Monday, October 31, 2005 

Walking on Roads, Driving on Sidewalks

Who needs parking lots when there are sidewalks?

This photo was taken on a street in my neighbourhood. As you can see, there are no cars parked on the street because they've all parked on the sidewalk. My son regularly walks this street to get to school but he's forced to walk on the road because thoughtless drivers believe sidewalks are their own personal parking lots.

A couple of weeks ago, I demanded (translate "yelled") to know from one driver (as he nearly ran me over in his mad dash to get on the sidewalk) why he was parking on a sidewalk. He simply replied, "my car won't get scratched here", and then off to his house he went.

His car won't get scratched. There's logic for you...children may get killed but as long as his precious car doesn't have a scratch, all is well with the world.
Lack of parking spaces is admittedly, a major problem in Athens but I've been driving in Athens now for years and have NEVER, not ONCE, ever parked on the sidewalk. Granted, if I need to be at an appointment at a specific time, I don't just run out the door 5 minutes before the appointment, I usually leave a lot earlier so I find the time to park in a proper parking space. I do this not because I love to spend 20 minutes to find a parking space but because I empathize with mothers carrying groceries and babies in strollers. I do it because I don't want my own child or other people's children resorting to walking down the middle of a street to get to school. I don't care how busy and pressed for time you are, there is simply no excuse for monopolizing sidewalks as personal parking spaces. This city is dangerous enough as it is without drivers encroaching on pedestrian walkways too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 

When the Tax Office Calls

Spotting fake invoices is a Herculean task in Greece.

For years now, companies in Greece have been issuing fake invoices in order to dodge taxes. In the first half of last year, Kathimerini reported that, while retail sales increased by 8.5%, the collection of the Value Added Tax (VAT) only rose by 0.2%.

The government decided that it was high time to do something to combat the tax evasion and decided to criminalize the issuing of bogus invoices. Today, I found out that the tax bureau is actually taking this legislation to heart since I got a call from them today.

She questioned me about our business which is home entertainment. Then she asked me why I was receiving invoices from a supplier who sells electronics. She even tried to read one of the invoices out loud to me over the telephone..."it says here you've bought something called "Yaoumahu". For those of you who haven't figured it out yet...the word was "Yamaha". It took me a second too to understand her pronunciation as well but I'm rather adept at strange accents in English now anyway. I explained to her that it was globally recognized brand name as were the others on her list... Jama, JVC, Sony and Toshiba. The sudden surge of activity in previously unused sectors of her brain sent her into a tailspin since it took her a minute before she asked me why a store who sells videos would sell something called a DVD player.

I realized I was not speaking with the brightest of God's creatures. If she didn't know what Yamaha was, how on earth was I going to explain the evolution of VHS to DVD and that you can't play a DVD in a video recorder. So I didn't. I couldn't very well climb the slippery slope of informing civil servants about technological innovations since one of us would no doubt have to be institutionalized at the end. I was not about to let it be me. I took her name and phone number so I could let our accountant deal with her on Monday.

Who knows? Maybe by then the tax office may miraculously grasp the fact that the brand name Yamaha doesn't manufacture only motorbikes. Uh oh. Maybe they don't even know that. I pity the poor business owner who sells microchips for a living. Having to explain that they don't have a food licence because you can't eat microchips may just make them voluntarily close their business before the health inspector comes knocking.

Monday, October 24, 2005 

Spies Like Us

Every politician's worst nightmare...a spy cam

This weekend, a 60 year old woman dominated the headlines in Greek media. On Friday, Eleni Voulgani, walked into the Labour Ministry's office with some sweets, a 5000€ cheque and a hidden tape recorder. According to Mrs. Voulgani, she had attempted to catch a politician on tape of accepting her bribe. According to the politicians, she had offered a bribe for the sole purpose of obtaining a position for her son in the civil service. Despite the attention devoted to the story, details of what actually happened are fuzzy. Righteous indignation from the deputy minister, Gerasimos Giakoumatos and New Democracy mouthpieces have obscured what actually transpired.

