that only the things you bought actually appear on the receipt. More often than I care to count, mysterious 5€ charges have shown up on my receipt. When I question the cashier, they are always 'shocked' as they studiously analyse the bill and then they blame the heat, their old age, or the sticky buttons on the cash register for the mistake. A lot of times, they'll say the prices aloud (just like the waiter in the second restaurant scenario) while they punch in a different amount on the cash register. So you buy a 1.80€ bottle of Coca Cola, he says "1.80" and punches 2.80€ on the register.

Often, they will start up small conversation with you just to judge your knowledge of the local area. If they feel you're sufficiently stupid, the bottle of suntan lotion that a local pays 10€ for, will cost you 15€. Since there are rarely any prices on a lot of convenience store items, they can often get away with it.

One last piece of advice: Always check the expiry dates on all perishable food items. And this includes even major grocery store chains. I have a block of cheddar cheese I have to return tomorrow yet again to a grocery store because it's covered in green mould. There's another supermarket chain I refuse where I refuse to shop at all because every time, their pasta, rice or spices had bugs in them.

Retail Stores
In retail stores, sales clerks have a different tactic to extort money from you. They will state an item's place of manufacture other than where it was really manufactured. For instance, leather good stores will always tell you their products are made in Italy even though you can read "Made in Bulgaria" stamped on the tag in plain view. Gift shop clerks love to tell you that the little plaster replica of Hercules was made in a pottery shop in Athens while the 6pt. type on the bottom of the statue will say "Product of China".

Once, in a major Greek retail clothing store, I was going to buy a chocolate brown virgin wool coat on sale for 700€ as declared by the 30% "EKPTOSI" (sale) sign hanging over the coat rack. When I got to the cash register, the woman in front of me had just finished paying the 700€ for the same coat in white. However, when I went to pay for mine, it suddenly cost 900€. No matter what I told the sales clerk...from the fact that it was the same coat I had just traded with the previous lady so she could get the white one or the sale sign hanging above the rack...would change her mind. I left the coat on the counter and walked out.

Cabs are, by far, the easiest way for you to be parted from your money. Anyone who has travelled to any city outside their own knows this. You will find yourself paying for the fare of the passenger who was in the cab before you as well as your own fare. You will be asked for surcharges that don't exist. You will be taken to the wrong destination because the driver "didn't understand" your accent and have to pay for it. You will dropped off 5 blocks from your destination and pay the hyper-expensive "flat rate" to that destination even though flat rates don't exist for inter-city destinations. And as soon as you open your mouth and declare to the cabbie world that you're a foreigner, the metre gets switched off and then you're really at their mercy. By the time you realize that the street signs are written in Romanian and it's already 3 hours into your trip, it's too late. All I can say for anyone taking a cab anywhere in this world, keep your eyes open and make sure you get the driver's cab ID number and threaten him with the destination of "astinomiki tmima" (police station) if you know you're being ripped off.

Greece is a beautiful country to visit and you can have a great time if you just remember to bring your brains as well as your passport and suitcases.

This post is actually making me think, does this happen to me and I don't realize? Especially with the change, they count it out and I put it immediately in my wallet.

The only other "scam" thats happened to me was many years ago. I got into a cab with a foreign friend of mine and we were chatting in English as we were getting in. The driver immediately asked us where we wanted to go in English (driver was Greek American). Now this always makes me suspicious as I immediately think so are they going to try and sting us.

Sure enough, the meter wasn't switched on. We were going to the Village Center in Maroussi (multiplex cinema) and the driver took us out onto Kifissias Avenue and then started asking me for directions to the cinema as 'he couldn't find it' (now everyone knows where Village is, especially cab drivers).

So he's chatting to my friend, the usual do you like Greece? How long you here for? And my friends chatting back... I'm sat there getting madder and madder.

So after a while he turns to me and says "how long you here for?" and I smiled and said "oh no, I live here. I work for the government, my job is to ride in cabs and take the ID of all the cabs who try to rip people off. The taxi driver in question then looses his living...

Then I switched to Greek, asked him why he didn't switch the meter on and totally blew a fuse and told him off.

Anyway the cab ride was totally free! What really amazed me was havign to explain to my friend for the next hour what happened. He's like "that guy was so nice".

Yeah right!!

I've always been keen on such things, mainly because when I first took a trip to Europe I heard about all these scams and have always been one of those people who even suspected American waiters/salespeople to short me of money.

It is lucky that my husband is a native, and between his native tongue and my watchful eye we do ok. Add to that he is in the Greek military and a doctor so people more often ask for favors and give us stuff rather than cheat us of things.

When my parents came to Greece, boy, my dad was just left and right accusing people of ripping him off, especially cabdrivers. In the end my dad would end up just paying the drivers whatever it said on the meter, and nothing more, even though he would be quoted a price different than the meter.

Well, I don't speak Greek with an accent and I do know many waiters on Greek islands that I visit regulalrly -- and even these bozos try to pull fast ones on me...

Latest: I have ordered a pizza and a bottle of beer. It is late July. Bottle of beer "Best before" date reads: 06/05. This is Greek/European notation. First the month,then the year. I querry the waiter, whom I know since 1998. He says "Ah, it's actually May 2006! We asked the same question when the distributor brought in the cases..." etc. etc. I then said there's hardly a beer in Greece that has "Best before" dates more than 6 months down the road. Disarmingly, the man looks at me and says: "Oh... how do you know this?" (Dhladh, eseis pos to xerete?) I chose not to rub the pizza on his face, did not pay for the beer, and won't be returning to that sorry place ever again.

This goes to show you the plain stupidity of all these people. This is how YOU LOSE in the great contest of Best Service Wins. That's why Greece will NEVER be ahead.

Well actually, it's strange you should mention that about the date on beer. My dad got a Bud Lite in a bar and he said that the beer was past its expiration date. It said "07/05" but I insisted he show it to me before complaining and it said in small writing above the date: 'born on'.... this is a wierd practice.

Same in England. there are cab companies that dispatch cars only by appointment. I was moving out of my old house and put all my stuff on the trunk as well as the backseat. The driver told me there is a surcharge if you put things on the back seat. When we reached my destination he wanted an additional five pounds because I took him to a different destination than the one I told the telephone operator when I was booking the cab. Which I didn't, I had given her the correct address, so I didn't pay the extra pounds.

Post a Comment