Friday, March 30, 2012

The Beginning of a Beautiful Headache - Episode 2

Finding the invisible producers. 

The whole point of this site is to somehow put in contact the offer and the demand. But in order to do that, I first need to find "the offer", meaning the producers. 
What better way to find producers than by submitting an inquiry to the Chamber of Commerce or at least that's what I thought. So, one fine day, I go there to ask in person since I didn't know if anyone spoke English and I'm not that good with Greek yet.
To my pleasant surprise, most of the people there spoke English so at least from the communication point of view this was easy. I was adviced to direct my inquires to a certain person, a nice lady in her 40's with a very calm voice. 
I told her what I would need and, to tell you the truth I was expecting an answer like " It's not here that you should make your inquiry." or " It's not our responsibility to know that" but again, surprise!

She looked at me - I must have had that "lost puppy" look - and she decided to help. For more than an hour she called different organizations and ministry departments to find out who is suppose to have a producer's data base. Finally she gave up and gave me a phone number and an address from the Financial Administration because, we ended up to the conclusion that "they need to be paying taxes" (or so the theory goes) and if they do, then the Financial Administration should know about it. 

If there would be a diploma for the best public service employee I would vote her for it. When she gave me the paper with the contacts she told me that she is sorry she couldn't do more but they are "reorganizing and they cannot find among themselves". 

When I left there, even though I didn't get the information I came for, I felt positive that at least I was on the right track for it and that maybe I'll find the same willingness to help at the Financial Administration Office. 

Well, they were willing to help alright but what they said didn't help that much. Apparently in Greece a producer is not required to have a firm in order to sell his products. Somehow, that is not considered commerce. So, producers do indeed pay taxes - if they chose to :D - but in their own name.

Even though I was prepared to buy the data base, as I would do back home if I would need this kind of information, they told me it is not possible since it's personal data and it is protected by law. 

So I must admit that really burst my bubble. Now, the only way to do this is to find the producers and talk to them on by one. There are 231 laikes in Thessaloniki and surrounding areas. Multiply that buy at least 60-70 producers and you'll get a veeeeery big number. All I can say is..don't hold your breath. It's gonna take a while.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Beginning of a Beautiful Headache - episode I

Ever since I came to Greece I don't have a job and that drives me nuts. I'm used to being useful, to doing things that mean something, overall of having a purpose. As nice, sunny and touristic as it is, in Greece I fell totally purposeless. And no, hobbies don't count as purpose.

A few weeks ago I decided to create a site, a meeting place for buyers and producers of any kind. It wouldn't be much of a job since it wouldn't be payed but it would at least give me purpose since it would be useful to others.

And thus the epic story begins...

I started scratching the surface by finding out where the Laikes (the producer's markets) are every day. So what better place do to that than to ask at the town hall. This is how I found out that there are 14 town halls that I need to address. You think they are many? Apparently they use to be 45. The overall  population of Thessaloniki's Metropolitan area is only about 1.000.000 inhabitants. 

Since the only source of information that I have available is the internet, I started looking for town hall sites and email. To my great disappointment, some don't even have a site while others pride themselves in giving you 10 pages of small written phone numbers as contacts so they would make sure that you won't know whom to address and give up asking whatever you wanted to. 

After a few days of intense search I found emails to most of the town halls so I wrote to them asking for info. In the next two weeks I received four answers out of which three told me that it's not their job to know that and I should ask someone else and only one useful answer. Overall I sent more than 20 emails since I wasn't sure whom to address so the response rate was of about 20%.

Three weeks, a tone of frustration and several headaches later I managed to build the list that I was looking for or at least have a good start at it.

The more I looked into it, the more I understood the quantity of work this project requires so I asked around for people that might be interested to help. My lesson was harsh. Everyone I talked with was very enthusiastic about the idea up to the moment when they needed to actually do something. Then, nothing happened anymore.

Another lesson I learned is that here in 5 out of 10 cases when you want to buy something the person from the shop will have better things to do than attend you. Maybe it's just my  luck, who knows?

One morning I wanted to print some contact cards so I went to the paper store to get some thick paper to print on. At a 9.45 the store was still closed even though it was supposed to be open from 9. Hoping that the printing store will have some paper fore sale I went directly there. Well, the good thing is that the guy was there, the bad thing is that he could not be disturbed because he was having his coffee.

Super Lazy

I don't know what your opinion is but for me this is not ok. So I made this drawing that I intend to print on stinky paper and whenever I'm going to go to a store that ignores me or is closed when it's supposed to be open I'm gonna stick that to their door.
Hmmm, I'm thinking that might not make me very popular...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Names In Greek

Have you ever wondered how your name will sound or be written in Greek?No? Neither did I until I came here. Ι always thought my name is Veronica but boy was I wrong!
Greece is the only country I know of that literally translates names. If you have a name that can be assimilated easily than you are off easy.. if not.. Well, good luck! Here is for example how Woody Allen is written in Greek - Γουντι Αλεν - which would be read [ghudi][alen] or Angelina Jolie - Αντζελίνα Ζολί - [adzelina][Zoli]

What happens is that "unidentified" names are written phonemically in the limits of the Greek alphabet. So you take a foreign name, you adapt it to Greek  pronunciation and than you re-write it with the letters available in the Greek alphabet.
The same rule applies to company names. Apparently there is a law forcing companies to have their names in Greek and/or with Greek characters. Can you guess what "Ετουαλ" - read [etual] - comes from? I know it took me long enough to figure it out. It comes from the French word "étoile", star.