Makis Triantafilipoulos, host of Alpha channel's "Zougla" show was also dragged into the dog & pony show with people on all sides accusing him of masterminding the plot to get politicians caught red-handed on the take. Last night, he categorically denied setting her up to do anything and she confirmed his story. While on the show, he produced two police reports filed against one Giakoumatos stated he was in the office, in the other, he stated he was not present when she dropped off the bribe. After Voulgani left the Labour Ministry office,5 hours had lapsed between the filing the complaint and her subsequent arrest. In addition, Voulgani submitted two business cards of the civil servant she left the bribe with where he had written his home address and phone number on them. It was at Mr. Rembis' home that she had already delivered kilos of cheese and roast pork.

However, these details have not been reported in the print media. Instead, they choose to parrot what looks to be the official New Democracy response on the matter...that society is the problem by allowing citizens to walk around taping conversations. Given that Greece ranks 47th on Transparency International's Corruption Index (alongside Namibia, no less), it is completely understandable why people in Greece feel the need to take hidden cameras or microphones with them to record meetings with public officials, doctors and civil servants.

After questioning her motives, the character assassination began. Within 24 hours she no longer was a 'lady' or a 'citizen' but a housewife. 72 hours later, they rolled out the inevitable 'blame the media' stance championed by everyone once their actions have been put under the public microscope. By the time Voulganis gets to court, all anyone will remember is that she was the silly, misguided housewife with a tape recorder and the pervasive problem of government corruption will be swept under the carpet once again.

The finger has been pointed at just about everyone in this case except the officials involved. More questions need to be answered. Why would a public official feel the need to give out his home address and phone number to a citizen unless there was something shady going on? Why did Mr. Rembis accept previous gifts from her at his home? Why did it take so long for her to be arrested? Why did he file two different police reports? Why is no one calling into question the logic behind Karamanlis' decision to give Giakoumatos a government post after he brandished a gun in parliament and uttered death threats against a PASOK minister in 1998 and was suspended for it?

If Mrs. Voulgani's true intention was to capture bribery on tape, she certainly went about it in an irresponsible and careless manner. She definitely will have to respond to the allegations levelled against her in court but will any of the officials involved have to address theirs?

Saturday, October 22, 2005 

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

He preaches, but is he practicing?

On Friday, I picked up the Greek edition of the tabloid magazine "Hello!". I didn't expect to find anything of real interest in there since I only read it in the effort to improve my Greek. It's a glossy magazine which devotes itself to celebrity photo spreads and and fluff interviews with the subjects. In most countries Hello! appears, celebrities are usually limited to actors, pop singers, reality TV stars, and royals. In Greece, politicians are also considered to be celebrities.

As soon as you open the October 26 issue of the magazine, the first 'celebrity' readers see is none other than Giorgos Voulgarakis, Public Order Minister with his wife, Katerina. Of the many photos depicting home life with his wife and family is one of him taking a ride on his motorbike with her and neither of them are wearing their helmets. On page 9, he is asked if he always wears a helmet to which he responds "I wear one. Not always."

Given that the law in Greece specifically states that both driver and passenger must wear a helmet at all times when motorbike and that his ministry oversees the Hellenic Police force, I would think that he would not flaunt the laws his ministry is responsible for enforcing. To be photographed blatantly disregarding the law confirms the conspicuous existence of double standards here in Greece. It's no wonder the Greek population's trust and faith in the government is eroding.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 

Let's Keep It Civil

When I wrote my last blog, "Greeks, Immigrants and Oxi Day", I was hoping that people would express their opinions with some degree of civility. However, the 'discussion' quickly deteriorated into mudslinging. . While I'm a firm believer in freedom of speech and expression, I would think that people could refrain from vitriolic comments in order to express their opinions. I certainly do not want my blog space to be a haven for such people because I fear I will lose some valuable contributions from people who do take the time to write their comments with tact and some degree of diplomacy. I know how difficult this can be especially on the thorny issues such as immigration, gun control, racism and abortion but I'm hoping that it can be done because I quite like reading many different opinions even if I don't always agree with them.

