Surviving the Greek Tax Office

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In contrast to my delightful visit to a Greek dentist the other day, I had to visit the Tax Office last week.  Anyone who lives in a Mediterranean country and has to deal with the public sector will know that it is no exaggeration to tell you I had to mentally psyche myself up for the experience – and Greece is the WORST place to visit a public office – read about the time I had to apply for a Registration Certificate as a prime example.

So, off I trot to my local tax office to change address.  Luckily my Greek friend came with me, otherwise I’d be stuffed.  We get there at 10:30am, there’s a sign on the door to tell us that at 11am they are on a ‘go slow’ – IE: they’ll be on strike, but not quite on strike (are you following)?

In we hurry, pushing past the old ladies and running up those stairs to the fifth floor, not bothering to wait for the lift.  By the time we get to the room, we’ve got 21 minutes to wait until the ‘go slow’ comes into effect.

What’s a ‘go slow’?

 I whisper to my friend

Oh, it means they still work, but at a slower pace than before, they’re protesting about all the measures that’re being imposed.

I ponder this for a moment.

Why don’t they just go on strike?

My friend turns to look at me, smiling kindly at my naivety:

Well then, where’s the fun in that for them?  They wouldn’t get to see the frustration and desperation on our faces would they?  I guess they’ve got to get their kicks somehow.

Luckily we get to the counter at 10:53am – literally 7 minutes to go before the dreaded ‘go slow.’  We’re served (pretty efficiently as it turned out) and I turn around to the sea of faces patiently waiting their turn.  I feel sorry for them – as we exit the building at 10:59am. Is that a cackle of Public Servant laughter I can hear behind me?

See this great depiction of Spanish Public Servants. As I said, it’s not just Greece.

The way to survive it?  Just go with it, don’t try to change the system.

Go with plenty of time to spare – and maybe pack a survival kit of sandwiches, chocolate biscuites and fruit (also works well as a bribe to the official to work quicker – especially the chocolate biscuits if it’s a woman).

What’s been your experience of bureaucracy?  Has it been hell, as depicted in this short film?  Has anyone else experienced Greek bureaucracy and actually had an OK time of it??

Do share with us in the Comments.  Look forward to receiving them.


  1. Lots and lots of stories there! But I must say that after recent dealings with the french public sector I kinda changed my mind about our own… I thought it a mess unique in modern society but apparently it’s not! Not unique, that is..! For some reason I didn’t see such a chaos coming from the French and it came as a surprise. Top that with the infamous french (*cough/sigh) “courtesy” and there you go…

    As for the manner of protest, to be fair, to go on strike these days is quite an expensive way of protesting. Concidering how the wages have dropped and how important a days’ pay is for a family nowdays, strike seems to be a luxury for most of the employees. Of course they’ll go on strike when the syndicates decide to (and I will not comment on that although I’m dying to…)so they’re trying to make more out of less, I guess. I agree it’s not much of a protest since the only affected are, well, us, but -let’s be honest!-the only ones affected by strikes are.. hm.. us..! [And correct me if I’m wrong but hasn’t this way of protesting long been adopted by nothern advnaced economies? Ah, we’re finaly getting there…! 😛 :-P]

  2. I have rarely had to call on a bureaucrat (and in all cases these were in a Latin country) and, despite the Kafka-esque tales of expats, my visits have all gone well. I have no expectations of competence to be let down and I try to be sincerely appreciative of the bother I know they must have to put up with. The only problem I ever had was with a Swiss Guard who took it in his mind that I had no business with la Prefittura (while in fact I did), but I simply waited until he was relieved and walked smilingly past his replacement to find the appropriate office where I was treated as an honored guest. In Central America, both the jackbooted junta and the Marxist devils of the Sandinista were helpful and professional. And perhaps it helps that I regard whatever happens to me as part of my experience of the place: what I went there for.

  3. Interesting observations Nancy – I’ve never had the ‘pleasure’ of exeriencing French bureauocracy…but David Lebovitz comments on his experiences in France in his book here—Perplexing–City/dp/076792889X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347998122&sr=1-3

    It seems to be an interesting subject, and I wonder if there’s anywhere in the world that has a ‘good’ public sector – although DEK here has had pleasant experiences.
    And yes, DEK raises an interesting point that it depends on how we view the experience – but at least it gave me something vaguely humorous (I hope!) to write about!
    Glad you liked the post and felt compelled to repy – thank you both.

  4. At least you made it just on time and they seemed efficient. Also when things slow down, you don’t feel like you’re living a stressful life where everything has to be taken care on instantly. It forces you to slow down as you have an excuse.

  5. Greek bureaucracy sounds very similar to French bureaucracy! But, as you say, you just have to go with it since you’re not going to change the system on your own and there’s no point getting stressed out about it! I shall start taking choccy biccies with me from now on every time I have to go and face a cravatté (guy with a tie, as the slang for them is).

  6. Hi Sonia,

    “Efficient” is a subjective term I think. Yes, we are used to things being quicker and more efficient in the UK & US, and living in a Southern Mediterannean country forces you to take life slowly.
    The difference is, Belize is considered a developing country.

  7. Hey Steph! I would really recommend David Lebovitz’s book “The Sweet Life in Paris” as he also gives humorous accounts of his life in France, coupled with delicious recipes.
    You might be able to relate :0)

    Yes, life as an expat is interesting eh?

  8. & don’t forget the photocopies! If you can think of it, you need a photocopy of it at any public office! p.s. love the video you linked to!

  9. Yes, don’t forget the photocopies!
    Better still, bring a small photocopier with you if at all possible! Then again, they would probably charge you for the electricity needed to plug it in and use it.

  10. I think your experience with bureaucracy has to do with the overall sense of customer service. As an American, I find Serbia bank employees, public servants, etc. behavior shocking. Rolling their eyes, speaking Serbian quickly when I just explained (in broken Serbian) that I don’t speak well, can she please speak s-l-o-w-l-y?

    But maybe American customer service can be a little bit fake? It’s a must have, but most employees don’t really care.


  11. The thing is in Greece that you have to GO. I mean, physically GO. (I don’t even know where my tax office is in the UK – everything is done by phone, mail, or online (I hear there are big delays answering the phone these days.)) because your time can’t possibly be as important as the tax offices’.
    In Greece they also require lots of paper, some of which is really hard to obtain e.g. tax clearance statement from other jurisdictions where you pay tax. So then the useful ypefthini dilosi comes in handy – but there has to be a Document. It is your job, you, the citizen whose taxes pay for the civil servants, to know these things.
    I am convinced that the many hurdles that exist are at rock bottom an opportunity for all civil servants to be tipped ie bribed. That’s why no one has any interest in seeing anything simplified.
    Such things will never go away in a world where being a civil servant is the best deal around – you can’t be sacked, you don’t work long hours so you can have another little job on the side, you get paid for life. Why wouldn’t you think this if successive governments had failed to open up the economy in ways that create real jobs that bring in real new money from goods and services created in Greece to be sold abroad, bringing in real new money instead of just recycling it, as bars, cafes, restaurants, bakeries etc do? And why would they (governments) want to do that when creating new posts for supporters and their families is the way they buy support? Where else have all those borrowed billions gone – bear in mind that individual Greek households have amongst the lowest rate of household debt in Europe.
    Of course the EU, ECB, EZ, IMF etc have rumbled this all now. But even though many civil servants have been sacked, I don’t see this happening in a sensible way, leading to a meritocracy – people are sacked on grounds of age, knowledge of English, educational level – no one seems to be interested in building an efficient system from the ground up. Nor do I see the new government doing anything different – they just have different supporters/clients they need to reward.


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