One of the Unexpected Pleasures of Spring

by Giannis Xamonakis – ApokoronasNews.gr Chief Editor

The other day I was feeling perplexed yet again by one of the numerous irrational  regulations and procedures designed to make life difficult for those wanting  to live in this country, when it occurred to me that ‘the system’ is probably part of the grand design of the Universe. Its mystical purpose is to moderate the pleasure of living in such a beautiful place. It is there as a reminder that we should not take our good fortune for granted and, for those prone to guilt, as a form of punishment to offset the pleasures of living here.

But while under normal circumstances a lot of the ‘punishment’ meted out can usually be tolerated with good humour, it would take a very dedicated Buddhist to maintain the same take-things-in-our-stride-because-this-is-the-Greek-way acceptance after the winter we have had. As we emerge from a very long, cold, wind-and-snow-swept winter, one that has broken all previous records of rainfall and low temperatures, facing the task of repairing the damage to homes and gardens, getting rid of the traces of damp-induced mould caused by leaking windows and roofs, levels of tolerance are at their lowest.

Still, with an early Easter, at least the long weekend put a stop to all contact with both officialdom and the irksome and lengthy bill-paying visits to the bank and telephone companies. Ahhh  Easter. The coming of Spring. A time to reflect. A time to get out and visit some of the old haunts and meet up again with the migrating residents who winter in northern Europe to take advantage of a better heating system and watertight windows, and enjoy a few wintertime activities, and who are now flocking back for the summer together with the swallows.

Hotels, rental properties and tavernas are getting their annual makeover in preparation for the holiday season, which this year is predicted to bring record numbers of visitors. The whole of the country lives for the summer, it seems. In the old days, people used to live all year longing for the month-long, August holiday to visit their ancestral village and play at ‘village life’ before returning to the urban jungle, to a life that was only a means of financing the annual family holiday….

Then on the Tuesday after Easter, an unexpected emailed (!) notice from the tax office interrupted my calm reflections on the past, bringing me back to reality with an immediate tightening of the stomach. The tax notice contained a demand for unpaid property tax from 2013 – which I thought I had paid with the electricity bill, as was the case in 2013. That was all; for more information I should visit the local tax office. The tightening in my stomach was not about the outstanding amount, it was more to do with having to visit the tax office, which I expected to be a long and stressful journey into the absurd, as it had been many times in the past.

Naturally, I could just  pay up without asking questions, but I would hate to give the government any more than I have to – I’d much rather spend my money on my cats who, I might point out, unlike the government, do serve some useful purpose.

So I reserved a whole morning for my tax office visit, taking with me a large file of every document I thought I might be asked to produce: bills, contracts, my parents’ birth and death certificates (I know, they are only valid for six months and mine were considerably past their use-by date), a translated copy of my driver’s licence in duplicate, a good supply of Rennies and some aspirin and set off for Chania.

As soon as I went in the building I realised something was different. Welcomed by posters from the association of tax officers expressing their opposition to the unbearable burden of taxes on the Greek people, I walked through the double doors of the first floor hall and there was not a single queue in sight. In fact, there were hardly any other members of the public there at all.

I was greeted politely by the clerk behind the first counter I approached. “It’s very quiet today,” I remarked.  “Most work is done online now,” came the casual reply from the clerk as she looked at my notice on her screen. There was a simple and plausible explanation – DEH had kept the tax as an advance payment on the next bill, and unfortunately the amount had to be paid. But why did they not send me a reminder earlier? “The system is new – but there will be no charges for late payment.” And given that the power supply was disconnected for half the year, could it be that I should pay only half the property tax?  “I don’t think so, but I will check with one of my colleagues to make sure,” she said. She had to go in person to see her colleague as she did not have the phone number of his office, she explained.

I followed her up to the next floor, to another hall with counters and open office doors, through which I could see piles of paper files of taxpayers’ records, but again no queues, no anxious, agitated members of the public in view. In fact, the only people wandering around were employees on their way to or from their break. The clerk came out of the office.  “Sorry, a full year’s tax has to be paid if the property had electricity for any length of time during the calendar year,” and returning my notice she added, “At least now we know, don’t we?”

The whole process took no more than 15 minutes and I didn’t even need any other documents, making my visit to the tax office an unexpected pleasure and paying the tax due – which I could do on line – much less traumatic than on previous occasions.

So, even in this country some things can change to make life easier. Banks please take note.

And in terms of the Universe, sorry, but a single easy visit to the tax office is not trade-off enough for long hard winters like the one we’ve just had. For there are many more ‘punishments’ left over to justify years and years of glorious springs to come.