16 January 2007

morning from the guest wing

I like living in Greece better than you #1

This one will 'resonate' with fellow shipmates from my Rum, Bum and the Lash days below deck on the pirate galleon, Bezosia.

May 2006: I go into the local TIM shop to set up a standing account to pay my cell phone bills via direct billing of my UK Visa card. Sandra Bullock-lookalike Maria looks after me and nods approvingly at all the correct documents with which I've come armed: credit card, passport, utility bill, proof of residence.

She taps in the data and hits 'Enter'. Error message. Maria frowns and enters it again. Still error. She grabs the office Blackberry and calls head-office billing. Natter natter, glare at the monitor. Then she bawls out my CC details for all to hear.

To a man raised under a regime that castrates tyro reps for much milder confidentiality gaffes, this is "distracting". Better is to come: Billing is not satisfied.

"Please. Your PIN number."

"My PIN? Why do they want my PIN ??"

"For fixing your account."

"But this is very private ... and where do they enter it?" She gives me a uniquely Greek raise of the eyebrows that would take an Iliad's length to even sketch: "You can write it on this paper."

She is young and comely and her eyes caress me. I write it down.

Sans a second's glance she hollers the numbers over the hub-bub: "Tesera - eksee - tesera - okto!"

I glance round white-faced but everyone is too busy recording my numbers for posterity. Somewhere in Piraeus, a large cargo ship rocks gently under the weight of assorted household goods and plasma screens being loaded aboard, courtesy of the Busker plastic.

July 2006: The direct billing is still not fixed and I am getting fed up trogging in to pay by cash. Maria is the soul of efficiency and tells me that Visa UK is refusing to pay. I call Visa and get the usual arrogant estuary accent that is British 'customer service' these days. I am informed that TIM have my expiration date wrong. Ah so.

I tell Maria and she looks it up and they do NOT have it wrong. She calls me round to her side of the keyboard and we lean in together in a moment of thrilling intimacy. She gives me a conspiratorial wink as if to signal "Yes, indeed, how's that for a fringe benefit?"

I hit redial and of course get another rep who puts me thru completely different hoops. Where am I calling from? Oh, Greece. Oh, right. Nice there, is it?

I mentally fail her: Room for a roomful of effing Improvement.

"Maybe they're entering it wrong. Maybe they're not entering the slash right."

"What do you mean entering the slash. You *can't* enter the slash."

"Oh yeah ... Maybe they use different dates over there and they think 04/09 means it expires on September 4th?"

"What the bloody hell does it matter *how* they enter the numbers??" Maria's eyelashes flutter demurely at this outburst and she gives me a smile fit to make a Pappas set his chasuble aside. A man of action. I am made to apologise by the rep at the other end, which I do. Maria moues disappointedly. A mouse after all.

I'm asked how they're entering the numbers. Are they using that thingy button by the space bar? "What? Do you mean are they tabulating?" Yes, because it doesn't always 'connect' that way. They should use the mouse to be sure of the connection. I almost explode again but keep my temper and tell her I'll try it a few other ways and report back. I ring off and roll my eyes. Maria smiles: "You were angry with her. I can tell." Her Bullock-lookalike nose wrinkles and her Mariah Carey jut-alikes heave under her taut uniform.

January 2007: I have given up and am now paying in used Euros. This is not good enough for Maria, with whom I am now on first name terms and get served ahead of the queue-jumpers. She insists I call Athens, which she does on my behalf. I explain the problem and the lady looks up my account and tells me "There is a distance between Greek computer and English Visa computer." The way she pronounces 'distance' leaves me in no doubt that it is also a de haut en bas  distance, the superior Greek machine looking down from a great height on clunky messrs Visa in Northampton.

"You cannot pay by this way. We do not accept foreign credit card for this manner of pay."

"What? No one in Kerkira pays their bill by credit card standing order?"

Patient pause. "Not in all Greece not pay this way." Ah so.

I thank her and explain it to Maria so that they don't waste time on the next foreigner who applies for this service.

She passes this on to Hector the manager who looks bored and shrugs.

Yeah, like there's more like me out there.

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