Frogs don’t only smile in the Rema

by Andrew Leech (

Some time last week, I walked into my local OTE (phone company) office for what I thought was an ordinary wait, pay and go! But today the august beings of the zodiac had something special in store – a delicious new titbit to spice up the holiday month!

After a medium-length wait in a medium-sized queue, and the usual acid verbal interchange with the lady who always tried to push to the front, claiming she’d just left to take a mobile call, I arrived at the glass fronted cash-desk. A bespectacled young lady, face reminiscent of an animated good-natured genial frog, was sitting before me. “Kali mera,” I beamed in answer to her smile.

I had three bills, two for payment, the third a rebate of E20.50. The first two went smoothly, but the third induced a frown and the payment process ground to a halt. “I have to return money, here,” she gravely announced. “Don’t bother returning,” I replied, “just deduct it from the other bills.”

“Oh, I can’t do that. I must actually put the money in your hand. That means you must get the bill counterchecked by the section chief.” Realising I was not going to get anywhere, or even cut through this reptilian grin, I just asked: “OK, where is the section chief?” The girl pointed with a lazy wave of her hand.

So, round the end of the queue I went, up past the first sales desk, round the next one, and there she was: a rather pretty young lady section chief in her mid 20s. After a moment she looked up and, in between her latest call (to her mother, I understood), she took the bill, looked at it, carefully scrawled the letters ‘OK’ and handed it back. Only then did I notice she was actually sitting right behind the ‘beaming frog,’ at a right-angle to her. I hadn’t really needed to take that meandering walk, the document could have been passed from hand to hand!

However, I silently made my way back, waited behind the person currently being served, and then presented the signed paper. “ You know, you could have just handed it to her,” I said in a rather exasperated voice and pointing at the section chief. “Oh, no, I couldn’t,” ‘froggy’ quickly and earnestly replied, “she’s a different department!”

“Now,” she continued, never losing that irritating grin for even an instant, “write your name in capitals underneath your name on the bill and then sign that it really is your name. Then give me your ID so I can check it .”

“Would you like the name in Greek, English or, perhaps, Chinese in honour of the Olympics,” I muttered sarcastically. “Oh, anything you like,” was the airy reply.

Taking the refund slip in one hand, she gave me the money with the other. Then she continued processing the other bills and handed back the receipts. I checked them, but found the refund one missing. “Where is my other bill? “ I asked. “I need something to prove I paid it.”

“But you didn’t pay it, OTE paid it. You got a refund.”

For a moment I wondered at her choice of semantics – how a returned overpayment had become a fiscal present from OTE. “But I still need a receipt to show the time period it covered and the overpayment before that,” I answered patiently.

For a while we argued, then she increased the strength of her beaming smile. “I can give you a photocopy” she said sweetly. “Will that do?”

“Thank you,” I replied and, after a deep breath, gave her the mouthful I had been carefully rehearsing in my mind.

“Congratulations, dear lady, on having been able not only to learn the book of bureaucracy, but also to entirely swallow the hard edges of the cover!”

Her grin dropped. For the first time she looked puzzled and slightly frowned, while the entire queue, who had been intently following our conversation, erupted into laughter.

“Goodbye,” I said, “ and once again thank you.”

I turned and left, and didn’t even hear a solitary croak from the once beaming young lady. “Frogs don’t only smile in the Rema (our local stream),” I thought, “OTE’s adopted them as well!”

(Posted 25 February 2009. Previously published in ELT News, September 2008.)

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