From Sanda Ionescu
The Culture Broker
has been in the headlines quite a bit lately, usually with negative connotations.  And while it is true that the bureaucratic system is heavily overloaded and that the level of debt is unsustainable, some of the other perceptions of Greek business practices or the average Greek worker are not justified.  As a friend of mine who recently went to Greece (to set up a joint venture) was stunned to find.  Let me just share with you some of his preconceptions and some of his myth-busting moments of realisation…

1) Greeks are laid back (i.e. lazy).

Truth: Greeks can work very long and very hard, particularly in their own businesses (for instance, shop owners).  Because of the hot climate, during the spring/summer months, many shops or offices have an extensive lunch break.  However, that does mean a very early morning start and late opening hours.  When they have a project to complete, when they have clients to meet, certainly when they are working with a foreign partner, Greeks have just as relentless a work ethic as any other European.

2) Greeks are overpaid civil servants who retire at 50.

Truth: Retirement age in the civil service can be quite early, because it is a function of how many years you have worked, rather than compulsory above a certain age.  So, after 30 years of continuous service, you can retire (rather like the police force in the UK).  However, that is not true of the private sector.  And because many Greeks run small businesses, they are working well beyond what we would consider normal retirement age (70, 75, even 80 – they are quite long-lived).  Salaries tend to be much smaller than in the UK or other wealthy EU countries, in spite of the fact that the cost of living has risen dramatically since the introduction of the Euro.  The major difference is that housing costs are low (many Greek parents build houses for their children, but I would be curious to see what the next generation will be able to save for their own children – probably not much).

3) Greeks are formal and bureaucratic when doing business.

Truth:  Although the legal and financial process may be labyrinthine and endlessly drawn out, the business interaction itself quickly becomes informal.  Greeks are very social and very keen on relationship-building.  They will not enter business deals or joint ventures with people purely on a rational basis or in a single meeting.  Be prepared to dedicate time to multiple meetings, to socialise outside work, to have dinners and drinks, share a cigarette and a joke (Greeks are big smokers, even in the workplace if they can get away with it despite the EU legislation on smoking ban in public places).  Business is all about relationships and trust, sometimes relying on just a handshake, rather than very detailed and formal contracts.  And, of course, face-to-face meetings are always preferable to speaking on the phone or emailing.

4) Greek men are male chauvinist pigs.

Truth:  Compared to other European countries (for instance, Germany), Greek women are rarely discriminated against in a business or government environment.  Consequently, there are a number of women in leadership positions, and they are intelligent, opinionated and strong women who certainly don’t take any nonsense from their male colleagues.  However, it is true that Greek men do like women to be decorative and they are likely to make comments on the appearance of their female colleagues that could be construed as sexual harassment.  It is best to just think of it as a rather crude and childish way of paying a compliment.

5) Corruption is endemic in Greece.

Truth:  According to the latest survey by Transparency International, an NGO dedicated to tracking the perceived levels of corruption amongst government officials world-wide, Greek bribery is on a slightly upward trend, but this relates more to internal, small bribes (the so-called ‘fakelaki’ – little envelopes, i.e. Greeks bribing Greeks: doctors’ fees or bribes to get building permits) rather than bribes being demanded of foreign investors coming into the country (the much larger ‘miza’). However, as the recent scandals have shown (with German companies paying bribes to the Greek government to gain access to large government contracts), the system has been used in favour of the foreign companies, to pad their own margins, making their Greek branches appear extremely profitable on paper.  And the truth is that, in their Balkanic region, Greece is doing much better than any of its neighbours in tackling corruption.

Tax evasion, however, which could also fit into this category, is indeed a major problem.  A large percentage of the working population (an estimated 25%) are active in second or even third jobs in the shadow economy (being paid in cash), so it is difficult to keep track of income and taxation levels.

Tags:  Greece, corruption, bureaucracy, sexism

Sanda Ionescu

The Culture Broker

Tel: +44 (0)1628 781316

Mob: +44 (0)7852273507


Twitter: @culturebroker

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 21st, 2010 at 12:34 pm and is filed under Europe, General, other interesting stuff . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “ Business as usual in Greece ”

  1. jeims says:

    i have been doing business in greece for a very long time and have been travelling there very frequently. yes business is as usual but not as you say mean it. i have very good examples of healthy business practices, such as the athens bureau convention. i was organizing a conference in athens last month and they made it so easy for me. i mean i didnt have to work with crazy paper work or offers. they equipped me with all the details and info concerning private transportation. accomodation, local partners etc. thanks to them my image of greece is even better than it originally was