Here is a perfect example of translation:"Ντενζελ Ουασινγκτον" - read [denzel uasington] - and Ραϊαν Ρεϊνολντς - read [raian reinolds].

You can leave me a comment to this post with your name and I'll try to "translate" it into Greek if you want but don't shoot the messenger.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Problem solving in Greece II

This is more of an update to my last post. Today I stumbled upon a very funny answer to a Greek customer complaint that was addressed to Renault France. So, Problem solving part two:)
 Who can blame the poor Frenchman for not finding "arhidia kivotio" in the data base?:)) "Kivotio" is the gearbox while "arhidia" means testicle. Some of you might know this word from the Big Fat Greek Wedding "Exo tria arxidia" scene. It literally means "I have three testicles"

  "Gamo to aftokinito sas" would be translated as "Screw your bullshit car". Unfortunately English doesn't provide that colorful range of expressions used in this kind of situations. The original swearing is far more expressive.
"Valte to ston kolo sas"- "Shove it up your ass."
"Gamo tin kariola tin reno"- "Screw the damn Renault breaks".

Here you  have a typical Greek problem solving strategy. The result? The problem is still there but at least now the whole world knows about it.:)))

Friday, March 16, 2012

Problem Solving in Greece

Problem solving in Greece is as different from the other European countries as it is from one side to another of its own borders. 

In Makedonia, the northern part of Greece, people are calm and never in a hurry. For those who know how people from Transilvania are, Makedonia is the Greek Transilvania. You even have the the feeling that time dilates here. Everything is soooo zen! Problem solving is never an issue here since there are two main approaches: "siga, siga" meaning "slowly...very slowly" and "Halara!" meaning "Relax".
I read this funny blog in which a guy actually made a math formula of how much 5 minutes mean in Greece. 
GT = T*[1 - T/(HS*60)] + HT*dwf*ff
GT - Greek time[min]
T - Time as the rest of the world understands [min]
HS - Hours of sun [hours/day]
HT - Halara time needed for average Greek native [min/day]
dwf - day of the week corrective factor [0; 1]
ff- food factor
According to his calculations, 5 Greek minutes is the equivalent of 48,17 minutes in global time. 
Concluding, Makedonian problem solving strategy: "Halara"

Now, going a little bit southern on the map, we find Peloponnese. Here people are a bit more jumpy when considering problem solving. Here, the spirits get very high very quick. It could be the sun but it could also be a bit of spartan blood running through their veins. You probably have seen 300, the comic book movie made in 2006. I think you can count on the fingers of one hand the historical facts from this movie. One of these few though is that indeed, Spartans' highest desire was not to live long and enjoy life fully but to die a heroic death in battle.
Here is a scene from 300 in which you can see a lot of problem solving.

Thus, Peloponnese problem solving strategy: This means WAR!

Going even more south we find Crete. The island of Crete is the only one in Europe, except Sicily of course, in which the laws of blood prevail over the official laws of the land.You insulted my family, you die; you messed with my sister, you die; you looked funny at me, you die. And they are not that big on sense of humor either.
Some years ago, there was a police action in Crete trying to disarm the population, at least from fire arm. They found from new guns to guns from the second world war, from bomb shells to grenades and even a tank. Yes!A second world war tank parked nicely in a guy's yard. If you think I'm joking look for "traditional Greek Cretans" on youtube. Here is a target practice in Crete.

Concluding, Cretan problem solving strategy: "BANG!BANG!BANG!"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My tear gas is better than yours

When I first came to Greece I witnessed a scene that looked like taken from a CSI New York episode, a real life police chase in the center of the city. A guy, that must have been a small time crook or a thief really gave policeman a run for their money. They finally cough up with him, tested a little bit the resistance of his liver with a punch or two and arrested him.
If someone would have made me run after him for 20 minutes I would have probably gave him also a piece..of my mind but than again that is the reason I never became a cop. When you are a cop you need to follow rules and have an impeccable behavior or at least this is how I see things.

From that moment on my idea of the Greek police was that they are efficient but brutal and over all not to be messed with. Not that I would have had any plans of doing so.

When demonstrations started last June I didn't know I was going to change my opinion radically.

While they might look very intimidating in their blue uniforms, be very good at cutting tickets and have spectacular sprints they are not so good at dealing with riots. To tell you the truth I really wonder why because they should have had enough training by now considering how many demonstrations Greece saw in the last years. They should be experts by now.

As in any other country, demonstrations here have their instigators and even if  most of the people are peaceful it's enough a hand full violent demonstrators to start the conflict with the police. What should happen next is for the police to protect the peaceful demonstrators and keep them out of harms way while they go after the bad guys. 

