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Monday, November 28, 2005 

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Once, just once, I'd love to be able to:
hop in my car...
go to the store...
get what I need...
pay for it...
not get in any verbal fights...
drive home with my purchase in under an hour.

You'd think I'd know by now that this is not possible. That things like this only happen in TV commercial. There's a fine line between naivety and optimism. At least there WAS a fine line until last Friday. Now, there's just stupidity on my part.

Besides the logistics of shopping in Athens, active combat training would be a useful prerequisite to deal with the hostile drivers and salesclerks you are bound to encounter in a (what should have been) 20 minute trip to Carrefour.

I decided to go with my friend to Carrefour because she needed to start her Christmas shopping (yes, she's THAT organized and she's still my friend) and I needed to buy my son a new pair of hiking boots for our little excursion to Karpenisi. The plan was a good one and probably would have worked anywhere else but in Athens.

So, at 9am I left my house to pick her up. I didn't even manage to make the 10-minute drive to pick her up at her house before I was blockaded by a driver driving the wrong way down a one-way street. I'm quite accustomed to drivers driving down the wrong way on a one-way street since they usually know it and will pull off to the side of the road to let me through. However, this one didn't. No, he decided to head straight for my car, stopping within millimetres of my front bumper and to scream and shout at me for not backing up to let him pass. Had he not yelled at me, I might have considered it. Had I not any other cars behind me blocking my exit, I might have. Had he not called me "xeni" (foreigner), I might have accommodated him. But all 3 of these things at once? Absolutely not. I rolled down my window and told him he was on a "monodromo" (one way street) and I had priority since he was illegal. He continued to shout at me while cars were piling up behind me. It took two bystanders to finally convince the man that the lady was right and he needed to move before they'd call the police. As I drove by, I 'firmly' suggested he should have taken a driver's test instead of buying his driving licence.

I finally managed to pick up my friend and drive to Carrefour. We bought what we came for and a few other things and proceeded to the checkout where I was charged 10€ more than the listed price for a toy that I bought for her son and she was charged 3€ more than the listed price for pillowcases she bought. She let the 3€ charge slide. However, when I was charged 10€ extra we both had a fit because this was the second time in the same store where something we bought was a higher price by the time we got to the checkout. Because I'd already had problems with several other stores in the past couple of months for the exact same thing. Because I just wasn't in the mood for it.

Many times over the years, when the price differs at the checkout from the price listed on the shelf, I question it and complain. And I always hear the same answer..."you must have been mistaken. That price was for another product. You didn't read it well." This time was no different. I can accept that maybe I could make a mistake if I read the Greek description of an item too fast. But this was written in English and I checked it and so did my friend.

I went over to the "Returns" counter to complain and have my money refunded. The clerk told me that I didn't read the tag well and that's why "I was confused" about the price. I told her that my English was excellent and that if the lower price was for a similar item, where was it? Show me the smaller version of the toy if one existed. Like so many clerks before her, she claimed that the 'other' item was out of stock. If an item is 'out of stock', why, then would the price tag for it be still on the shelf? She then explained to me that I should have...wait for it...checked the multi digit bar code of the item with the bar code listed on the shelf.

Enough already. I demanded my money back and told her not to worry about it anymore since Carrefour was no longer on my list of stores to shop. I don't have the time, patience nor inclination to compare hundreds of bar codes when I do my shopping. I'll stick to the stores where the prices on the shelves accurately reflect the prices at the checkout counter although it's getting more and more difficult to find them these days.

Hi Seawitch! So, um, apart from that, how was the, um, weekend?

And I hate it when that happens. When they try to make it look like it's all your fault, especialy when you know damn well it isn't. Much as I love Greece, the national customer service ethic almost seems to be, "The customer is always wrong." Like, that really makes you want to spend your money in that shop again. But I think quite a few of the supermarkets overcharge, especially the big-name ones.

My weekend OUTSIDE Athens was great. (Blog to come on that in the next day or so.) I love Greece when I'm outside Athens. This city sucks the very life out of me. I love the little villages and traditional stone houses up in the mountains. I'm a recluse waiting to happen.

Your stories bring me fond memories of having to deal with crazy-ass drivers and even crazier merchants in Greece....by fond I mean annoying and by memories I mean trauma ;-)

Warning: Tangent.

Is overcharging a problem for Greek natives as well its foreigners? I've heard, and this is no comment on SeaWitch, that some US citizens have a similar problem in Canada. And I'd not be surprised if other nations are guilty of the same thing.

Whether it's greed or an attempt to stick it to foreigners whose home nations' policies these slaes clerks and store owners don't like, they'd better becareful; Unless they want bad publicity. For their sake, they'd also better hope that if foreigners make up a small and insignificant fraction of their businesses, they stay that way. In the case of Greece, I'd venture to guess that immigrant and tourist business is quite substantial.

Employment in the tourism sector is estimated to reach 10% (6,1% direct employment and 3,9% indirect) of the total employment in Greece.
Tourism Stats in Greece

The 10-year strategic plan to promote tourism and protect the environment is still being drafted. The plan is to create 150,000 new jobs in the tourism industry and increase the ratio of tourism revenue to a GDP from the current 17 to 20 percent to 35 to 40 percent.

Tourism Chief: 'serious investment opportunities.'

I'm aware that there likely are diffences in spending habits between immigrants and tourists, and that the concern for Greek officials is more on hotels, and the like, but it's still not a good idea to build a reputation that you could get fleeced in a major city like Athens.

