Wednesday 2 December 2009

Going Postal in Terpsithea

One of my favourite Ukrainian sayings is that “no good deed shall go unpunished.” And indeed, since my blog post praising the Hellenic Post (ELTA) Office staff at The Mall appeared, I suppose it was inevitable that a catastrophe would occur. And it did. Let me explain:

On Monday, November 23rd, we sent a project invoice to a client in London using ELTA’s registered, express courier service. We’ve done this several times in the past, without any problem.

This past Monday, November 23rd, I called the client to see if the invoice had been received. After being bounced through four different departments, it was ascertained that the invoice had in fact not been received, and that the final deadline for accepting documentation for payments this year was on Thursday.

So, I logged onto ELTA’s Track & Trace service, and found, to my vast surprise, that the invoice never made it out of the country. On November 25th, the package was marked “Return to Sender” by the Central Post Office. Since I had not received the package back, I had to try to find it by calling ELTA and trying to sort out what happened.

There was no telephone number for the ELTA office at The Mall, so we drove over. The normally helpful office manager switched very quickly in typical Greek public sector mode:

“Please call the ELTA customer service number. They are responsible.”

I had already called the ELTA customer service number three times: no one bothered to pick up. (This is a classic procedure in the Greek public sector)

So the ELTA lady escalated: “Well, there’s nothing we can do. It must have been your fault – you probably didn’t write the sender’s address correctly.”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “First of all, the envelope was printed, not hand-written. Secondly, you (or your staff) hand-wrote the postal ticket, not us.”

“No sir, that’s impossible. We never do this!” She responded vehemently.

Bullshit. Every time I’ve ever been to an ELTA office for a registered letter, the staff fills out the ticket. But there was nothing to do. It was like a brick wall had descended: deny all culpability, blame the client. Any further rational discussion was futile: I didn’t want to “go postal” in my favourite post office.

This morning, I had sufficiently recovered my calm to call the Halandri post office (our office address is in Halandri). It took literally 10 minutes to explain the situation to a succession of disbelieving ELTA employees. Their first response?

“Call the ELTA Customer Service line!”
(I’ve already tried this – the system says it’s been returned to sender)
“What’s your address?”
(Pentelis Avenue – it’s in your jurisdiction)
“Why didn’t you send it from here?”
(What difference does that make?)
“Well, I’ll check, call back in 10 minutes”

…10 minutes later….

“I haven’t found it. Why do you assume it’s here?”)
(I told you – the ELTA Track & Trace system says “return to sender”)
“You have to call the office where you sent it!”
(I did – they say you have it)
“You have to call the Central Post Office!”
(I tried – the system says you have it)


Finally, I was got them to log onto the ELTA Track & Trace System.

“Oh yes, I see it! It was returned to the Terpsithea Post Office.”

Stunned silence. Terpsithea? Where the f**k is Terpsithea? That’s somewhere down by Glyfada, nowhere near our office.

“OK,” I said, trying to control my panic “can you give me the telephone number of the Terpsithea Post Office?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t. I don’t have the number” said the ELTA lady.
"Well, I’m actually on the road, can you just log onto ELTA’s website and find the number there?"
“No, I can’t do that either: we don’t have internet access here.”

OK, I gave up that avenue of approach. So I called 11880, a Directory Assistance line.

“Terpsithea … where’s that?” asked the phone guy.
I nearly lost it at that point, but managed to be constructive. “So what should I do?” I asked.

“Try the Glyfada Post Office – here’s the number.”

So I called the Glyfada Post Office. “Hello, can you give me the number of the Terpsithea Post Office”? "Sure," said the lady, "it’s 210-961-5251.” I was amazed.

I called the now-famous Terpsithea Post Office. “Yes?” another bureaucratic lady responded. I launched through the explanation, and got the typical responses:

“Call the Central Post Office!”
(The line doesn’t work – they already told me it’s here)
“Why would it be here – you don’t live here!”
(I know, but this is what your system says)
“We don’t have the system to check this”
(Can you please try – this is really important….)
“OK, please wait until someone responsible has time to look into this.”

Minutes passed. I had the nightmare vision of canceling a really important meeting, driving down to Terpsithea, and starting to scream. Then someone picked up the phone.

(Yes, I’m trying to track a package which is lost….)
“You have to call the ELTA Customer Service Line, 800118200.”
(I tried – no one answers – the system says the package is there.)
“But we don’t have any such record”
(But the system says you have the record – check the tracking number)
“No, I see no record of this in our post office. You must go back to the post office from which you sent it.”
(But I already did this - they said you had it.)
“But we don’t have it – you have to go back to the post office where you are registered.”
(But I did this – they said you had it.)
“But why would we have it?”
(Because that’s what the system says!)

This was apparently good enough for her: if the system says it…it must be true. So she looked through her records. Nope, nothing on hand from Navigator, for London, to be returned.

Another conversation ensued. Finally, she had the inspiration and the initiative to look back in her hand-written log.

“Oh yes,” she said. “We found this package in our post office on November 26th, and sent it on to London.”

I was stunned. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps both. The best part came just 30 minutes ago, when my client confirmed that yes, they did receive the package.

What I can’t understand in all this process is what’s more absurd: the fact that ELTA sent the invoice to Terpsithea, which has absolutely no relation to me or my business, or that ELTA has a Track & Trace system which apparently I know how to use, but few ELTA staff do, and which apparently doesn’t work anyway.

Luckily, the package got through in the end. No good deed goes unpunished. And, it seems, perhaps no bad deed goes unrewarded either. Now, if only I can get paid!

PS As a public service, take down the following telephone numbers:

ELTA Office, The Mall
ELTA Customer Service Line
ELTA Customer Service Line (internal)
210-335-3373, 210-335-3100
ELTA Office, Halandri
210-681-2230, 210-684-1650
ELTA Office, Glyfada
ELTA Office, Terpsithea


  1. One could make a comedy film/slapstick humour which could turn into a thriller - the victims going mad and gunning everyone down...

    there is no system in this country, and mostly people don't know what having a system means...

    you can't help but feel for these civil servants..

    each time a request comes along, there is no predetermined route for dealing with issues. each time they are forced to reinvent the wheel..

  2. Honestly speaking, it's among the few times I've really felt like "going postal" in this country. Most of the time I can deal with it... :-)