Now, I find myself facing the role of a moderator. An online babysitter. I haven't the patience for it. I don't want that role forced upon me by inconsiderate commenters but at the same time, I will not consent to having this blogspace turned into an insult forum. Being in agreement with me or any other reader is definitely not a prerequisite to post. On the contrary, I enjoy a lively debate as do most people. I just ask that the personal attacks and insults to be excluded.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 

Greeks, Immigrants and Όχι Day

Honouring Greece's "Oxi" With a "Nai" for Immigrants.

On the 28th of October, Greeks will celebrate "Όχι Day". This national holiday commemorates Greece's valiant and unequivocal "no" (όχι) response to Benito Mussolini's threat to invade and occupy Greece in World War II. To honour the thousands of Greeks who died fighting the Italian invasion, Greek schoolchildren march in parades across the country.

Traditionally, the student with the highest marks in each school is awarded the distinction of becoming the flagbearer, leading the rest of his or her classmates in the parade. Unfortunately, this privilege has been open to attack in the past few years as some immigrant children have been receiving the highest grades in their schools. Classmates and parents alike question their 'Greekness' and demand that only a Greek should have the right to carry the Greek flag.

In several incidents, they've gone so far as to forbid their children to march along side them in the parades--some parents even booing and spitting on the child as they marched. Because of the resentment and outright fury exhibited by some schools' parents and classmates, immigrant children succumbed to the pressure and opted out of the parade altogether.

Although many government officials, school principals and state ministers have condemned the public outcry, many Greeks are still divided on the issue and the whole debate begins anew every year.

Prior to 2000, only Greek citizens were eligible to become a flagbearer. However, in 2000, a Presidential Decree signed into effect by the former education minister, Petros Efthymiou, specifically states that any immigrant child attending a Greek public school for two years would be allowed to carry the Greek flag in parades.

Like many European countries, Greece is trying to adapt to the sudden influx of immigrants into a previously homogenous society. If Greece does not afford immigrants the chance to integrate and adopt a more tolerant attitude then the controversy surrounding the flag will only fuel further anti-immigrant sentiment ultimately dividing this country. It is most unfortunate that children whose only 'crime' was to be exemplary students, should be caught in the middle of it

Is someone Greek solely by virtue of where he was born or could it also entail a genuine pride, love and devotion to the country exemplified by commitment and determination to assimilate into Greek society?

I am inclined to agree with famed Greek orator Isocrates when he said "One is not a Greek by right of birth but by right of Greek education".

Sunday, October 16, 2005 

The Importance of Learning Ελληνικά

If you understood Greek, you would be laughing now.

The life of an expat is not an easy one. Homesickness, culture shock and illiteracy in our new language are the three things guaranteed to take the shine off our decision to move to a new country. Language is probably the most important which we must conquer. Once we learn the language, homesickness and culture shock become less of a concern.

There are basically 5 kinds of expats and people in each category face these obstacles to varying degrees.

work related- -people who move to a new country because of a job transfer or to start work in a new position
married--people who get married to a citizen of another country and end up living there (that's my category)
ethnic--people who were born in one country, raised in another and then move back to the country of their birth or that of their parents
retired--people who choose to live in another country once they retire
refugees-people who were forced out of their country due to persecution, wars, famine, and/or economical collapse in their own countries. These people decidedly have it much worse than the rest of us.

(For more on what refugees face here, visit Diva's blog because the difficulties the rest of us experience in our new countries are nothing compared to what they deal with and I wouldn't presume otherwise.)

