Sunday, March 19


When I told everyone about the hell I went through to get my health book at my local IKA office, everyone looked at me kind of askance, as though I was making the whole thing up. Apparently, not all IKA offices are as bad as mine - most people went once, waited an hour or so max (and complained mightily about it), and that was that.
I, on the other hand, made a total of FOUR trips to my IKA office (IKA Patission) before I got the book. The first time I showed up at 11. OK that was overly optimistic. They had, of course, stopped giving out numbers. So the second time I got there at 8:30. The place only opens at 8:30, for god's sake! After stopping to ask for some information, I got to the correct floor at quarter to 9.
They had stopped giving out numbers.
OK, so I went back a third time, arriving at ten to eight.
I got a number! Number ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY ONE.
And remember, this is FORTY minutes before the place even OPENS.
So the guy "organising" everyone told us to go away and come back in a couple of hours. "OK, that's not too bad," I thought to myself. "At least we don't have to sit in there for ages while waiting."
So off we went, sat and drank coffee in a dismal cafe for a couple of hours, and returned at 10 expecting to served.
On the number display board was an evily red-glowing number ONE.
"How is this possible? What's going on?" we inquired. Turned out the computers were down, so they hadn't opened yet. And no, they didn't know when the computer would go back on, but anyway, my number 181 wouldn't get me to a wicket before the place closed. Right. Might I add that I was losing time off work to do all this? I was starting to wonder if it was all worth it...
So the FOURTH time, I showed up at QUARTER PAST SEVEN. The lineup already stretched two blocks from the front door.
At quarter to eight, they started letting people in a few at a time. By the time my turn came round, I ended up with number TWO HUNDRED AND ELEVEN. OK. This time I was determined to stick it out. I sat down on the filthy IKA stairs in the hallway (the tiny waiting room was jam-packed with smelly humanity) and proceeded to read my way through an entire book, popping up periodically and futiley to see how we were doing.
There were three wickets open for all these hundreds of people.
The numbers advanced all too slowly.
Finally, at A QUARTER TO ONE, my number came up, and I was shortly and uneventfully(thank god) the proud owner of a drab health book, printed on cheap, chewed-up looking paper. I had never in my life felt so ecstatic to hold something in my hands. If I have a child one day, after I've given birth and am handed my baby, I think I will feel something approaching the happiness I felt, holding that damn book.
OK, don't believe me? Think it can't have been QUITE so bad, that I'm exaggerating? Well, I have news for you my friend, literally. The other day, while flicking channels, I came upon a piece on the MEGA evening news about - you guessed it - IKA Patission, and what a truly abysmal, impossible, ridiculous branch it is. I cheered and danced up and down as the pictures of what had been my private hell flashed onscreen, and laughed at the disgruntled old men and ladies who were surprised that there weren't any numbers left at eleven o'clock!
I felt... vindicated!
Strange, huh?


Emily said...

Oh my god, kassandra. Just reading this, I understand how you feel. I've been through an awful lot with the Greek bureacracy, and I have only been here a few months! (and in Thessaloniki, not Athens). I had to return to the hospital three separate times to get my health certificate, go on a mad chase all through to city to figure out where to pay the tax fee for my residence permit (I mean, I had 120 Euros to give to someone, and nobody would take it), and so on. Yikes.

The SeaWitch said...

I had to go through the same mess when I got my IKA booklet too Kass except I have fits with them.
When I went to get my number, the machine was jammed so I went to the tameio and tried to ask the woman to fix it and she abruptly replied "Get a number". At least I tried. Then I went back to the machine, lifted the cover and cleared the paper jam. Then the yelling began. She screamed at me "Who gave you the right to touch that machine??!!!" I said "You did since you refused to do anything about it!! There are dozens of people waiting for a number and you couldn't be bothered to do it so I did. I can't waste my time here, I have a job to go to so I can pay your wages." Then the dozens of people who were waiting like me for a number started yelling at her and then she shut up and another tameio opened to shut everyone else up.
Have you ever tried to get a name out of any of the employees there? Every time I go to a govt. office, I write down everything they tell me and that makes them nervous. When I ask for their name so I can tell whoever it is I have to do with that this employee gave me all the wrong information, they become paranoid and refuse to give it to me. I tell them it doesn't really matter anyway since I recorded the time and the tameio number with a description of them. At that point, they ask to see the list I wrote down and they make changes to it. This little procedure saves me a lot of time when I don't have to search for papers I never needed.
Tomorrow morning I'll be back at IKA again to change health funds to TEBE. What a circus that will be.

kassandra said...

Emily, I thank god every day (figuratively) that I have Greek citizenship. I can only imagine the horrors I’d have to undergo if I didn’t. Mind you, things could be a lot worse. Apparently Greece is not the only European country with a bureaucracy problem: a friend of mine recently moved to France, and is trying to get her visa renewed (no problem there – she has an employer to vouch for her). She has been to the immigration office a million times, and each time has been confronted by a line that stretches for blocks and blocks, as early as five o’clock in the morning. Most recently, she passed by at about three on her way home from a night out, and finally understood: there is basically a permanent line of people camped outside the doors for days on end… not sure what she’s going to do now, but it kind of puts things in perspective for us!
Seawitch: alas (because it did not afford me a direct source on which to vent my rage) I could find no fault with the employees at the office. They were all fairly efficient, spoke English, and were amazingly polite given the hordes of angry people they have to deal with every day. No, the fault here lies with the imbecile city planner (if there even was one) who allocated a TINY IKA office to a HUGE area, encompassing both Patissia and Kypseli, which is one of (if not the) most densely populated neighbourhoods in Athens. Moreover, Kypseli has a huge influx of recent immigrants, meaning there is a constant stream of people of all ages who need health books, not just the usual teen-aged kids with their first job, and grannies (I don’t know why the grannies need to be there, but there always seem to be quite a few of them). It’s quite simply a matter of space – there’s no room for more than three wickets, and no room for all the people waiting.
As for your system, thanks, I’ll keep it in mind for future encounters, but I’ve got my own that seems to work pretty well. See, I figure that everyone thinks these government clerks have it pretty easy, are resentful towards them for finishing work at 2 and for being un-fireable, and therefore take out all their general rage at the system on them, who really aren’t to blame for the number of useless stamps you need on your slip of paper. Basically, they are human punching bags, so it doesn’t surprise me when they don’t greet me with a smile and a “how may I help you”. So instead of joining in and screaming at them, I flash them my biggest smile, crack a joke or two, sympathise with them about how many people they’ve had to see that day, and so on. And eventually (so far), even the surliest, meanest of them (men and women alike) has cracked, given me a tentative (and surprised) smile, and become amazingly helpful.
That said, hope it went OK for you the other day…

Flubberwinkle said...

I could also write a list of horror stories regarding Greek bureaucracy.
I agree with your (above) comment: A smile and nice manners can help. I have no quarrel with the employee. My quarrel is with the Greek state and how it treats both its civil servants and civilians.

Btw, you've got the whole Greek bureaucracy scene pegged! How long, did you say, you've been in Greece?

kassandra said...

Thanks flubberwinkle! 3 years+ now... and it's in my blood.