If practical, and legal, I think you should put anti Carrfour stickers on the back of your car (the front in the case of Mr. "the right of way is where I point my car"). Sure, you could be hurting a business and innocent families, but disrespect can only be tolerated so much, and if they and other businesses habitually treated their customers the you were, they're lucky to have any business, let alone what's left after a massive boycott.

I presume xenophobia plays some role in the behavior of some stores.

In the case of Canada, I've heard much of it is because of anger at the US for Bush's policies, but it might have been around for a while. I don't much care how prevalent the problem is in any country, it shouldn't be tolerated. No matter the country, it's plain wrong.

Oh, sorry. Welcome back, SeaWitch. :)

Hi SeaWitch,

Welcome back. In 20 years of living in Greece as a "Xenos", I can sympathize with you for dealing with the "Athens Crazies" while driving. Of course, it's compounded by the fact that you are a lady. I've found that most Greek men are a bit more timid to try that crap with me (as a 100 Kilo Man), but with my wife (48 kilos) it happens quite often. I find this cowardly.

Regarding the supermarket, I dream of the days when American Military bases were the order of the day in Athens and my American friends would buy me the American products from the Base Supermarkets. But, alas, for now I'm satisfied (remarkably) by the Dimitris Thanopoulos Supermarket Chain , which has quite a bit of US, British, and even Canadian products, and their staff does seem to "get" Customer Service. It's not some alluding "Rocket Science" like a lot of other stores. Good Luck!

Sea Witch,

One more thing, you motivated me. I ended up updating my blog about my latest similar incident. Thanks for giving me inspiration today.

Scruffy, totally with you on Thanopoulos. That place sells Ben & Jerrys! It'll do for me. Not sure I'd pay €12 for American sugar coated cerials though.

As for the series of unfortunate events. I'm kinda a hypercrite when it comes to driving. If I'd have been driving the correct way down the monodromo then I would have behaved exactly like you. However if it was one of those scenarios where I was going the wrong way down the monodromo because the one way system irritates me then I would have been like [i]"it's not gonna kill these people to let me past"[/i]...

As for Carrefour, all I can say is that they are a foreign company and therefor obviously don't have the same high standards when it comes to customer care than a Greek company.

There is very little we can do. Athens is a pressure cooker of a city. The Athenian is kind, inexcusably tolerant and a sophisticated person ; it is the high density living and the fact that Athenians are piled up one upon another, packed in like in a can of sardines that turns them into dour , truculent, highly strung and quarrelsome individuals . The blood pressure rises, patience runs out, everyone hurrying here and there when there is hardly room to maneuver. Athens is a maze of a city with an unacceptable level of high people density. The city needs to be relieved from a substantial portion of its population if we are to encounter peace and harmony in our Athens.
A special permit should be issued under very strict regulations for anybody wanting to settle in Athens. If the population keeps growing and the living space keeps shrinking, as it is now, we will soon be at each other's throats with serious nervous disorders.
It was only three weeks ago, when a torrential rain caught me unawares, plus the demonstrations planned on that day, which kept me trapped inside my car and stranded in the traffic for 4.49 hours before I made my way from point A to point B. How much more can the system take and remain functional ?

I always figure that if I don't become embroiled at least in three minor fracas and two or three slanging matches in a day, I missed something on that day.

Niko...I think everyone who lives in Greece or has ever been to Greece can relate to the 'traumas' of Greek driving...that is if they survive it.

Eff..I don't think this was a case of ripping off the foreigner since Carrefour is a hypermarket...much the same as your Wal Mart. I've been ripped off before because I'm a foreigner and I usually know when that happens. This was just a case of misleading or even false advertising. Carrefour has been investigated for this before as one of my links shows. I think they've even been investigated here for it. But I agree, in order for tourism numbers to keep growing here, the govt. has to keep a closer eye on stores as well as hotels. Tourism is a package deal. No matter how good the beaches or food is, if the tourists are constantly getting ripped off, they won't be back.

Scruffy...Ellas told me about Thanopoulos too awhile back but it's sooooooo far away for me. I'd LOVE to be able to eat Kraft onion/garlic chip dip and Minute Maid pink lemonade again but I just don't want to have go through all that trouble to get it. Now, I'm off to check out your blog.

Ellas...at least you KNOW when you're being a hypocrite and you don't lie about it. LOL The only reason I accept for driving down a one way street the wrong way is if it's by accident. I've never done it intentionally so even if I meet you on a monodromo...be prepared to hear swearing in 10 languages for it! LOL

I've updated, too. (Insert jealousy emoticon.)

I really wish there was a store like Thanopolous here in Thessaloniki. I've been searching to no avail online and in the phone book. Oh, I would die to pay 12 euros for some pop tarts, graham crackers, and probably anything else they have. =p

I thought Carrefour had just paid a big fine for the discrepancy in prices between shelf and checkout. I guess a big fine is not a deterrant. Of course, they ARE French. What do you expect. =p I feel stupid, because my husband and I almost never check prices from shelf to checkout. Well, I guess if we bought a specialty item we might.

I lived near Music Row in Nashville (where all the recording studios and record companies are) which consists of two one-way streets, one going towards downtown and one leading away from downtown. I can't tell you how many people went the wrong damn way down those streets, even though, in my opinion, it was bloody well obvious. I think Greeks will take one way streets the wrong way to cut some time off their bill, and I highly doubt it is very often a mistake. Of course, Greek city streets are so confusing to me (one road can turn into like 20 different directions) and the signage so not in the right places I guess I can't blame everyone.

we gave up our car, we live right here in the heart of the city...too scary Id rather just walk or grab a taxi.

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