That being said, we still encounter problems. Language being the most formidable. While reading one of Melusina's blogs, I was transported back in time to my first year in Greece. I didn't even know how to say "hello" in Greek. How I made it through that first year, I have no idea. My husband, who is a fluent English speaker, did not exactly pressure me to learn Greek. In fact, he said it wasn't important to him whether I learned it or not. Most English speakers will agree with me on this when I say that learning Greek is not essential to our survival in Greece. Most of the movies and television we watch is in English. It's not difficult to find english publications to read...either through the Internet or at bookstores which sell them. Many Greeks do speak some level of English and prefer to speak English with us rather than listen to us stumble along in Greek. All of these factors combined almost ensure that the most we'll learn in Greek is "please, thank you, hello and goodbye". It makes us even lazier to learn when we don't have this sense of urgency to communicate. Non-native English speakers like Albanians, Bulgarians or Polish will usually learn Greek and speak it better than we do in half the time it takes us unless they don't work, have satellite TV and associate only with their countrymen.

In order to learn the language, expats must first WANT to learn. No amount of chiding, coercion, or shaming will do it. In fact, in my case, it made me become even more isolated and homesick. I knew that every time I went anywhere with Greeks, the only time they ever spoke to me directly was to deride me for not knowing Greek. Of the few words I attempted in Greek, they would laugh at my accent, spend the whole time correcting me so I forgot what it was I was trying to say in the first place, or worse...completely ignore me in social settings because they didn't have the patience to hear me mutilate their language.

Then I went through a period where everyone I met was going to "teach me" Greek. They would give me 'lessons' over coffee, "lessons" while I watched the news, "lessons" at the beach. Usually, these lessons never amounted to more than a one-hour history of a particular word and proved that it was possible to fall asleep standing up. Fat lot of good it did me to know the origins of periplaniemai if I didn't know how to use it in a sentence. Despite their good intentions, it has now been almost 8 years, and not one of my Greek friends or relatives has even so much as bought me a Greek-English dictionary. I bought one myself and then realized I needed to know the Greek alphabet in order to use it. So I learned the Greek alphabet and armed with that knowledge, I began to read in Greek. Watching movies with subtitles made me semi-literate. Then I took a 3 month course and learned the basics of the Greek language. From then on, it became a matter of practice makes perfect.

The person I credit the most for my foray into the Greek language was my mother-in-law. She was perfect because she doesn't speak a word of English, had enough patience to correct me in Greek without dragging out the whole process and always encouraged me to keep speaking no matter how frustrated I became.

Even though I'm far from being an expert on the language, I'm just so proud that I can succesfully drive to Penteli without fear of ending up in Romania, order meat from the butcher without having to play "Name the Mystery Meat" with my husband once it came time for me to cook it, and most importantly, I no longer feel like the retarded cousin at social gatherings. I can actually participate in conversations. I may still have difficulty pronouncing my soft gammas or words like fthinoporo and xrisimopoio but at least I know what they mean. It's a far cry from the days when someone would say kali sas mera to me and I had no idea it was the same as kalimera.

We owe it to ourselves and our adopted country to be able to communicate in their language regardless of how difficult and frustrating it may be. It's the key to integration.

So, to all the Greeks who smile and listen to me as I mangle your language in the effort to speak it, I thank you. For all the Greeks who want to practice their English with me, I'm grateful to you for making the effort to communicate with me. For all the Greeks who laugh at me, beware...I know how to swear in Greek now.

Friday, October 14, 2005 

Encourage Greeks Bearing Gifts

When it comes to giving gifts, nobody does it better than the Greeks. I've never seen anything quite like it. It's not as if I never gave or received gifts in Canada or the US. Christmas Day is the Mother of all gift days in North America but that's about it. Any other occasion is usually marked by a bottle of wine, a party or an e-card.

In Greece, it seems any occasion is worthy of a gift. And there are a lot of occasions. My bank account can testify to that fact. They give housewarming gifts, name day gifts, birthday gifts, easter gifts, baptism gifts, wedding gifts, and Christmas gifts. Even if you've lived in your house for 20 years, if it's the first time your guest has visited you, they're going to bring you some sort of gift...either sweets, flowers or wine. I've never received or given so many gifts in my whole life.