What actually happens is that the police can't even defend their own not to mention the peaceful demonstrators. I remembered seeing this movie made last year in June and I think you'll understand what I mean. It's for the first time in my life to see rioter throwing tear gas at the policeman and the policeman responding by throwing stones. In Greece this is pretty standard from what I noticed.

By contrast I found this other movie with riot police techniques. See if you can spot any differences. :)

 It seems like they are always caught by surprise and the question remains:"WHY?" These days in Greece is " Another day, another riot!" so how can you be caught by surprise.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Noooooo Touchy!

Starting from the beginning, THIS is me:

or at least that's how I feel in Greece. 

The notion of personal space is slightly nonexistent in Greece. The comfort zone, that small region around us that we regard as psychologically ours no matter where we are? Forget about it in Greece.

Where I come from, the comfort zone is about a meter. Whomever steps into that space is trespassing so people tend to be careful and respect each other's need for privacy. Stepping into someones personal zone without his or her previous consent is regarded as a threat, an insult or both. Well, not in Greece.

Here people are so expansive and so high spirited that these rules seem to be obsolete. It's not uncommon here that someone you have never met in your life before but you just happened to ask for directions, for example, to give you a friendly long pat on the back as if you knew each other for ages.

Another one of my "favorite" is talking into your face. In my country, that would be a threat, a very straight forward good old fashioned threat. In Greece, this is normal. It took me a while to adapt to this in the way that at least now I don't panic, I just take a step back when that happens and I regain my personal space. They most certainly don't do it as a threatening gesture it's just that personal space is another one of those many rules that Greeks don't seem to need.

In summer, when all Greece is swarming with tourists, taverns hire people to "promote" them. What that means is a guy standing on the main road shouting the menu and inviting people to come into the tavern. Some of them, with a more sales oriented approach, even touch your hand to guide you.

You can imagine how, the first time that happened, my first intention was to hit the guy in the face with my purse. I knew no Greek what so ever so I had no idea what he was yelling about and even less idea on why he was doing it in the middle of the road and further more he stepped on my personal space, so yeah, I felled threatened. 

Bottom line, keep this in mind for the next time you go the Greece so you won't end up punching in the face some friendly Greek that wants to show you the way back to your hotel.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lesson of Greek Swearing

A big part of cultural integration and also the first things you learn while in a new country, the swearing, tend to be overlooked by the typical language teaching books for some reason. I wonder why:)
It's time to correct this problem a bit and get you better integrated from a cultural point of view:D. One of the most common swear gestures in Greek is "Moutza". It is done with the open hand with the fingers widely apart so that the palm would face the person that is to be insulted. The gesture can be done also with both hands, making thus the insult stronger. The closer is the hand to the person's face, the more threatening the gesture is. It usually goes along with "Na!" meaning "have it!" or "here you go!"

Historically, the origins of the "Moutza" gesture can the traced back to antiquity when it was used as a part of a curse. Back than it was called "faskeloma" and it completed the spoken curses thrown against evil forces. 

It is said that the current name comes from the Medieval Ages when, according to the laws, a criminal was displayed on the streets of the city chained, riding a donkey backwards and, to increase the ridicule, with his face smeared with cinder. Cinder is a brownish, low density volcanic rock that used to be called "moutzos".

From the act of opening the palm and putting "moutzos" on the face with the fingers, this gesture became insulting on its own. 

These days with the crisis and all, the gesture became more and more popular.Last October, during a parade, a student who was the top of his class, gave the "Moutza" to the authorities. The picture spread like wild fire through all the internet in a matter of hours. While I admit it took a lot of balls to do that I don't think it took a lot of brains since I understood he got expelled.

Following his example, this year on the 21st of February, at the Ioannina's 99 year liberation anniversary parade,  a whole class of students turned their heads the other way and gave the "Moutza" to the authorities in deep "respect and appreciation" for the efforts they are making to take the country out of the crisis

That concludes out lesson of Greek Swearing for today. And remember, if you ever find yourself driving in Greece and there are people showing you their palm, they are not really waving at you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Street Market - a Cultural Experience

Farmer's markets in Greece are weekly events. Every Monday for example, a street is closed for traffic and it is there where farmers bring and sell their products. I'm using the term  "farmer" as a general one because as you can find anything from cloths to fruits and back to sleepers you can also find people from Russia, Ukraine, China, Thailand or Nigeria.

The market itself is a mix of cultures, languages and products from all over the world. It's a nice, colorful and very noisy place:)

Sometimes when I buy things, I don't know if it's because I'm a foreigner or because I'm a woman, they tend to give me more than I asked for the same price or give me an extra products, just to "win" me as a customer.  So, yeah, what they say it's true, Greeks were born to make commerce.

As always, there must be a back side of the coin. There are also traders who will try to take advantage of you, not because you are foreign, money have no nationality, but because they can.

The fish market is a drop of pure chaos. The first time I went there I couldn't understand why was everyone yelling. Later, when I started to understand what they were saying it all started to make sense...kind of. 

Promoting their products is essential. The fish market starts at 7 and ends at 12 at the latest. The fish and sea food are all fresh but they won't be for long if the sun starts heating them. So selling fish in the market is a race against time. Here is a short demo of the market today:)