Tuesday 29 September 2020

A Kafkaesque experience

Yesterday we had the most surreal, bizarre experience that has left us both totally drained. I could say it was a Kafkaesque experience, except that I don't think that even Kafka had a clue about how awful, debilitating, soul-destroying Greek bureaucracy can be. This furthermore, was not in the public sphere, but a private bank. The Greek State is a hundred times worse than private companies.

We undertook our yearly trip to the bank. It's so daunting that we only do this once a year, when we have to pay the property tax. For this purpose and in order to have enough to live on, we transferred a substantial amount from our bank in the UK. After a half hour wait outside the building, due to Covid-19,  and please understand I am not complaining about this, it's right and welcome that we should wait outside, but it did add to the awfulness of the experience, we proceeded to the cashier. I explained that we wanted to withdraw some cash, pay our tax and to deposit a small sum into someone else's account. Why did we not do all this electronically, you may ask? Long and bitter experience has taught us that this is by far the less painful way to do all this - I will not bore you with the details as this would become an even longer post. She asked to see my ID card, then the bank book. She then proceeded to tell me that our account was not active anymore as we had not been to the bank for a year.

'But, how can it not be active?' I replied, 'a very substantial amount, as I am sure you can see, was deposited last week'.

'It's nevertheless not active, because nothing has been withdrawn for a while'.

'But, we have a direct debit with this bank to pay for our electricity and water bills', I replied.

'It's nevertheless inactive. In order to make it active again, I will need to see copies of some household bills for the last two months, electricity or water will do, and your tax form so that we can verify your address and know that you are still active'.

'But, we have a direct debit with your bank for payment of those bills. As for the tax, here is the form we have downloaded that will enable us to pay the tax bill'.

'These will not do. I still need two copies of bills and your tax bill. What is your employment status?'

'I am retired'.

'In that case I will also need proof of your pension'.

'I was employed in the UK and this is where I get my pension from, it has nothing to do with Greece, I cannot give you proof of that as it's related to another country'.

'I will still need proof of your status as retired'.

Have I mentioned that we've been with this bank for twenty years?

By then, my head was spinning, rage was building up inside me, and Ken next to me kept prompting me to tell her the things I had been saying to her, as he could not believe the unreality of the situation.

In the end she sent us to one of her colleagues, where the same conversation was repeated. The manager then got involved, called us over to her office, and we went through the whole conversation again, over and over, going round in circles.

By now we had been in the bank for an hour, and I have to say, I kept my cool throughout. We managed to come to an agreement where we would walk back home, get copies of utility bills and the tax form, but not proof of my retired status.

An hour later, we were back. We saw a different bank employee, who made the other three look like reasonable human beings. She was uncooperative, rude and kept barking orders at me. The manager came over, explained the situation to her, asked her to help us and also asked her to close three other accounts we have. These accounts have small sums in them and we were told two years ago that we could not withdraw those sums because we had not used them for a while and they were consequently inactive - at the time we decided to just leave them be as we could not go through this whole rigmarole that we were now going through. The manager asked her colleague to close these accounts while she was at it and transfer the amounts into the one account.

I gave her all the paperwork we had brought from home: six pages of the electricity bill for each of the two months requested, and seven pages of the tax notification for 2020. She looked at it all and said that she needed my British national insurance number. I said that I kept my affairs in the two countries separate, my insurance number was in the UK and I had no access to it. I furthermore added that two hours ago I had been asked to bring in some paperwork which I had done, and now they were shifting the goalposts and asking for more. Again, I kept my cool. We went round and round in circles again, and she kept saying 'there's nothing I can do, the computer won't let me get on without the national insurance number'. By then I had almost gone catatonic: I slumped in my chair, lost the will to live, and kept thinking that I would never exit this nightmare.

Eventually, we had no choice, but to cave in: Ken walked back home to get my national insurance number while I waited, slumped in my chair. 20 minutes later Ken emailed her the number and she started trying to activate my account.

Needless to say, we did not manage to get everything done. The account was activated, the tax was paid, and we managed to withdraw the cash we needed. She said she could not deposit money in the other account because we had not given her the sort code. How difficult is it for a bank to get another bank's sort code when the two page receipt of last year's payment is there in her hands? She also refused to close our three other accounts and to transfer the money into our fourth,  She said it would take too long to activate those accounts.

'But', I said: 'you have done one of the accounts. Now that all the paperwork you requested is here, why not the other three?'

'It will take too long. Come back tomorrow at 8:00 in the morning'.  We were dismissed.

This whole process, withdrawing some cash and making one payment, at a bank we have been customers for 20 years, took four hours. Should I also mention the fact that we paid substantial fees for depositing money into our bank account and for paying a bill?

We have decided not to do anything about the other three bank accounts until next year when we will have to go again. I just cannot bear to go there again today.

But, after I have posted this, we will go to deposit the money into the other person's bank account - a different bank this time.  I am dreading it....

P.S. With Brexit looming, my British friends cannot understand why I have not got my Greek passport renewed so that I can remain a European. I would love to, but keep putting it off.  Is it any wonder?

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