The days I dread the most are Name Days. (The day of the saint after whom you're named.) The worst Name Days are May 21 (where probably one third of the population is named Constantinos or Eleni) and Oct. 26 (where another third of the population is named Dimitra/Dimitris). On each of those days, every single Greek has at least 10 presents to buy. I'll bet it's safe to say that every Greek also knows a couple whose names are Constantinos and Constantina and have a daughter named Eleni. With that triple whammy to your bank account, you don't repeat the same mistake twice and remember to ask all your potential friends what the names of their spouses and kids are so you can lessen some of the financial damage.

Frequently, Name Days are also celebrated with big dinners or barbecues if they occur during the summer months. I love any reason to celebrate and I think it's a wonderful thing that the Greeks really know how to socialize and have fun. Had I known about this aspect of Greek culture before I emigrated, it wouldn't have taken me so long to get here.

I don't have a Name Day (I don't have a "Christian" name) and I don't even celebrate my name on the All Saints day. It's of no consequence since I suspect that's the reason I have quite a few friends...I'm cheaper than a Greek friend. Although I should probably cut down on acquiring new Greek friends otherwise I'll be forced to change my name to 'Chreokopia' to honour my patron saint...bankruptcy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 

Money for Nothing

At the beginning of each school year, the school requests that parents pay a small sum to supplement the wages of the school's cleaning ladies. For the first time, I have no problem paying the 8€ since my son informs me that the woman works 4 hours in addition to her regular shift each day to help out at the school and the children think the world of her. For the previous 5 years my son has attended school, this hasn't been the case. The cleaning lady would show up for 1-2 hours after school to empty the garbages and mop the floor every once in awhile. I wouldn't even allow him to use the washrooms in the schools because they were so disgustingly dirty. They also demanded the 'fee' at the beginning of each school year and then again at Christmas and Easter.

I’m fed up with the practice and it’s not just limited to the school’s cleaners. At Christmas and Easter, all hairdressers and cab drivers exact extra fees on top of their regular prices from their customers. This isn’t an arbitrary sum they invent, rather, it’s dictated by law what they can charge. They will have signs posted informing you of these ‘bonuses’. Even the school’s cleaning ladies are doing the same thing although it’s not covered by the law. I don’t even know why some professions believe they are entitled to these bonuses while others are excluded. Is there some mathematical formula to figure it out or was it done on a whim. How it all started and why it still continues, I have no clue. All I know is that I’m financially held hostage by such an innane law.

To question paying the sum is an insult to them. They believe it’s their God-given right to demand that customers give them money just because they don’t make enough money in their chosen professions. I'd love to be able to charge people extra just because I think I'm worth it not because they think I'm worth it.

Hairdressers can charge whatever amount they feel is appropriate for their services. If a customer feels it’s worth it, they’ll pay it. I have no problem paying my hairdresser 30% more for a haircut than his competition across the street because he’s a better hairdresser. That’s his “tip”…the fact that I chose him over another hairdresser.

Cabbies drive. That’s all they do and in Athens, even this is open to debate. They don’t even drive well, their cars are often scrapyard relics, most of them are rude and they’ll try to pick up other passengers as well so it’s not like you’re paying extra for driving in comfort and solitude. Demanding a bonus where none is deserved is nothing short of legalized extortion. Even the labour laws dictate that the cleaning lady who works at our stores makes more money per hour than our best performing salesman. Salary increases on minimum wage are also given if the employee has gotten married and then another raise if he has a child.

Merit-based salary raises are practically unheard of and productivity suffers as a result. They expect and demand wage increases without doing any extra work, learning any new skills or becoming more effective at their jobs.

A society which rewards the lazy, the uneducated and the unskilled punishes itself economically.

