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May 31, 2006

Paying our Greek electricity bill

We got our first electricity bill through the post last week - which immediately prompted the question "Where do we pay this?"

So, yesterday I went to our bank to see if it could be done there. Before I did that, I thought it best to check our balance, to see if the money we had transferred from the UK had arrived safely. It had, so luckily I will have no further need of Ian's Nigerian friend to help me with our international finances ;-)

As I was walking away from the ATM a woman came up to me and grabbed me by the arm and said "Wait! Wait!". She then got her ATM card out and indicated to me that she didn't know which way round to put it in. I helped her insert the card, and then to my astonishment she produced the letter she'd got from the bank with her PIN number and pressed it into my hand. Very trusting. However, between her English and my Greek I couldn't understand what she wanted to do next, so in the end I just gave her the paper back, cancelled the transaction and gave her back her card. Whenever things like this happen I feel sure I must be on some Greek version of Candid Camera, where they tease tourists for the entertainment of the natives. And rightly so.

Anyway, once I got into the bank I queued up to see a cashier, hoping they would speak English, which fortunately they did. She said I could pay the bill there, but not at this desk, I had to go to another desk where a lady with glasses would come and see me. So I went to her desk, and then waited for a bit. The lady with glasses appeared and was very helpful, setting up a direct debit for us.

I don't know if back in the UK I just didn't notice and analyse things as much, but the system to set up the direct debit was bizarre and labourious. First of all at great length she typed in all the relevant details into the computer. Then she printed out a form. And then, also at great length, wrote out onto the form by hand the exact same set of details. Why can't the system print them out for her? Then she photocopied my electricity bill. Then she stamped the form a couple of times, I had to sign in the obligatory 75 places, and we were done. Well, almost.

"This will pay your bills from next month. But you must still pay this one"

"OK, so I have to go to Δ.Ε.Η. to do that?"

"No, you can go to the lottery shop"

Well, obviously I could pay it an a lottery shop. Why didn't I think of that?

So I went to the Λοττο shop on Plateia 1866. They charge a €0.50 handling fee, but it took seconds to pay and get the bill stamped as proof of payment.

This does at least go some way to explaining the existence of numerous lottery shops in Hania.

Until now I didn't understand how an entire shop could survive as a business just to do the same thing that a little machine in the corner of a newsagents desk does in the UK - the lottery is popular here, but surely not enough to sustain a shop alone? It seems that the lottery shops act like a payment network similar to the way Post Offices (used to) work in the UK, as a large regional network where lots of different small financial transactions can be carried out locally. For example, the woman behind me in the queue was paying her ΟΤΕ phone bill - something we won't be having to do of course.

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