Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Expat life An Alternate Reality; but, of course!

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.
                                             -- Azar Nafisi (Lolita in Tehran)
Sun sets in The Mani

The debit/credit card issued to us five years ago when we opened our Greek bank account expired several years ago.  On occasion since the expiration we've thought about getting a new one. . . but it has seemed more trouble than it is worth. It is a much different process here than the one used back in the States.
In our former life, we must have had three or four cards -- all unsolicited -- arrive weekly in our mailbox. Each from a different bank or lending institution and each activated by a single phone call. New cards for accounts we did have, were sent weeks before the card expired and each activated in a similar manner with a phone call to some faraway toll-free number.
Fruit and vegetable vendor in Stoupa - a new way of buying

Not so in Greece.  The process for getting a new card -- like so many things here -- is so completely different, that it sometimes feels like we are living in an alternate reality.  The way things are done here and the way we react to it,  just can't be reconciled with what was once our lives and behaviors.

We can thank our friend, Bill, who owns a taverna called Hades in the village for helping us get a grip on this upheaval to our senses. He says, 'It is an alternate reality. The light turns green and you think you should go, but everyone else is waiting for red.' 

Yes! That is it exactly! What once seemed logical, well, . . .just isn't.

He offered his insight several weeks ago while some of us were discussing our most recent experiences, often chuckling, sometimes shaking our heads at the stories being told. All the while knowing that each tale was true because we've all had the experience or similar alternate reality moments since moving to Greece. When telling these tales we usually exclaim with howls of laughter, that our friends and family 'back home' just wouldn't understand.  

A Greek balancing act in The Mani
But today I am going to try you out: we've had some realities this summer that are too priceless not to tell you about; realities like renewing the debit card. . .
Several months ago while having our passbook brought up to date(yes, banks here still record account activity in passbooks), I said to the teller that I'd like a new debit card. For some reasonat issuance, the card couldn't have two names, so mine had ended up on it.

 'But, of course!' he said, with a smile, using the ubiquitous Greek answer, we've learned, to any and all questions asked of a Greek, from a doctors to wait staff and bank tellers.

'You will need to bring in copies of your latest Greek income tax return, a form from the phone company verifying that you have a phone number and a copy of your latest utility bill.'  He then looked toward the section of the bank lined with a dozen desks -- only two of which were occupied -- and said, "And then you'll talk to one of them."
Now we've obviously gotten along without the card, but at that point it became a matter of principle for me.  I dutifully made copies and obtained forms and marched back to the bank a few weeks ago, ready to get our new card. (After all it accesses our account with our money in it so it would be nice to have a current card, I reasoned.)
Dining out, is one of the many things, done differently here

The Scout hasn't been sold on the need for the card and was skeptical about my efforts and insistence that very warm morning but humored me as we stood around the empty desks awaiting our turn to speak to one of the two people working at them. The customer ahead of us was getting a new debit card. It was taking awhile.
After nearly an hour's wait, there we were, seated at the desk, my paperwork laid out before the banker. Passports to the side. Ready for success!  As she called up our account on her computer, she began alternatively drumming her fingers on the desk and frowning at the screen. 

The absurdity of the situation hit me with such force I nearly fell off the chair. I looked at The Scout who seemed to be staring off into space somewhat in a self-saving trance and I thought I was going to start laughing. Who were these two people sitting here? This couldn't be us?! We don't do things like this  just to get a debit card. . . 

Ahh, but in this reality we do! And did!
This wine tour was more fun than a trip to the bank!

Meanwhile the banker examined the documents I'd presented, then returned to her computer screen and said, 'You still have a U.S. address. Do you have proof of your U.S. address with you?' 
I was ready! "Yes! I have a government issued driver's license from the State of Washington with my address on it and a photo as well."
Turning from the screen to look at us, she shook her head, 'I can't accept that. But, do you have a current utility bill from there with you?' 

But, of course, I didn't! 
At which point The Scout gave me one of those 'husband-to-wife looks' that carries the proverbial death threat and I said to the banker, 'We will obviously have to get the card later!'
Outside the bank's double security doors I raised my voice and announced to anyone within earshot, 'Done! Defeated! No card!'  Not now! Not ever! (I know I saw The Scout smiling out of the corner of my eye.)
I don't think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto!
              -- Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
From The Stone House on the Hill 

There are eight homes on 'the hill' as we call our slice of The Mani. They are accessed by traveling on 'our road' ,a narrow asphalt track that winds through the olive groves, connecting the villages of Agios Dimitrios and Platsa. The road was destroyed two and a half ( 2.5!) years ago during a major storm. When we asked locals about when we could expect to have it repaired, the answer we got was,'nothing will happen to the road until the election.'   

