If I didn’t have to spend hours of my life waiting in the post office then I’d probably blog more. Greek post offices are like no other; take every petty regulation you’ve ever heard of along with the rudest people you could ever imagine then multiply it by infinity and you’re still only half way towards understanding the Greek post office experience. For every lovely island or beach that Greece was given something else was made wrong with the post office.
Last week I went to collect a package from the post and that’s when I discovered that they’ve changed something in their operations. This, I imagine demanded an act of parliament at the very least because Greek postal workers are not know for their tolerance to change. Previously there have been two queuing systems; there was the one for parcels and packages and there was the one for everything else. Everything else is a lot because a huge amount of business is conducted through the post office. Parcel section was previously organised by a lady who was relatively pleasant until you asked her to do something that didn’t involve parcels. Everything else was dealt with by grumpy redhead lady and weary man. Now the system has been changed so that everyone deals with parcels and with everything else. No longer do you need to queue twice if you need to send a parcel and perhaps something unusual, like buying a stamp for a letter.
Unfortunately no one is happy with this and parcel lady is now VERY grumpy parcel lady and is almost grumpier than the grumpy redhead lady. After parcel lady has served one person with something that doesn’t involve a parcel she closes her counter for a few moments and paces around behind the desks shouting at her colleagues. Grumpy redhead lady now has to move from her seat to look into the parcel cupboard if someone is collecting a package and you have no idea how much this pains her. Well, actually you do because she heaves and sighs her way from her desk to the parcel cupboard about 5 feet away from her and then she heaves and sighs while she picks her way through the various packages. When no one acknowledges just how awful it all is for her she shouts at her colleagues and throws a few parcels around. To get her to the parcel cupboard in the first place takes considerable maneuvering because her default position is ‘no’, but once she’s realised that there’s no way out of the hell of the parcel cupboard her complaints reach operatic proportions.
The two things that make the wait bearable is that there is air conditioning and there are a few chairs. There are not enough chairs but you may eventually get one for some of your wait. On entering you take your ticket and last week my ticket number was 176 and I checked the screens to see what number they were currently at: 153. After a quick look around I saw that most people were clutching lots of paper so I’d probably come on one of the days when a bill was due to be paid. Many people still pay their bills in cash, many bills here may ONLY be paid in cash. This is not the time for a discussion on Greek banking systems which can often make the post office look as if it’s running with the sleekness of a German car.
Grumpy redhead’s game plan, in addition to shouting, heaving and sighing, is to give people 3.5 seconds from her pressing the buzzer to indicate their number coming up and them actually appearing in position before her. If they don’t get there in time she presses the buzzer for the next person and then there’s an Olympic playoff between the original customer and the new customer who sees their number appear. It can often be amusing to watch this but when it happened to the elderly lady sitting next to me it wasn’t and the suit who pelted forward to take her place knew what he was doing.
I know only about three Greek verbs because most of what I need to know can be conducted through have, know and wait. I don’t know if I need to blame the heat or if I’m actually going native but I stood up and yelled across the room,’περιμενιτε λιγο’, wait a minute. Whether it was the shock of someone other than the counter staff yelling or the surprise of a foreigner interfering in a domestic matter (although that’s hardly a surprise to the Greeks at the moment) it woke everyone up. The Greeks do like a good shout; they’re not necessarily arguing but they do like to shout. They can also be remarkably kind to elderly people and when the situation had been grasped there was an almighty kerfuffle with people shouting at grumpy redhead lady and the man who had tried to take advantage. I spent a few minutes understanding only that the foreign ‘girl’ had saved the day and turned a boring wait in the post office into an opportunity for people to bond through yelling.
Fortunately when it was my turn to collect my parcel I didn’t have to go to grumpy redhead lady’s counter although by the way she stared at me I know my card is marked and I’m going to pay for this someday.