Monday, October 10, 2005 

Uncommon Sense

Introducing Alogoskoufis' New Sidekick...Antonis Bezas

It's no secret that Greece's economy is the worst it's been in years. To exacerbate the situation, Deputy Finance Minister, Adam Regouzas has resigned over his admitted involvement in 'state-sponsored advertising' scheme and of course, his notorious remarks to customs officials. Giorgos Alogoskoufis was then left with the task to find someone to replace him. Common sense would dictate that his deputy's replacement would be a more qualified individual with both an economics background and relevant political experience. Unfortunately, common sense was not a prerequisite for the job of Finance Minister. He chose an obscure MP, Antonis Bezas, with absolutely no experience in economics and relatively little experience as a politician.

I suppose if it was good enough for George Bush, Sr. and Dan Quayle; Laurel & Hardy; Cheech and's good enough for Alogoskoufis & Bezas.

Sunday, October 09, 2005 

My Dog Made Me Do It

My partner in crime.

While taking my dog, Suzy for a walk this morning, I was verbally accosted by a man in a car.

I was surprised because he had chosen to yell at me and not the other pet owners. I think the digital camera around my neck advertised that I must have been some stupid foreigner in need of a good tongue thrashing. I've grown accustomed to this kind of behaviour from other drivers while I'm driving but not while I'm walking. Apparently, his problem was with my dog and my inability to obey the law. I had let her off the leash as we were about to walk in a neighbourhood park and he felt that it was a serious enough offence to bring his car to an abrupt halt to yell at me for disobeying the "No Dogs Allowed" sign. I backed up 3 paces and then I saw the sign. I told him he was right and instructed my son to put her back on the leash. As I turned my back on him to walk out of the park with her, I obviously didn't do it fast enough because he continued to berate me for my complete disregard of Greek laws. Only when I lost my temper with him did he drive away.

I expect this kind of reaction from Canadians who have approached me on the street to chastise me for wearing perfume or fur or smoking but it seemed rather hypocritical for a citizen in a country which prides itself on its ability to ignore laws. This man was no exception. He had committed several traffic violations in order to point out mine.

Let those without sin cast the first stone.

Friday, October 07, 2005 

The Wrath of Mom

I wonder what he's like outside the honeycomb?

Children are our future. Children are a blessing. Children seem to be many things these days except disciplined. When I use the word 'disciplined', I don't mean spanking them if they so much look at you the wrong way. In fact, I don't even mean spanking at all.

I'm talking about the original sense of the word. Websters defines discipline as 'the training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement." The key words being moral and mental improvement.

It seems that everywhere I go these days, I see badly behaved children. Maybe I'm just getting old and what little patience I have is nearly depleted but I'm sure everyone knows someone who has kids who make you re-examine any thoughts you ever had of becoming a parent yourself. If you do have kids then you are probably thanking your lucky stars that you didn't have more.

Being a parent myself, I really do understand the 'terrible twos' or the 'troublesome threes' or even teenage angst. But just because I understand all the stages a child can go through on his or her way to becoming an adult doesn't mean I'm not bothered when I see 7 year olds throwing temper tantrums in my house. Or 5 year olds slapping and evenbiting their parents when they can't have the entire set of the Barbie Fairytopia collection. I can't understand how the parents allow such behaviour. What's more, I am baffled by the fact that parents don't seem to mind when such behaviour occurs in someone else's house.

I've had children come to my house, make a mess of it, break things and have fits while their parents do one of three things: stare vacantly at me while I clean up the broken glass from the floor; tell their child that destroying my son's toys wasn't nice and continue their conversation; or ignore the behaviour completely. Whatever happened to "get over here now and apologize" or "as soon as you clean that mess up, we're leaving because if you can't behave properly outside the house, you will not go anywhere" type of firmness? A lot of the time, parents have said "Billy, you've upset our hostess and now she's going to get angry with you".

This is even worse. Then I become that "mean woman who hates kids" just because a parent is too cowardly to discipline their child themselves.

Has discipline become such a dirty word that it can no longer be used in parenting? My conclusion is that it's a combination of many things. Parents equate discipline with spanking and truly believe that a screaming banshee 2 year-old will respond to reason in the middle of a tantrum. Many parents now work full-time and feel guilty reprimanding their children in the little time that they do see them. A lot just find it's just easier to cave to the child's petulant demands and deplorable behaviour than it is to spend extra time and patience to discipline them.

