In Greece, books beat rocks

"I'd like to offer you coffee from my store, but I can't. And why is this? Because I don't have a coffee permit," she said.

A coffee permit?

"Someday, an inspector will come. And he'll say whether I can have a coffee permit or not," she said. "So we wait. And wait."

Can't you just plug in a coffee pot or a hot plate to prepare Greek coffee in your own store?

"No," she said. "I need a coffee permit and a coffee inspector, otherwise I am in violation of the law," she said as the clerk arrived with our coffee.

"Actually, by giving you this coffee I am a lawbreaker, for we don't have a permit to give you coffee. And the coffee place down the street is also in violation, because he's given the coffee. He's a lawbreaker. We are a nation of coffee-drinking lawbreakers."

You can't be serious.

"Welcome to Greece," she said.

It's not just the coffee. The tax collection is remarkably inefficient, although if you're familiar with Chicago politics, you'd know that might not be a coincidence after all. And all the bureaucracies involve one thing: Who do you know?

Every small business owner here can tell a story. Everybody has to have a guy. Actually, many guys. Or you hire the main guy's son-in-law to lower your taxes. If you don't, you might never have that coffee.

One thing I'd recommend. More prosecuting attorneys and real anti-corruption laws. Political crooks don't go to prison here. They're exempt.

Only the little fish go away, but senior ministers embroiled in huge corruption scandals somehow have repaved the Chicago Way and made it the Athenian Way.

"So much bureaucracy isn't freedom," said Areti. "It kills the heart of freedom."

Rocks might seem heavy to the weak-minded, but Greeks (and Americans) should know that there's a weapon far more weighty and powerful.

A bookstore.

jskass@tribune.com
CHICAGO

More