The Scout working on a traffic jam on our road

And they knew what they were talking about because it seemed that about the time we saw posters going up for hopeful candidates back in March we also saw huge machinery lumbering up our road. Finally, repair crews began ripping out its storm-damaged sections and preparing it for a new surface.

Silly us! In that old reality, we expected the surface to be put on immediately. Not so in this reality. The concrete trucks didn't lumber past until May. (Of course the election was set for June so timing may have been influenced by that fact.)

Platsa, the village above us

The concrete trucks rolled past for several days as they repaired the section of roadway just beyond our homes. We talked of all the guests we could have this summer; people who've been afraid to bring their cars up our damaged road. We talked of a street party as the concrete truck dumped its first load on the damaged section we drive to get home.  They emptied the truck said they would be back.

In this new reality, we should have asked, 'When?'  as they haven't yet returned.
Several of us who travel that torn up roadway regularly decided we'd had enough. It was time to visit the Municipal Office and ask when the road would be repaired.  

The first husband-wife team was told, 'The contractor said It is done!' No one from government had checked his claim. But the team was armed with photos of the still unfinished road. So a quick call was made from the Mayor to the contractor and the new completion date was set for the next Friday. Nothing happened.
In early June the second delegation (The Scout and I) were also told the road was completed. Pictures were again shown. And soon the lady helping us reported: "The Mayor extends his deepest apologies but the contractor has run out of money and can't complete the job until he has money."  We (back in our old logical reality mode) asked when that might be. "When he submits a bill to the Municipality, we will pay him for the work and then he can buy more concrete to finish the work."  But, of course, we should have known that!

Repaired section or road above us
So the third husband and wife team went to the Municipal offices and the answer they got, was that the Municipality has no money to complete the job. 

But, of course, they were told, if we residents would like to pay for the repairs that would be most welcome. But, of course. . .,the government official added, we must first apply for a license to do so. . .

View of The Stone House on the Hill

Some of our alternate reality moments are much lighter and less frustrating than dealing with business and bureaucracy. One takes place each summer in our part of town. There is a family who has a home here and uses it only in the summer months. Wonderful people and we are always happy to see them arrive.  It was another alternate reality moment when we realized last summer that the male head of household likes to garden in the nude.  Now, after the initial stuttered conversation, I am able to greet and chat with him as though it is the most natural of things; me fully clothed and him fully nude. Sure wasn't like that in our old world though. . .

These are but a few of the many examples we have from the 'alternate reality' in which we live these days.  The quote with which I began this post is ever so true about becoming ex pats and leaving the old norm, that old reality behind:

'. . .but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.'

To alternate realities

Each expat we know here recognizes that he or she has changed. It isn't always easy. It doesn't always make sense. It certainly isn't how we used to be. We do things very differently. We see things differently. And then we think,

But, of course. That's why we wanted to be expats!.

Hope you have a great week and that you and your loved ones have safe travels.  Next week we will be talking about driving in Greece. . .that is another reality of Greek life!

Thanks for being with us today. Your time is always appreciated! And thanks to those who've written and commented, we so enjoy hearing from you!

Linking soon with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday


  1. As a serial expat, I so relate to this post! It's true we change and are never the same again. There's often no going back, and yet at times the frustrations of our new lives can drive us dotty!

    1. Yes it can and dotty is a fabulous word that I will be including in my vocabulary!!

  2. ahhh what a magical life you lead!! i so love the view from your stone house on the hill

    1. Sometimes magical and sometimes just a big mysterious adventure that we wonder how we began it and how long we will continue.

  3. I would like to visit you guys now during summer when your neighbor with an alternate reality is there!

  4. Haha! Now l can't get your nude neighbor out of my head :-). Thankfully it was a bit easier to get a debit card here. I requested an account of my own with the same supporting items they needed just like he did and l was rejected. Why l asked? and the answer was why do you need one when your husband has one? :-). I opened an online one. Mind you his address still has not been changed in 3 years! no matter how many times we have asked and anything we need done, we're told to go back to the office we opened the account in. In Malaga!!! We live in Valencia :-). Yep..expat life is fun :-)

    1. Sounds like banks everywhere have the same tunnel vision approach to customer service. They offered us a 'family' residence permit when we applied as individuals. Of course the family permit would be issued to my husband and I would be the tag on spouse. No way, Jose!! Always an adventure!!

  5. That alternate reality is one thing I do not miss at all about Greece. They act like because you put your money in their bank they can do whatever they want with you, forgetting that you are the customer. Hang in there Jackie!


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