I know that kids don't come with an instruction manual at birth and that God gave them faces of angels so we wouldn't send them back but I refuse to believe that children can't be trained manners and good behaviour at an early age.

I won't know if I've done a good job raising my son until he's well into adulthood but I do know that no one else will ever feel the need to discipline my child for me. Some people considered it cruel and unusual punishment when I made my son clean his purple ink artwork off my white walls when he was three, but he's never even attempted to write on anything but paper since then. So if people call me Captain Von Trapp, I am not the least bit bothered. At least they know that my son won't be walking over their furniture, breaking their vases or giving them any flippant remarks without incurring the Wrath of Mom.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005 

Don't Call Me. I Might Call You.

Here is an account of some of the phone calls of some of the most annoying people I've had the displeasure to experience over the phone. Remember, these are not just isolated examples. I get variations (where either the caller or the name of the person they're calling changes) on each of these calls several times a day!

Call #1
Line 1 rings. No message left. Line 2 rings. No message left. Line 1 rings again. No message left.
My cell phone rings twice. Same caller who probably phoned me two seconds ago. Since he didn't bother to leave a message then, I punish him and refuse to answer the calls to my cell phone. No doubt I will pay for this random act of vengeance tomorrow when he finds out that I just chose to ignore him. One way or another, I will drill proper phone etiquette into people's heads.

Caller asks for Babis. I tell her there's no one living here by that name. She calls back 5 seconds later and asks again for Babis. She's obviously an older woman so I explain to her again that she has the wrong number and that Babis does not live here. She becomes a bit upset as she tells me she's worried about him since he never came home and she can't find Dina. She apologizes for the trouble. On her third call, I offer to call Dina for her since she can't understand that she transposed the last two digits of that woman's phone number to get mine. She's very happy. I phone the number she gave me but as she said, Dina is not home. I phone her back to let her know and she does not know who I am, how I got her number or who Dina is. I give up.

Caller asks for Dr. Corbas. I tell him there's no one here by that name. He asks me if I know where he is. I explain I don't know this person nor his new number. He asks me if I know of another doctor he can phone. I tell him he did not phone OTE directory assistance either so maybe it's high time he found their number and stop calling me. (And if Dr. Corbas had actually informed his patients of his new number, then he might not be sitting at work twiddling his thumbs in his new office wondering where they all went.)

Call #4
Caller asks "who's this?" as soon as I pick up the phone. I am now quite irritated and tell her since she phoned ME maybe she should already know. She becomes angry and demands that I give her my name and then I switch to English to tell her off and then back into Greek to ask her if she REALLY wants to ask me again who I am and then I hang up on her.

Call #5
Caller demands to speak to my husband. It's 10pm and I tell her he's not available but she can leave me her name, number and what company's she works for and I'll see that he gets the message. She then asks me WHERE he is and I tell her that's it's enough for her to know that he's not here and to leave a message. She again ignores me and starts listing off all the possible places she thinks he might be and for me to identify the correct one when I hear it. I've had enough. I get angry and tell her that he's having a shower and would she also like to know what brand of soap he's using on which body part? She backs down and tells me what I already know....that she's calling from the insurance company to let him know our car insurance payment is due in a week. I berate her for having the nerve to call me at 10 pm, not identify herself and to never ever call me again after 5pm unless she has her life insurance premiums up to date since she will most definitely need it when I'm done with her.

And people wonder why I never want to pick up the phone. All I can say is that Alexander Graham Bell is lucky he's dead, otherwise he'd have a Panasonic Hybrid System phone hurtling towards his head right now.

Monday, October 03, 2005 

The Miseducation of Greek Children

While helping my son study his english assignment for his 6th grade english test tomorrow, I was absolutely shocked to see that he was learning how to insult other children. See the following two examples.

