A Written Warning to the Greek Government

9 Jul

Readers of the T. John Dick books will know of our hero’s enthusiasm for elaborate policies and procedures. You have only to recall his frustration at the flouting of his Meeting Room Reservation Procedure, the fearsome new Product Development Procedure and even a Company Nickname Procedure. In response, readers have sent me examples of policies they are meant to follow in their own companies, my favorite being a multi-page document describing the procedure for standardizing the format of nameplates on office doors. But none of these can compare for pure fatuousness and futility with the policy of the Greek government when it comes to driving in their country.

It is a legal requirement for visitors with a non-EU license to equip themselves with an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). This document, valid for a year, does not replace your license, but provides a translation of it in a standardized form, so that local authorities, such as the police can use it to interpret the license from your own country. That has a certain logic to it, and I have equipped myself with the document on previous trips to Italy and Spain, although it is a bit insulting to members of the constabulary of these countries to suggest that they would not be able to figure out something as basic as a US driver’s license. The governments of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and elsewhere display no such lack of confidence in those policing their roads.

To be fair, knowledge of English is less widespread in Greece than in some of those countries and, since even the alphabet is different, it could prove useful to have a handy translation into the local vernacular. Which makes it puzzling that, although the International Driver’s Permit contains translations into eleven languages, none of them is actually Greek. If I make a few wrong turns and am stopped by the police for failing to signal in Beijing, I am covered. Same thing if, God forbid, I should end up in Russia or Iraq. But if I find myself being asked for my license in Rhodes, the policeman doing the asking will find himself staring at a document that is all not Greek to him. Statistically, there might be a slightly higher chance of his being able to interpret the license through a greater facility in French, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian, German, Spanish or Swedish than in English, but this is a long shot.

Anxious to get to the bottom of this, I called the Greek Embassy in Washington. Perhaps it had escaped their notice that there was no Greek translation. After all, it does have Russian, which looks kind of like Greek. The lady I spoke to was pleasant enough but seemed unable to grasp why I was calling her. The conversation went something like this…

“You need the International Driver’s Permit to drive in Greece.”

“Yes, I know, but did you realize that there is no Greek translation?”

“It’s a legal requirement.”

“Thanks for confirming that. You do know there is no Greek translation?”

“You must have it and also your US license.”

“Even though it’s useless?”

“It’s a legal requirement.”

So yesterday I went to the AAA office and equipped myself with this legally required document in preparation for my upcoming trip to Greece with my daughter. It also allows me to drive in Guinea-Bissau, should the occasion arise – which it might, if she is navigating..

 

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