My father has been dead for close to ten years, but I still have yet to get rid of the car he left behind. Why? Greek bureaucracy. In America, the saying goes, you can’t escape death and taxes; in Greece, you can’t escape death, taxes, AND bureaucracy. The Greek state, in its ingenuity to perpetuate its own existence, has devised a labyrinthine system of clerical requirements for each step in what in other countries would be a self-explanatory process. To get a civil thing done such as apply for a social security card, transfer title of an automobile, or even add a new member of the family to the civil registry, requires the payment of a fee or “paravalo,” a toll house system of sorts, in order to advance to the next step. To accomplish a simple task that in other countries might take a simple filling out of one document and uploading to a digital department takes at least three visits to the same office, a visit to the bank, and a wait of a week in order to complete.
According to state law cars belonging to the deceased pass to his or her spouse regardless if he or she has a license is blind or 85 years old. My ailing mother has not been able to travel to Greece since the funeral. So the car has legally passed to her but it cannot be official unless she registers and goes through the grueling process of submitting paperwork with its accompanying paravola.
Because of this lethal inhumane bureaucracy, I have not been able to do anything with the car. Each year I pay the teli kykliforias, the tolls for circulation, for a car that does not circulate. I could take the plates and surrender it but that too requires a power of attorney for my aged mother to give me permission to put it away; a signed affidavit that no one will move the car during the time it has no plates; the coordinates of where it can be found, not on the street otherwise it will be lifted by crane and impounded. So it sits every year on the curb collecting dust and pigeon shit until the summer when we can come for two or four weeks to mobilize it again. Every year change or charge the battery that has drained. Every year change oil and other brake fluids take it through the KTEO or emissions and safety inspection. Every year finagle some sort of insurance agent to bypass the scrutiny of the department of transportation (terribly underfunded) and insure it under a dead men’s name.
This year I am determined: I will give find some way to get rid of that car. It has become more of a burden than a convenience: taxes, insurance, teli kikloforias, storage issues—I am paying over 500 Euros for a vehicle that does not move for the majority of the year. This year I went to use it and I found its tires flat. . “It’s strange how three tires are flat but only one has some air,” noted the young man from Ladapardas tire service station. He came to save me the female without car knowledge on a small motorcycle. And then he figured out the reason: someone punctured three of the tires with a sharp rod. Someone must have gotten pissed off about an abandoned car in their parking space. That means even more cha-ching for servicing costs.
After five years of dealing with the convoluted bureaucracy I have gotten smarter: I am waiting on two lines with one body. I have left the car to be serviced at the station while I wait on line at the KEP, the Kentro Experition Polition, which translates to the Center for the Service of the Citizen. It functions like a centralized bureaucratic hand that at least keeps you from having to run around the different ministries for paperwork. The line, due to COVID social distancing measures, twisted around the block.
After a lovely dirty blonde civil servant in a red t-shirt and jeans checked my temperature with a digital thermometer, I went in to get the overview of the process. Behind a glass screen, looking like a sphynx with a scowl, the civil service lady grilled me but did not speak. Civil servants do not speak until spoken to. The bureaucracy is made even more unpredictable because you enter a game of chance depending on the civil authority you speak to. You could go into the same ministry or governmental office, ask the same question, and get as many different answers as there are civil servants. Many times they even argue among each other what pieces of paper are required to complete a task. The rules change according to mood, according to time, according to location.
“Good day to you,” I try to smile and be positive.
“What would be the necessary documents to transfer title of an automobile from my father who passed away to my mother? She does not drive and is 80 years old. Could I get it transferred to my name instead?”
She stone-faced hands me a photocopied paper with a list of all the requirements. They are:
-photocopy of the ID of the inheritor of vehicle
-AFM (tax number) of the inheritor
-license to circulate for the automobile (without any issues, otherwise a separate agency with its accompanying clearance forms needed)
-valid KTEO certificate (clean inspection certificate)
-paravalo 75 Euros (this must be paid in person or via transfer to one of the main Greek banks to the respective account number)
-verification from the tax department that the inheritor does not owe any back taxes and have paid the inheritance tax, signed and stamped by the appropriate tax department
-verification that the car does not owe any tolls with proof from the “print screen” along with notary stamp and seal from the corresponding tax department
Thank God I am on vacation and do not have a job. Someone in the family needs to be the full-time do-the-paperwork person of the house in order to be up-to-date with the Greek authorities. What makes this so grueling is that to get one paper from one department, a person has to dedicate a whole morning waiting on lines, finding the right person to talk to. Most of the offices close by 1:30 or 2 pm so it is quite easy to spend a whole week just to transfer title.
“Can I just donate it?” I ask.
She tilts her head back and rolls her eyes, Hellenic body language for “NO.” “You still have to transfer the title from the deceased to the inheritor.”
“You have to follow the procedure on the form,” she replies cold as a stone. “And one more thing– you have to have a power of attorney from the owner in order to act on his behalf.” (Thank God I did this at the Consulate General back in the States, after paying another paravalo of $125 and waiting outside on the sidewalk even with an appointment.)
“Eucharisto,” I mutter politely. “Good day.”
Here I am again. Another year, more bureaucracy. I stare at the paper and my head goes into a whirlwind. Maybe I could drive it off the cliff in Sounio and be done with it? Anything to face the Hydra of documents, one sprouts giving birth to two or more. Let’s see how far I can get this year as I face the monster of Greek bureaucracy.
Outside the line for the KEP has added another hundred yards. “If you don’t like it,” a bald-headed man screams at another one who has been cursing the Greek state as he shades his head from the intense afternoon sun, “get the hell out. This is Greece. Like it or leave it.”
You have to really like it to put up with the bureaucracy: a system of extortion for an endless labyrinth of paperwork and time waiting on lines.