When I was selling cars for a living, I sometimes felt taken advantage of. Every single customer had a particular problem, ranging from the usual “old lady wants a red one” to “I have money, but my boss doesn’t want to declare my income to the tax authorities.
I always tried to find a solution. Made phone calls, found the illusive “red one”, with alloy wheels and leather seats and without climate control, just normal simple air conditioning. I’d call several leasing companies, banks, insurance companies, got quotes from various mechanics, obtaining a price for oil changes, filters and brakes. I was always careful with terms and conditions and never made a promise that I couldn’t scrupulously keep.
I did all that for my commission, of course, and to keep up with my monthly quota. A quick fix in the delivery area ? A little more gas in the tank, for the 3 km drive from the parking lot to the showroom, so that I wouldn’t run out in mid traffic ? I managed with a smile, a joke and doing favors for the key people.
In the end, I made a lot of customers happy, for an ever diminishing pay. Perhaps I should have acted more Greek.
Greeks have a bit of madness, I’d say. Something is off. I don’t know quite what it is. Waiting for problems to go away. Preferably the guy with the problem to go away. Waiting for the problem to move to some other authority. Even inventing another responsible authority. Perhaps it’s me, with my absurd ambitions of getting things done on the spot, identifying the source of a problem and fixing it. Or getting people in touch with someone who might be able to help them.
I don’t know if my reflex to find a solution is a reminiscence of my car selling years. It could also be that in my family whenever you needed a certain tool, for instance, that particular tool was missing from the house. A key for the gas bottle. Pliers or Phillips screwdrivers. Maybe that determined my obsession for perfectly working systems. Such as running water.
About 3 days ago, the water pressure dropped. This is not unusual in Greece, as workers go on “strike” by turning off water, or electricity, thus cutting off their company’s income and putting in peril their pay checks. It’s madness, but its source is frustration with Greece’s financial problems. It is understandable, to some degree, especially since these shortages usually last for 20 minutes to 2 hours.
But I knew that this wasn’t the case this time. I checked my neighbor’s water pressure, it was fine. Therefore, the problem was with our pipes. This water pressure thing is nothing compared to the Greek approach to solving it.
Naturally, I turned to the plumber who fixed a problem for us in winter. Unfortunately, back then, the guy sort of asked too much. 120 Euros for running some acid through the system, to flush out a lime deposit that had clogged the hot water pipes. He took 100, because we only had 50 Euro bills and he had no change. He said we’ll give him the 20 later. That was in March.
After telling the landlady that this was not something us tenants should pay, she called the plumber, told him he’s a crook and he should simply keep then hundred Euro, and then she told us she’ll deduct 100 from our rent. All was well afterwards.
Obviously, the plumber was pissed and refused to come help a second time, for fear his schemes might fail again. I called him 2 days ago and he evasively said he’s “away”.
Another neighbor suggested we should hack into the reserve tank, by turning some valves. It didn’t work, of course.
So, I went to another neighbor, she called somebody and told me a plumber will be coming that day. Of course, nobody came. I was anxious to get a definite answer from her, something like “Yes, I understand you have a problem, and I am able to help you, by either calling somebody myself, or by telling you whom to go to”. Or “Listen, retarded foreigner, I have no inclination to assist you with your mad decision of having running water at a sufficient pressure for taking a shower”. She was quite merry, smiling, asking me what I do, telling me her son has a proficiency diploma in English, then she calls him and puts me on the phone. He was sleeping, or perhaps drunk. She seemed very pleased that she helped and ecstatic about her son talking to me in English.
Today I went down to the supermarket, to ask for advice. The owner seems to be a very enterprising Greek and surely he’ll come up with a solution. He must have a plumber !
The man understood immediately what the problem was and delegated. He called his Albanian worker and lent him to me. I took the Albanian up to the house, he made the same checks that I had done 2 days ago. He then found the correct solution. “Let’s go to the administration”. I had no idea we actually had an administration, but we do. The neighbors never thought about this, apparently. None of them told me we actually have an administration. But you’ll have to admit that this is the correct way to deal with the problem. Go to the people in charge.
We go to the office and we find a teenager boy, pimples and all. He reluctantly makes a phone call. He listens to the story, but I feel he’d prefer we just got out and went to the beach. He’s helping his uncle, that’s why he’s in the office. He doesn’t work there. He called his uncle. His uncle comes.
The uncle is in fact the man in charge. He comes to the house, believing I’m some retarded foreigner who simply turned off his water and can’t remember it. He makes the same checks the Albanian and I made previously. He realizes there’s a clog. He tells me that yes, that neighbor called him yesterday. I politely refrain from asking “So, why haven’t you done anything since ?”.
He says “I’ll find somebody” and leaves abruptly on his motorbike.
I go again to the office and find him there. I’d like to know when exactly will a plumber come, in case the answer will be “tomorrow”, and I’ll be forced to go find a plumber on my own. He quickly disappears inside one of the newly built apartments, yet unoccupied, but where the water pipes are already clogging.
I refuse to be a problem that goes away, wait patiently and finally he comes to talk. He did call a plumber and even gives me the man’s phone number.
I call the plumber, amazingly he speaks English. He’ll be coming over in one hour. One hour and a half, maybe. That sounds great, doesn’t it ? His hour and a half expired about half an hour ago. Perhaps I’ll forget the whole thing and never call him again. Problems must be tested like that. What if they simply go away ? What if there is no need to act, in the end ?
Millions of people have problems with plumbers every day. Some have even written books about it. I recall Peter Mayle’s frustrations in France, the country we’ll be moving to in the fall. A year ago, a problem like this would have driven me mad, basically. It would have fueled my hatred, my violence and depression. I noticed today that I’m basically cured. I can take all this with a smile. But the whole thing puzzles me. I’m aware that sometimes foreigners are treated not like “real people”. Foreigners sometimes make strange demands, impossible to comply with. Perhaps Greeks act like this because we’re foreigners, as if we’re just a dream, an illusion and they’ll wake up and we’ll be gone.
Perhaps this is how things happen here. Never today. Never for sure. It’s the Balcans, a culture impossible to describe unless you live here and experience it firsthand.
Could it be laziness ? I don’t think so. It’s something else, far more mysterious and strange. A congregation of minds unsure if this world is real or a dream.
Is there really a problem with Adrian’s water pressure, they might ask themselves. Are we being tricked ? Is it a scheme intended to make us act upon something that might be imaginary ? Let’s wait it out. Let’s not rush into the blasphemy of touching the mirage.
There is something off with these people.