Our prediction of a paperwork problem with the car came true. Demetri got a call from the dealer one morning this week telling him his name can’t be on the title unless we pay an “Expediter” €125 to handle this under the table. In other words, our national visa issued by the Greek government is inadequate for a car title, we must have a green card. But with the €125 ‘fee’ (known locally as fakelaki), we can have the car in our name.
This is not our first experience with the fakelaki issue. We bought two Stand Up Paddleboards before we left the US and had them shipped to Athens. When Papou went to retrieve them before we arrived, he was told there was a €500 fee to get them out of customs. 500 euros is almost the cost of one SUP. Surely they were joking. Papou did not pay; the boards were safely stored until we arrived and could straighten out this silliness.
Turns out the silliness was ours. Let me back up: Fakelaki translates to “little envelope.” It is the term for bribery of government or private companies by Greek citizens to ‘expedite’ service. I’ve heard it compared to a gratuity (e.g., slipping a $20 to the maitre d’ to get moved to the top of a wait list at your favorite trendy restaurant), but it can also mean a specific tariff demanded by government officials in order to bypass procedure. The dealership manager explained that the Greek system is so bloated, the fakelaki ‘greases the wheels’ to move things along.
Back in July, if we wanted the SUPs, we had to pay the fakelaki. Simple as that. And, it had to be cash. So, we’re paying it because Customs told us we had to, yet the cash never made it to the government. There was no paperwork or receipt. The same was true for the car title. While it sounded very official, when Demetri tried to pay the €125 by credit card, the dealership manager said, “Signomi, sir, cash only.” The conversation ensued as follows:
Demetri: “So, I won’t have legal title if I don’t pay the expediter? And in this case, YOU are the expediter?”
Dealership manager: “Right and yes.”
Demetri: “But the title will be legal if I pay this cash fakelaki?”
Dealership manager: “Yes.”
Demetri: “And what happens if someone does a search for the title? Whose name will it be in?”
Dealership manager: “The database will return a result that says the title is ‘lost in the ministry.'”
Demetri: “And that is a legal answer?”
Dealership manager: “Yes.”
Demetri: “What happens when I sell the car?”
Dealership manager: “The title search result will say ‘lost in the ministry’ and someone else will be able to buy the car. Kanena provlima (no problem).”
Demetri: “Ok. So, I have this cash, do I need an actual envelope?”
Dealership manager: “No, you can just hand it to me.”
This car dealership is the European equivalent of CarMax in the US. It’s headquartered in Austria. It’s financial center is in Brussels. The car was shipped from France. This isn’t some dude in his garage selling stolen cars to fuel his drug habit. This is standard procedure in Greece for a multi-national European company.
I agonized over how to explain the fakelaki in writing. How could I clearly articulate it in a way that truly explained what it is and that it really is a thing? To me, and perhaps to you, ‘under the table’ means unspoken, illicit, I-know-a-guy. It’s an old world practice. Oh, not so. Fakelaki is so much a part of Greek society, the term has its own wikipedia page.
It gets funnier. Yesterday, the insurance guy called to get some info and to give Demetri some ‘good news’ — they didn’t need the full fakelaki for the title, so the insurance guy can apply €50 of it to the insurance premium. Isn’t that great?!?
The fakelaki practice goes back to the Turkish occupation. It’s old world corruption, but it remains the national way of doing business. Some argue that fakelaki is a large part of why Greece has never had a thriving economy. And until this practice is over, not likely in my lifetime, Greece will remain at the mercy of its creditors.
The dealership manager called. The car is ready.