Unit 1 (page 9)
Give a nickname to someone who is:
too short
too fat
too smart
thin as a twig

Unit 1 (page 11)
"By the time you're thin, fat will be in." your brother (diagram depicting a notice board in a child's room.)

Upon further scrutiny, I discovered that my son will be tested on spelling with words like: conrer (corner), Quatemala (Guatemala), Colombus (Columbus--the explorer), antilope (antelope), piranchas (piranhas), Atlanda (Atlanta). I've inserted the correct spellings in parentheses.

He will also learn that India has a bigger population than China. They also state that Greenland is the largest island in the world. I was always taught that Australia was. Even though it's an island-continent, doesn't negate the fact that it's still an island. But I'm willing to concede this point if they would proof-read the textbook for the rest of the spelling errors at least.

And the worst of it all? When I inform his English teacher of these errors, she will no doubt tell me again that she can only teach what's in the book and that it is not her fault. I have just e-mailed the Ministry of Education's website informing them of my findings. Who knows? Someone there may actually read it. If not, then I'll be doing more homework than my son over the next 6 years in an effort to get him a decent education. He may not enjoy studying with me but at least he'll know that China has more people than India.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 

Another Year. Another Candle.

Yesterday I turned 39 and I have to report that it's not that much different from being 38. For that matter, it's not that much different than being 30. Age doesn't change me. Experiences do. I am definitely not the same person as I was when I was 20. I may still have the same wicked temper but the way I think has undergone major renovations. Things I believed to be true 20 years ago now seem so naive or were just completely wrong. "Me" now would not talk to "Me" then. I haven't turned into a female Dalai Lama or anything but I have become much more self-assured and confident. My judgement and decisions are not easily affected by what other people think and that gives me the independence to steer my own course through life rather than sail along on someone else's. If you talk to my husband, he’ll tell you that it’s all just a fancy way to say that I’ve become sociopathic. I’ll let you know if he’s right when I turn 79. For now, here is my take on some of the truisms that I have heard through the years.

All people deserve respect. No, they don't. Just because someone was born does not make them special. What they do and how they treat others makes them special and deserving of my respect.

If you work hard, you will reap the benefits. If you work hard, you get tired. If you work smart, your chances are better at reaping benefits.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. This rule definitely does not apply to ex-boyfriends. Giving them the benefit of the doubt means you can't learn from past mistakes. There's a reason you broke up, remember it. Don't resurrect something that never was worth living in the first place.

No child is a mistake. This one is actually valid. Children aren't mistakes. Adults who can't be bothered raising them own the copyright on the word 'mistake'.

Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. For the most part, whatever bad experiences you have in life which don't kill you makes you angrier, colder and jaded. You become stronger as a result of your attitude towards what happened, not the experience itself.

Choose your men. Don't let them choose you. My father told me this one after I broke up with yet another boyfriend. Of all the things anyone's ever told me in my life, this had to be one of the most useful pieces of advice. He was so right. I found my husband based on this bit of wisdom. Thanks Dad.

Money is the root of all evil. Worshipping money is the root of all evil. Being wealthy does not solve your problems. Look at the majority of wealthy people in the world...their lives are filled with multiple divorces, addictions, rehab visits and kids who are just as screwed up as their parents. Money helps solve some financial problems. It certainly is not the source of happiness.

If you wake up in the morning and wiggle your toes, you have the power to change everything. Another Dad-ism. Again, he was right. As long as I'm breathing and can move, I don't have to be a bystander in my own life, I can become an active participant in it. Whining about it doesn't do anyone any good. Bad experiences don't define my life, they are just a part of it.

39 candles will crush the birthday cake. Completely false. It is, however, more difficult to fit them on a standard size cake without burning your arms trying to light them all.

The first 18 years of my life were shaped by my parents. The next 10 years were shaped by my stupid decisions and bad judgement. I smartened up in my 30s. I look forward to my 40s because I will have (hopefully) stopped becoming my own worst enemy.